In the Spotlight: Suzanne Yada, San Jose State University

Suzanne Yada’s motto while toiling as a copy editor at a daily paper in Visalia, Calif.: “Errors.  Must.  Die.” Her new three-word motto, the one that has put her on the new media radar, is a call-to-arms to student journalists of generation now. As she puts it simply, “Grow some cojones.”

The mantra was the centerpiece of a late December 2008 blog post that laid out her new year’s resolutions for j-students worldwide. The ‘cojones’ portion noted, “The world needs more people willing to ask tough questions. The first step to reversing journalism’s tarnished image is to have the guts to dig for information the public can’t easily find themselves, and be an advocate of unbiased, straightforward truth. If you can show depth and research with your reporting clips, if you can show you can ask the tough questions and be more than just a parrot for your interviewee, if you can fact-check the living snot out of your articles, you will rise to the top of the crop.”

Suzanne Yada's advice for j-students: "1) Become invaluable, and 2) Network like mad."

Yada’s stature rose dramatically in the journalism community immediately after the post’s publication. Her words carry extra weight because Yada is a j-student Yoda of sorts. She has been to the other side, and come back safely- working for three years in a professional newsroom before returning to school full-time. (She recently graduated from San Jose State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in business.) She has been involved in nine different media start-ups. She was an early adopter- launching a site in 1996 centered on Mystery Science Theater 3000. And she fully embraces the collaborative spirit of journalism 2.0, politely declaring in her popular blog’s tagline, “Lovely to meet you. Let’s get things done.”

For her entrepreneurial spirit and journalistic cojones, Suzanne Yada very rightfully earns a spot in the CMM Spotlight. Below, she sounds off on the benefits of being a young journalist, all-things entrepreneurial, and the future of print.

What motivated you to join the blogosphere?

At first, my personal website was just about selfishly wanting to put my resume up. Then I started reading other people’s blogs and saying ‘Well this is really interesting stuff and I can also do that too without being so selfish,’ I guess you could say my goal changed and I wanted to start contributing to the ecosystem of information.  It was empowering.  I had the power to directly do research and present information that people would want and to be useful in their lives, and I didn’t have to wait around to be published for it.

What is the advantage of being a student journalist circa 2010?

The Internet makes it a completely even playing field.  It lets journalism students break through the rules of journalism that professionals can’t often do and to connect with audiences . . . that don’t vibe with old school media.  One example . . . the first blog post that I put up that got a lot of traction was New Year’s Resolutions for journalism students.  One of them was ‘grow some cojones’, and I think a professional journalist probably wouldn’t go that far to say something like that.  The post, and that line, was picked up and thrown about by Ryan Sholin first, then Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen.  They sort of picked up on that and I got on their radar screen.

It’s the ability to say something gutsy that may not be ‘professional’ but meaningful. . . . A lot of professional journalists, they write well and my hats off to them.  I really am simultaneously in awe of what they do and also glad that I am able to take a different angle, because I think the uniform voice that has been sort of leading print journalism for so long, that uniform robotic voice, doesn’t engage a whole section of the population, especially the younger generation.  So I’m happy to be where I am.

Is there an entrepreneurial revolution happening among j-students?

I do definitely see a movement. . . . There is a realization that a piece of paper that says your name on it and your major is not a guarantee for a journalism job.  Another alternative is to make your own job.  Now is the best time, now more than ever is one of the most ripe times, because the ecosystem of information is so rapidly changing and the barriers to entry have just been decimated.  Anybody can do it.  It takes more than just ‘hey guys, let’s put up a website.’ It takes organization.  It takes understanding of what’s a good business, what can be self-sustaining and can do good journalism and put out solid, well-researched information that people want to know. . . .

So is there a movement of entrepreneurial journalism among students?  Yes.  Is it widespread?  I wish it was more.  I really wish it was more.  What’s stopping it is both money and fear. For example, in my school, which you would think would be more ripe with it- it’s in the center of Silicon Valley, we’ve got all sorts of web-savvy people, you’ve got the audience in place, you’ve got the technology in place, you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit in place- not a lot of people at least in the journalism school are really thinking outside the list of classes they need to take to graduate.

What is your advice for budding student media entrepreneurs?

It’s very vital for students who want to start their own things to know how other people started their own things.  You want to grab what’s good and what works from their efforts and leave out what didn’t work. . . . You want to ask yourself ‘What is this worth to me?  Why do I want to do this?‘  It’s a process of self-discovery.  You know, if you had all the money in the world, what would you do?

Does print journalism have a future in our Webified world?

I’m still interested in print.  There’s something to be said for having words in print rather than electrons.  I’m still writing for the campus newspaper. . . . And I’ve been involved in up to eight start-ups, or maybe nine . . . and every single one of them has an element of print to them.  My dad’s a printer, so I kind of have ink in my blood, and I worked at the printshop for three years.  Now am I excited about the day when we won’t have to cut down trees and ship them and use the gas money and oil to fuel the trucks to deliver them?  Yes.  You know, it’s such an inefficient way to deliver news and it always has been. . . . But I think there’s still a niche for print.  Print is going from the mainstream to niche and the Web is going to be mainstream.  I like the official channels and the unofficial channels.  I like that space in between.

4 Responses to “In the Spotlight: Suzanne Yada, San Jose State University”
  1. Harumi Gondo says:

    It’s always refreshing to hear Suzanne’s opinions. She’s thoughtful and vehement in making change happen. Nice post.

  2. Suzanne Yada says:

    Thanks Dan, and Harumi, and everyone else who is just passing through. :)

  3. I admire Suzanne for her cojones, inspiration and always valuable tips. Knowing that she is leading the army of new journalists is reassuring.

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