J-Student Spotlight: Katelyn Polantz, Univ. of Pittsburgh, UWIRE 100

Katelyn Polantz once went on a liquid diet as a college freshman.  It lasted a week.  She fell in love with journalism as a sophomore.  It appears this love will last a lifetime.

As editor in chief of The Pitt News over the past year, Polantz led a staff of roughly 120 student reporters and editors, oversaw the formation of a multimedia department for PittNews.com, and collected a ton of devotees.  For example, The Pitt News managing editor: “Katelyn has worked tirelessly to improve The Pitt News, both as a publication and an educational experience. . . . Thanks to her efforts, our online and multimedia presences have improved dramatically.”  And the pub’s news adviser: “Katelyn is the future of journalism: informed, passionate, driving, multi-talented.  She has been an outstanding leader of our daily student newspaper.”

For her multi-talented passion and outstanding leadership, the Pitt alum (she graduated in April and is now at intern at Bloomberg News in NYC) recently joined the student media eliterati as a UWIRE 100 honoree.  Today, she basks in the virtual glow of the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight.

Katelyn Polantz

Katelyn Polantz, former editor in chief, The Pitt News

Write a six-word memoir of your student journalism experiences.

It’s a vocation, not a job.

What is the best piece of journalism advice you’ve ever received or given?

“Get off your ass and knock on doors,” or Goyakod.  It’s become my personal mantra, one that I’m not afraid to yell in the newsroom when someone says “I can’t” about their reporting.  I think I heard it first at a lecture given by Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post executive editor who led the paper through Watergate.

Memorable behind-the-scenes production moment.

Working on The Pitt Newsfirst ever sex issue this spring.  It’s when the staff became a team.  One night, a group of editors sat around a white board and deliberated story ideas for hours, debating whether to run a column on the sexile phenomenon vs. one about cockblocking.  It might have been the most professional synergy ever in our office, at the least likely time.

What first sparked your passion for journalism?

My first semester reporting I unknowingly got sucked into working a beat.  I started reporting a typical fluff profile on a custodian in the Cathedral of Learning, Pitt’s academic skyscraper.  I realized there was a larger story about the disparity between the facilities managers and the workers, and pursued it.  After reporting for four months (much of which I did during the graveyard shift), I had a three-part story that dug into managements’ unreasonable requests of custodians.  All along, my editor at the time discouraged me from working on it.  The experience taught me a lot about doing solid investigative work and sticking with my instincts.  The payoff of seeing the story’s many pieces come together on the front page was what got me in the end.

What are your predictions for the future of college journalism?

It’ll be around and strong, but the trend of consuming news online rather than in print will permeate campus audiences soon enough.  That’s why college editors need to push multimedia content and Web development now.  When their entire audience is carrying Kindles and laptops to class, college papers should be prepared to reach those eyeballs.

The business operations of college papers aren’t feeling it that severely right now, but neither were the major metro dailies eight years ago.  Professional newspapers were behind when the shift to Internet news and aggregators hit, and they’re barely making it through now.  College papers don’t have the resources to withstand this type of change if they’re unprepared.  They need to get ahead now and stay ahead.

What is one question we should all be asking much more often about the current state or future of journalism?

Are we allowing editorial content to be dictated by revenue?  The value of journalism is lost when it becomes a slave to the business world.  I know hundreds of college journalists who do solid work for free every day.  It’s important for papers to reinvent their economic models in order to save themselves, but it scares me to hear editors say current journalism is just as much a business as it is a public service.  It must be a public service, first and foremost, always.

You wake up in ten years. Where are you and what are you doing?

I’m dressed in brightly colored and slightly wrinkled business clothes, boarding a presidential candidate’s campaign bus.  We’re in the middle of Iowa.  I’m carrying an online newsroom in my backpack, fully prepared to cover this campaign for the national media and crisscross the country until next November.

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