Recap of Q&A with Kate Schimel

spj - Kate Schimel jpeg.jpg

Kate Schimel is 26 years old, which came as a surprise to many people. It’s not often that college students hear from fellow 20-somethings about how to handle their career prospects, so this Q&A was a pleasant change of pace.

High Country News, as Kate explained and as one could gather by reading their content, is not your average news publication. They are a pretty small staff (of eight — from originally half that), and have managed to be at the same place financially as they were when they started. They’re also a nonprofit. [You can read more about them here.]

The following are bits and pieces from what our officers really took home from Kate:

I enjoyed how candid Kate was. She spoke to us like we were her peers and she had a genuine earnestness toward helping us achieve success in our future journalistic careers.

Part of what resonated with me was when she mentioned that everyone has the ability to be a good journalist; it’s the work you put into it that will guarantee whether or not you thrive in this industry.
She also had some cautionary advice for coping with the difficulty of the field that proved to be a bit anxiety-inducing for me, but also necessary. She mentioned that this job is a marathon, not a sprint; if you’re in it you’ve got to be in it for the long haul and work at journalism consistently.

– Nathalie Graham (Treasurer)

A bit of what Nathalie is talking about references Kate’s decision to talk to us about self-care as journalists. Kate really emphasized that the journalism field is emotionally and mentally taxing, and without taking proper care of yourself, you just simply won’t make it.
Kate said that as journalists, we will meet people who make us uncomfortable, angry, and upset during interviews. “That’s the time to retreat into your job,” she said. “Be the guardian for the reader. What do they need to know from this person?”
Kate also told us all to eat well, and exercise: “Do not undermine your brain. You have no other skills as a journalist. You are a thinker.”
She also advised that we wear comfortable clothes on the job. Don’t care about looks.

Something that resonated with me was a quote Schimel mentioned by Paige Blankenbuehler: “You don’t need to be an expert right away. It takes time to become an elegant interviewer and reporter.”

Schimel explained that as young journalists, we are all bad at our job, but what is important is that we show the dedication and put in the work. I enjoyed the overall vibe of her talk showing journalism as a stress-riddled profession but somehow in the end, everything turns out fine if you’re truly passionate about what you do.

The prospects of graduating relatively soon are quite honestly terrifying and stressful. But as things often go, I put way too much undue stress into a worry or a project, and I end up thinking “wow, that wasn’t all that bad.”

As for advice on the stories themselves, I appreciated her view that it’s all about the sources. That’s a piece of advice I wasn’t hearing a whole lot of in my journalism classes. The other thing that seems to be missing in academia is that a story is all about the reporting process, and how your interviews and conversations go.

I loved her advice on finding a hero for your story no matter what kind of piece you’re writing. “Maybe your hero is a microbe, but find your hero,” Kate said.

She expressed her values as a storyteller in a world that revolves around stories. When she alluded to one of High Country News’ stories ‘Secrets of the Deep,’ the “aha” moment in the story was really clear and powerful. It inspired me to find my own “aha” moments in my stories to try and change my reader’s world view, no matter how minutely.

– Taylor McAvoy (Vice President)

There’s not much that needs to be explained for Taylor’s take-aways. However, it should be noted that Kate’s quote about having a hero as a microbe was a bit of a fun line. While in a story, what really inspires you may be some random discovery or THING, you still need to find the actual hero.

As someone who’s interested in environmental journalism, I learned a lot from Kate Schimel’s advice — thank you Kate!

I was especially struck by a bit of advice she gave us about reporting and writing stories. She said to try and find that “Aha” moment, or concept, in your story that makes you see the world in a different way. Kate then said to put make it into a paragraph and see if the story makes sense.

Being able to find the “magic” in a story will really help you stand out as a young journalist looking for jobs and internships.

She also told us to trust our instincts when it comes to pursuing story ideas — never stop following the story if you think it’s worth it.

Also, she said if you stick with journalism, you’ll survive eventually, even though it will be tough.

One more thing (there are so many I could list) — she pointed out that there are usually two types of journalists: those motivated by discovery, and those motivated by justice. It was great to hear this put into words. Realizing I’m more of a discovery-motivated reporter helps me understand my process and goals better.

– Chetanya Robinson (Student liaison)

I was pretty impressed by the depth of information Kate has given me. Especially some of the honest, yet enlightening, comments that she made about working as a journalist.

A quote from her that stood out to me the most was “No person is too big, and no person is too small.”

That’s very true and, sadly, I wasn’t able to see it through all this time while I was reporting. I was always seeking to interview the important sources, or sources that I thought as “big” enough to give me “breaking news” material. I often ignored the “small” people whose stories aren’t that much of a spotlight. After hearing her say that, I questioned myself: Can you really separate people by big and small? Everyone carries a different story, and I believe that their stories are always unique enough depending on what types of reporting you’re covering.

– Anran Lin (Secretary)

Personally, because I am so close to graduating and because I’ve been teetering on accepting a job offer or not, Kate’s advice and experience within the professional world of journalism helped  me quite a bit. I’ve been in that world for a while, but never outside of freelancing and never when I wasn’t simultaneously doing school or multiple internships. I still plan on talking with her some more, to explain my situation more specifically, but her words really resonated with me. And, ultimately, I think will probably inform my decision for when I graduate.

When it comes to community journalism, and when it comes to working with an organization that you feel you can make a difference in and whose coworkers help you be a better person, journalist, and writer: Take that. That was essentially Kate’s advice. I think more because journalism is a constant experience than it is just a paycheck. (Although paycheck is important, and it’s a crazy privilege to be allowed to act like it doesn’t or something.)

“It doesn’t matter if it will last, stay there if it makes you a better journalist…Work with people you love, like, respect.”

For anyone interested, you may contact Kate Schimel at kateschimel@hcn.org

Content curated by Kelsey Hamlin (President)

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