Student Journalist Spotlight: Josh Shannon, The Review, University of Delaware

In Josh Shannon’s words: “I wanted to be a journalist long before I ever knew I wanted to be a journalist.” Starting in his childhood, he has saved newspapers from historic moments in contemporary history (including presidential elections and the start of the Iraq War) and his own journalism history (including reporting clips) — leaving one of his bedroom walls almost overrun with paper and ink.

Shannon, 21, joined the staff of The Review only three weeks after enrolling at the University of Delaware. The political science major and journalism minor from Newark, Del., is now the student newspaper’s editor in chief. “People often ask me how I’m able to dedicate so much time to The Review,” Shannon said. “Besides the fact that I love every minute of it. … I don’t even know college life without it.”

For efforts to save journalism (in his bedroom and the Review newsroom), Shannon rightfully earns a spot in the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight. Below, he shares a bit about his journalism passion and the paper’s coverage of a U.S. and campus president.

Josh Shannon, editor in chief, The Review, University of Delaware (Photo by Lauren Savoie)

Write a six-word memoir of your Review experience so far.

Not a job, but a lifestyle.

Standout memory from your time at the paper.

My most memorable experience was covering the 2008 election and Obama’s inauguration. The fact that Joe Biden is a University of Delaware alumnus, as were Obama and McCain’s campaign managers, made the historic election even more exciting for the school. During the few weeks leading up to the election and especially on Election Day, the staff came together like never before to cover the many election-related activities on and around campus. I broke the story that Biden would be making an appearance on campus the week before the election and then several of us were in the press area covering his speech.

On election night, the staff gathered in the newsroom to prepare the next day’s issue.  We watched the returns come in on TV, then scrambled to put the finishing touches on the paper.  That’s one of my proudest moments at The Review: helping publish 16 pages of original election coverage, including exclusive interviews with Joe and Jill Biden.  UD is often called a politically apathetic school, but the campus was so abuzz about the election.  I still feel fortunate to have been in a position to chronicle it all.

But the most exciting part came a couple months later when another editor and I went to Washington to cover the inauguration.  We took a 1 a.m. train out of Wilmington, arrived in D.C. by 3 a.m. and spent the next 18 hours trekking around the incredibly crowded capital city. We got lost for a few hours, but made it to the National Mall a few minutes before Obama took the oath of office.  To be able to cover something that received so much international attention was pretty neat.

What is one story you are especially proud to have worked on?

About a year ago, I began looking into the salary of UD president Patrick Harker. UD is one of the only public universities that does not release the current-year salary of it’s president- instead we have to wait a year-and-a-half for tax filings to be released. A Chronicle of Higher Education article that named Harker’s predecessor as the nation’s highest-paid public university president renewed my interest in the subject, and I began digging through tax records.

Harker was in his first year as president, so his salary was still unavailable, but in the previous year’s records, I found a $450,000 “transition payment” paid to Harker before he came to UD. That information had been skipped over by the Chronicle and local media that picked up the story. I talked to experts who said the transition payment was unusually high, and ran a front-page story about it. Months later, the next year’s tax documents showed that Harker’s pay ranked third in the nation for public university presidents, and I did a follow-up story.

I received more feedback about those stories than all the others I’ve written put together. Several people e-mailed me to thank me for writing them.  And that, of course, is the highest compliment a journalist can receive.

What sparked your passion for journalism?

I’ve read the daily newspaper for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved being the first one to share a piece of news, and even in elementary school, I used to read The Landry News and other kiddie books about journalism and think how cool it would be to run a school paper. But it was never something I thought of as a career path. My answer to that quintessential adult-to-kid question: “What do you want to be when you grow up” was always something else: lawyer, environmental analyst, or, in my less ambitious stages, waiter.

It was in a 10th grade journalism class that I realized my passion for the field, mostly thanks to a teacher who shared her love of reporting and drilled AP Style into us, a teacher who herself had worked at The Review only a few years prior. I got my start writing about a controversial student-run website, covering a bitter rivalry with another school, and exposing mold in the locker rooms that sent one teacher to the hospital and caused another to leave the school. (At a high school with prior review, I still to this day can’t believe they let me run that one.)

But my aha! moment came my senior year of high school. The final issue of the year was laid out and ready to to be sent to the publisher when reports started coming in about the shootings at Virginia Tech. Several alumni of my school attended Virginia Tech, a counselor told me, but were they OK? I skipped all my classes and instead spent the day frantically making calls to Blacksburg, writing a story and changing the layout of the paper. It was that day that I proved to myself I could be a reporter. And it was the next day, watching people turn to my story for information about their former classmates, that I realized that’s how I want to spend the rest of my life: dropping everything to get an important story.

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

How do we stay relevant amongst a flood of PR and opinions?

With the prominence of the Internet, gone are the days when companies and politicians send out press releases, the media sorts through them, finds the truth, and reports it back to their readers. Now, every company, school, government office, and politician posts information directly to their website, often passing it off as “news” or as better than what the media would report.

What that means is that we as journalists have to find ways to go beyond the basic “who-what-when-where” style of reporting. For example, it’s no longer good enough to report that a particular bill passed Congress. Anyone who really cared about the issue could have very well been following their congressman’s tweets from the Senate floor. Instead, we have to go in-depth with the issues, tell people how it affects them, and above all, remember our watchdog role and be sure to fact check the information disseminated through “official” channels.

What do you think is still driving students to study journalism and work on the campus paper?

Thinking about entering the job market is indeed daunting, but in a lot of ways, there’s no better time to be a journalist. Think about it: Thirty years ago, being a reporter meant sitting behind a dusty typewriter or running to the nearest phone booth to call in your story to the rewrite desk. Now, we have so many more tools at our disposal to help tell a story. We can post breaking news updates to the Web. We can post videos and slideshows. We can tweet live updates and get real-time feedback and tips from readers. And, heck, I can even do all that from my iPhone, while still out in the field.

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

I’m working as a multimedia investigative reporter for a major metro daily. I leave the house everyday with my pockets full not only of a notebook and pen, but also all the latest gizmos and gadgets for multimedia reporting. I spend my days uncovering the truth and exposing corruption, all while taking pictures, recording audio, shooting video and tweeting updates via my iPhone.

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