Alumni Spotlight Jack Ginsburg: ‘Journalism Is A Very Universal Degree’

Graduates of the University of Montana School of Journalism go on to do great things, in journalism and beyond. They direct newsrooms, report on international issues, photograph history, inform the public on air, start their own businesses, influence public policy, publish books and become leaders in their communities. Here, we spotlight some of our alumni who showcase just how powerful, and versatile, a journalism degree from UM can be. (If you are a graduate who would like to share your experience or know of someone we should spotlight, email Courtney Cowgill.)

This installment spotlights Jack Ginsburg, 2017, who got a job right after graduation working at KAJ-TV in Kalispell and now works at KPAX-TV.

Question: Can you describe an average day on the job and your current responsibilities?

Answer: An average day I wake up at 10 a.m. and go into work anywhere between 12-1 p.m. (awesome hours for sleep and work). Most days when I get into work I open up my email and sort through press releases that have been sent to me, or the news email. I choose the top stories and start to pursue them, calling contacts or possible interviewees that would be good for the story. Sometimes I don’t get calls back since I am the night side reporter and a lot of people only have until 4 or 5 to do the interview and already have something scheduled. In that case I always try to have a back up. I have a notebook with stories that can pretty much be done any day, like homelessness in the Flathead Valley or something on the jail systems in the valley, which is big right now, especially in Polson and Kalispell. I work at a bureau so I do everything myself. I shoot, interview and edit all of my news stories, then send them down to the broadcast studio in Missoula where they run the 5:30 and 10:00 news. Most of my stories go on the 10 o’clock news. I don’t really have any set responsibilities since the producers know that anything can happen and sometimes you have bad days and only get one, kind of lame story. On a good day I try to shoot a package and two or three vosots. 

What journalistic experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for your transition into a real-world journalism environment?

There are a lot of experiences at the J-School that gave me great preparation for the ‘real world.’ Probably the most notable is the fact that UM News is pretty damn close to being exactly how a news station runs. Instead of doing the stories in a week, I do them in one day. Ethics and Trends class also helped a lot with everyday things you experience on the job like how to handle difficult situations or how to properly report in an unbiased manner. I think the most helpful is that the J-school is like your parent teaching you to ride a bike. Your first year they are right there holding the seat, then out of nowhere they just let go, and if you paid attention to what they were saying the first year, you realize, ‘Hey, I can actually do this thing on my own.’ The professors are always there to help but they also give you responsibility and expect you to handle it, which is key in being successful in this field.

Can you explain the process of your job search senior year?

My senior year I was doing UM News and then one student told me I should intern at KPAX-TV, the local CBS affiliate in Missoula. I shot the news director an email and they looked at a few of my clips and gave me the internship. Two weeks into the internship, I ended up getting really lucky, as KPAX was looking for a weekend reporter. I decided to apply for it and got the job a week later (I highly recommend weekend reporting if the opportunity is available, most of the harder hitting news happens on the weekdays and the weekend is a great, smooth transition into the field.). I worked as the weekend reporter for the whole Spring semester and worked hard. After I graduated they offered me the full-time job in Kalispell and I took it. So, I got pretty lucky and didn’t even have to look for a job.

How do you feel about journalism now that you’re out of school and immersed in the industry? How does reality compare to your hopes and expectations?

I could write an entire essay on how I feel about journalism, but you don’t want or need to hear that. I love everything about it. It definitely has it’s ups and downs but there is so much inspiration in this field on a daily basis. That being said, a lot of times you have bad days … it’s just something you have to accept in this field. That’s probably one of my favorite things about TV. When you finish the day, unless you are working on a longer, investigative piece, you are done. That’s it. You leave the office and anything good or bad that happened is now behind you and you get to start over fresh tomorrow.

I think when you decide to major in journalism you see all the great parts of it, on the national level, but don’t see or hear much about the local or smaller markets. That is both good and bad. You need to spend a lot of time in this field to get where you want to and that can be a struggle for a lot of people but you also find there are incredible stories even in the smallest places.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

There are so many things I love about my job. I would have to say the best part is that I get to meet new people every single day. And on top of that I have started to form a bond with the community. You get to know people, you expand your network and contacts and people really start to trust you. I’ve already been offered three other jobs in random fields I never would have thought of. Journalism is a very universal degree, it allows you to do so much more than you think. I also love that I spend 90 percent of most of my days outside the office running around and keeping busy, it makes the day fly by.

My least favorite part is probably the stress you can feel when you don’t have a plan for the week or the day. Always do as much pre-reporting as possible.

How does the work load compare to college?

Honestly, I think I had more work in college. I have a lot of things to balance everyday at work, but most of them I am interested in and in college you are constantly doing homework for classes you couldn’t care less about. I also like that I do everything in one day rather than a week, like in UM News, I don’t have that time to procrastinate anymore.

What advice would you give to someone considering a journalism degree?

DO IT… Already, I have found how valuable this degree is. Sometimes I look at jobs on LinkedIn just for fun and it is incredible how many companies want journalists for jobs I didn’t think pertained to the major. Journalism and especially the school at UM gives us so many valuable tools to do so much more than just report or write.

Did you feel that your education prepared you for your job? In hindsight, is there anything you would’ve liked to focus on more than you did?

