By Erica Quinones
As The Elm editorial staff finished their 2019 Publications Boot Camp, they were joined by three Elm alumni to discuss life after The Elm.
Senior Abby Wargo, current Editor-in-Chief, discussed journalism as a career at the Rose O’Neill Literary House on Aug. 22 with editors of old, Cat Righter, class of 2017; Katie Tabeling, class of 2014; and Brooke Schultz, class of 2018. All three currently work as journalists for Carroll County Times, Cecil Whig, and The Newark Post, respectively.
The three alumni wrote at The Elm their entire Washington College careers as both staff writers and editors. Two returning alumni, Righter and Schultz, were Editor-in-Chief.
The three women discussed not only their experience as professional journalists but what their time at The Elm did for them and their career.
None of the alumni planned on pursuing journalism until at least their senior year at WC, but many found a desire to continue it through resources in Chestertown.
All three had internships at The Kent County News during their senior years. Schultz said that her internship helped her discover a love for community journalism in particular as it was both fun and different.
Tabeling knew she wanted to pursue writing outside of teaching but did not decide to pursue journalism until “the fear of God was put into” her during her senior year.
Righter decided on the career when she was offered an internship at her current workplace, The Carroll County Times.
Aside from their interning experiences, they also cited both freelancing and their time at The Elm as beneficial to their careers.
Some skills The Elm helped them develop were learning to write news articles, managing staff and sources, and writing in a small community.
“At The Elm, you get a lot of feedback which is valuable because a lot of places are cutting back on copy editors. So, if you can write a solid story coming out, that is really helpful because a lot of times your editors do not have time to teach you the fundamentals,” Righter said.
One of the most important lessons they learned from The Elm was how to write in a small community. Working in community journalism, it is important to understand how local systems work, be acquainted with sources, and to know how to deal with criticism.
Schultz, who works in a community that she “never lived in before or worked in before,” was challenged to learn how the community operates. She said she learned that no question is pointless because if a writer does not understand what they are writing about, they cannot represent it properly.
Another challenge they have learned to subvert in local journalism is getting information. While many groups, towns, and counties have Public Information Officers, they can be busy or difficult to work through. They discussed the importance of meeting and finding alternative avenues of information. These can be local Parent-Teacher Association members or contacting local administrators directly.
One of the more difficult, if amusing, aspects of professional journalism is dealing with criticism. Generally, all agreed to not read the Facebook comments.
“The first thing I noticed about the The Newark Post is that we have a very active comment base and that was a mistake,” Schultz said.
It can be difficult to deal with criticism from readers and subjects, be it due to an unflattering story, a headline or perceived political bias — in all directions simultaneously. However, Tabeling said having a work-life balance helps deal with criticism and helps her focus on things other than work.
While they work in the professional realm today, all did note the importance of student newspapers on campuses. They said that a campus environment is comparable to community journalism because just as city councils directly impact people’s lives through taxes and school districting, colleges also directly impact students.
“You live here every day. You listen to your peers. You should do your due diligence to make sure they are heard,” Righter said.