Washington journalists share their skills and knowledge at the Washington Collegiate Journalism Conference

Marcus Green, editor of the South Seattle Emerald.

Student journalists from the UW, Everett Community College and Pierce College Puyallup came to the Washington Collegiate Journalism Conference Oct. 24 to hear journalists from around the state and beyond share their expertise in a variety of journalism skills.

The Seattle Times editor Richard Wagoner gave a presentation on journalism ethics. He touched on the issue of publishing names online, especially minors, when it will leave a permanent online trail. He also discussed ethical issues that can arise between reporters and the police.

Marcus Green, editor of the South Seattle Emerald, gave a presentation on community journalism. Green left investment banking a little over a year ago to found the Emerald and provide a voice for South Seattle.

Green said community journalism serves an important niche. As larger news outlets scale back, hyper-local coverage has become harder to find, and so there’s a great desire for it. Not only this, Green said, but community journalism is both the future of journalism and in many ways, what journalism always used to be. It’s vital for providing a correcting narrative, highlighting stories that would otherwise never see the light of day, connecting communities and helping shape local politics.

Corrine Chin and Lauren Frohne, videographers from the Seattle Times gave a presentation on the importance of video in today’s digital journalism world.

Meanwhile KIRO radio reporter Sarah Lerner offered advice on interviewing.

Sarah Lerner, KIRO radio.

Lerner said the key to a good interview is getting out of the way and letting the interviewee speak. At the same time, she said it’s important to not be apologetic or tentative, and to own your right to ask the questions you need to.

Other tips for getting a good interview: asking “why” often, not being afraid to ask a question twice, and asking interviewees who are experts to simplify their answers. This might mean asking them to explain things as though they were talking to an eight-year-old, Lerner said.

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The keynote speaker for the conference was Josh Trujillo, who recently left the Seattle PI, where he worked for 14 years. Trujillo focused his talk on covering disasters.

Visual journalism is a powerful and direct way to get people to care about something, Trujillo said. An example of this was coverage of the Oso mudslide in 2014.

(See Josh Trujillo’s work covering the Oso mudslide here)

When entering disaster scenarios, Trujillo said it’s important for reporters to be compassionate, use good social skills, and to always be respectful of people and property. He also offered some tips on getting access to high-stakes scenes as a photojournalist, including:

  • Arrive early
  • Go through a back way (without breaking the law)
  • Don’t take no for an answer, the first time
  • Ask for guidance from locals
  • When all else fails, pretend to be ignorant.

After lunch in The UW Daily newsroom, Andrew McIntosh, investigations editor at QMI News Agency gave a presentation on accessing public records, especially Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. He started by stating that in general, governmental forces will try to make it hard for journalists who want to access these records.

In filing records, McIntosh recommends learning the jargon. He said that while it’s important to understand relevant laws around public records, it’s easy to become too bogged down in legal matters. He also recommended keeping requests narrowly framed, and to never ask for “information” on something — only for specific records you’re sure exist.

Left to right: Kari Plog, Paige Cornwell and Genna Martin.

The last presentation of the day was given by The News Tribune reporter Kari Plog, The Seattle Times reporter Paige Cornwell, and Seattle PI photographer Genna Martin. The three of them are SPJ New Journalists of the Year. They offered advice on navigating the journalism job market.

Aspiring journalists shouldn’t expect to get their dream job right away, but starting out doing something related (like copy-editing) can be a positive experience, said Martin.

Journalism students may have to unlearn some of the things they learned in school, because newsrooms can be years behind schools in terms of technology and attitudes. College is a safe place to learn new skills, try things and fail at some, said Plog. Cornwell said it can be valuable to pursue individual projects. Here are some other pieces of advice the three offered:

  • Make connections in local newsrooms
  • Don’t burn bridges with anyone ( i.e. be unprofessional or unreliable), as it can easily end your career
  • There may be a bias against college newspapers. Get clips from other publications too.
  • Make yourself into a brand, even if you work at a news organization as well
  • Never work for free — ask for a reasonable price
  • Become good at breaking news and quick turnaround stories. Journalists just starting out will be assigned to these more often than longer-form stories.
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