Journalistic Interview: Themes & Thoughts

The University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication is unique in its strategy to allow students to interact with the industry that students are preparing to enter.

My “Journalistic Interview” course, for example, offered students the opportunity to talk with some of the most fascinating media minds in the Pacific Northwest. Our presentations included people from diverse backgrounds, such as: local news anchors, public radio personalities, newspaper reporters and even major network broadcast producers. While people from strikingly different points in their careers hosted each question and answer session, this allowed the students in our class a lens into the world of journalism from varying perspectives.

“I’m talking to people that are entering an industry that is in flux—the future is daunting,” said Bill Goetz, formerly of KVAL. “Television news photographers like myself are dinosaurs.”

Goetz, who was laid off in December 2012, told our class he never earned much money as a TV news photographer.  Goetz explained he stayed in the industry because he loved the work that he was producing.

According to Goetz, however, various publications across the country followed the lead of the Chicago Sun Times and cut their entire photography staffs. Now, countless reporters have become “multimedia journalists” and are responsible for the same amount of work as an entire whole staff but for a significantly cheaper salary.

For many, this means that they were forced to adapt and evolve with the changing times of the job market that the students in our course are eagerly anticipating.

“It’s a tough industry,” said Cathryn Stephens, who used to work in television for KVAL/KMTR before a career transition. “You need tough skin; you have to be able to move on.”

Stephens, who is now the Deputy Director for the Eugene Airport, knows that the skills she learned in journalism (such as multitasking and maintaining clear lines of communications) helped her become successful in the position that she has today. She encouraged all of the students in class to “keep our options open” because there are always cool opportunities happening around each of us.

While many presenters admitted that it was incredibly challenging to balance their career in journalism with a family life as well, UO professor Karen McCowan explained that her occupation helped her children get exposed to the most incredible stories in the world.

According to McCowan, who has written as a columnist for The Register-Guard and The Oregonian, journalism is essential to democracy and she was even able to interview President Barack Obama through her position. McCowan may no longer work as a writer, but like Stephens, she has applied the skills that she learned in the industry to her two new professions: a professor at the UO SOJC and as a licensed private investigator.

It was particularly refreshing for me to hear from KLCC News Director and radio personality Tripp Sommer, however, because of his undying passion for journalism and storytelling. Other presentations made me worry about the “burn out” factor in journalism, but thanks to Sommer, I was reminded that it would always be possible to maintain a sense of love for my craft. His unique storytelling in his interview with Bobby Seale, co-founder of The Black Panther Party, was notably inspirational.

Many are worried about the “state of journalism” in the industry right now, but it was also reassuring to hear from folks like UO professors Ed Madison and Chris Pietsch about their undying love and successes in the industry.

Both come from journalism families, but their unique work ethic and passion for the field helped them reach incredible heights remarkably early on in their careers. For Madison, he became a founder and producer at CNN as well as various other high-profile broadcast networks—even interviewing Michael Jackson and Elton John along the way.

Madison recommends that each of us find the part about journalism that excites us enough to keep going, adding that good storytelling will always be in demand. He believes audiences today are more sophisticated but with a lower attention span that needs grabbing. According to Madison, multimedia journalism is the convergence of each storytelling method.

Pietsch, who works for The Register-Guard, had become a professional photographer at 16-years-old and even had his work published in National Geographic. His advice for young journalists was simple.

“Find yourself mentors that you can have a good relationship with; absorb everything that you possibly can,” said Pietsch. “That’s where I really learned.”