Hell yes it did. I wish I was there this semester honestly. I see that social media is becoming more prevalent at the J-school and I’m really interested in that. I also wish I did a college related podcast or focused more on radio while I had those tools available, that UM provides.

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the future?

I honestly do not know. If I stick with TV I want to see how far I can get. That means shooting for the stars. Why wouldn’t I set my standards high? I tell myself everyday to work hard and I know it will pay off, I have already seen it start to. I don’t want to sound to cocky but you should tell yourself that you can do great things in this field and have confidence, have a lot of it, but keep it to yourself (which I kind of didn’t just do, but you get it).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There are so many great opportunities at the J-School and in the field of journalism right now. It is changing all the time and I really think our journalism school does a great job embracing it. But if you want to be a successful journalist, it’s ultimately up to you. Keep your nose to the grindstone and work your butt off, you’ll be happy you did. Also find time to unwind and separate yourself from your work life on your days off. Give yourself the rest and recovery your body and mind needs. Follow every lead. You never know when it could be a bigger story than it seems.

 

Tate Samata is finishing her fifth and final year at the UM School of Journalism, and will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology minor. Tate’s journalistic focus is primarily photo and multimedia, but she is also passionate about writing, copy editing and social media. 

Welcome Back from Dean Abramson

Don Anderson Hall building exterior
Don Anderson Hall, home of the J-School

Boy, what a summer it’s been. Could there be any doubt that we need caring, smart journalists now more than ever?

As we prepare to open the doors for another year at the UM J-School, I keep asking myself that question. Just take one news story as an example: we have a presidential election before us between two people who seem to have a very troubled relationship with the truth. How could the average citizen possibly scrutinize statements by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, without professional help from reporters, editors and researchers? Reporters remain, despite the turmoil in our industry, our election ghostbusters: they are uniquely qualified to train their ray guns on statements like Trump’s assertion that the real unemployment rate is closer to 42 percent than 5 percent. And we still need someone to jump on distortions like Hillary’s insistence that the FBI Director called her statements about her email server “truthful.”

While the need for good reporting remains clear, the way to pay for it is not—the crystal ball remains cloudy on that point. As comedian John Oliver pointed out recently, even he ruthlessly rakes through the work of journalists in the search for joke material, without signing up for a subscription. Oliver’s appeal to recognize the work of journalists got a lot of play, but I predict it will have zero impact on the financial plight of the news biz. That’s because pity is not going to help us make news profitable again. Only innovation and hard work will.

So, as we start the year I will present our students with this simple challenge: come help us save the world from a flood of lies. It’s our job.

By Larry Abramson

ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg speaks on the importance of storytelling

For Kevin Van Valkenburg, Senior Writer at ESPN the Magazine, stories are “a time machine that can heal the world.”

Kevin Van Valkenburg speaks to a crowded theater
ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg attracted a large crowd for the J-School’s annual Pollner Lecture. Photo by Alyssa Rabil

Van Valkenburg, who graduated from the UM School of Journalism in 2000 and has come back as this semester’s T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor. He spoke to an audience that filled both the seats and the stairwells on Monday night. His speech focused on the continued value of good storytelling, in an evolving landscape for media.

“It doesn’t matter the format you tell it in, as long as you tell it true and you tell it well,” Van Valkenburg said, advising students to reject the negative outlook some are pinning to written journalism, which he called “a cynical narrative.” Van Valkenburg said changes have come not to storytelling itself but to the economic model that supports it. Despite the distractions of modern life, he said, people remain hungry for heart-felt stories.

Speaking with clear reverence for the power of good narrative writing to explain, humanize and heal the challenges of the day, he extolled students to think about why stories are told and search hard to find them. “There are no stories to be told in life’s safe harbors,” he said.

Kevin Van Valkenburg speaking from the podium
Photo by Alyssa Rabil

A native of Missoula, Van Valkenburg is the first alumnus of the school to hold a Pollner Professorship, a program which brings talented journalism professionals to the J-School for a semester. The program began in 2001, when Anthony Pollner, a graduate and former staff member on the Montana Kaimin, died in a motorcycle accident.

Van Valkenburg and Pollner were friends and co-workers at the Montana Kaimin during their shared time at the University. At several points in his speech Van Valkenburg referenced the spirit Pollner had brought to his journalism studies, and how it had inspired Van Valkenburg in his own career.

Recounting some of the more memorable stories of his career, first with the Baltimore Sun and then with ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, Van Valkenburg spoke about learning lessons on what stories can do for their subjects, as well as their readers. He recounted an early story he wrote about a girl’s suicide, and how her mother had thanked him, saying she could now explain her daughter’s life and death to friends by sending them Van Valkenburg’s article.

It’s a two way street however, Van Valkenburg noted. In response to a question from the audience, he said that whether to use sensitive information given by a source can depend on both its content and impact. If there are larger societal questions at stake, Van Valkenburg said, “I’m going to upset the source and I’m going to reach for the truth because that’s more important.”

Van Valkenburg concluded his speech by speaking directly to Anthony Pollner’s friends and family, who sat amongst the first rows of seats. He shared stories and memories of Pollner from their university days, which he said his return to campus has helped to bring back.

“Few things in my life have ever seemed less fair,” Van Valkenburg said, speaking on the passing of his friend, “but by telling those stories I keep a piece of him alive forever.”

The full text of the speech can be found here.

By Andrew Graham