From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
On the Cover
Carrie Bringhurst and Mackinzie Hamilton

Sophomore Mackinzie Hamilton (left), a reporter for Utah Public Radio, confers with News Director Kerry Bringhurst (right) who first hired her as an intern at the station.

Beyond Utah

By Kristen Munson

Kerry Bringhurst is proof media isn’t dying—it’s evolving. When she was hired at Utah Public Radio in 1989, journalists still spliced tape, social media didn’t exist, and email hadn’t permeated the masses. As formats shifted to digital and mobile communication devices proliferated, news today streams online to audiences unimaginable before. For instance, the largest contingency of UPR listeners outside Cache Valley is in China.

UTAH PUBLIC RADIO—Paying Success Forward

As technology continues to shape news delivery, journalists need to adapt if they want to compete in the global marketplace. Bringhurst, ’88, suspects USU graduates will be ready. She began her broadcast career at the age of 14 when her local radio station invited area youth to serve as radio announcers for the day. Afterward, the news director encouraged her to apply for a position.

“When he offered me the job I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Bringhurst said. “But it changed my world.”

She covered city council meetings, edited copy, read the news, and conducted live interviews. At school, students would repeat her on-air tagline.

“It kind of became my identity,” Bringhurst smiled from her desk at UPR.

It was also her training ground. Now as news director for the station, she shares the airwaves with the up-and-coming journalists she manages. Every day from 3 to 6 p.m., interns and staff zip through the halls trying to squeeze into editing booths and meet looming deadlines—a marked difference from just a few years ago when UPR primarily operated as a one-woman news outlet.

“It’s chaotic,” Bringhurst said. “Interns have changed the entire atmosphere of what we do here. I think [my first boss] was given a chance at a young age to get into broadcasting and he wanted to pay it forward. I feel the same way about the internship program here. How else do you learn? For me, the interns give this station the energy and insight that we need.”

Interns have bulked up the news department, allowing UPR to add an evening news segment and grow its network of freelance stringers. They have led seminars teaching staff members how social networking can expand the station’s audience and be used as a reporting tool. However, the relationship serves student journalists well. It gives them an opportunity to apply what they’re learning in the classroom and build portfolios with clips from a statewide news network.

In broadcasting, your [professional] experience is as valuable as your academic experience, Bringhurst said.

She attended USU just as it launched its television broadcast program. Bringhurst was one of the first hosts of Cache Rendezvous—a newscast produced entirely by journalism students that continues today. She keeps one of original stools from the show at UPR.

“When I was there newspapers were big-time and that was the push. There were times in the program when they would say radio is dead,” Bringhurst said. “To think about going from editing in that cramped room in the bottom of the Ag Science building to looking at the facilities they have now, it’s really nice to know the university has placed that as a priority. [Reporting] is changing at a rapid rate; Utah State seems to be able to keep up.”

Students like Mackinzie Hamilton, ’15, are ready to try.

Makinzie Hamilton

During the week, sophomore Mackinzie Hamilton delivers the 5:30 p.m. news for Utah Public Radio.

Some Work to Do

The path to Ethiopia wasn’t easy. First, British Airways cancelled the flight for the three USU students traveling there to try their hands at global reporting. With new tickets secured, next came the shots to protect against disease.

Armed with pills to combat malaria and laden with recording equipment and reporter’s notebooks, Hamilton boarded a flight in Salt Lake City eager to touch down in Addis Ababa and begin tracking down sources. Her goal: to bring home a story worth pitching to National Public Radio. Hamilton was part of a two-week travel study trip led by Matthew LaPlante, assistant professor of journalism, designed to teach students the principles of foreign reporting.

“We’re getting the full experience,” Hamilton said from an editing booth at UPR. “You’re taking your own pictures, finding your own sources, finding your own stories, editing your own stuff—the freedom is awesome.”

She spent months researching and coordinating interviews, trying to gain permission from the Ethiopian government to enter South Sudanese refugee camps. However, once in Ethiopia her stories disintegrated. Hamilton signed up to challenge herself and this tested her ability to switch gears.

“It was really good for me in a lot of ways,” she said. “I feel like I adapted well to the situation. Even though things fell apart, I was still able to come out with something.” One of her stories was published in The Oregonian and the Deseret News.

Days started at 6 a.m. when the group met for breakfast and piled into their truck in search of stories. One interview often led to another and another. They wrote at night. Then woke up and did all over again.

“It’s a huge investment,” Hamilton said. “It’s a year of schooling, or a year and half of housing, but I am so glad I did it. I am going to hate going on trips and not reporting now.”

The experience was more than another notch on her already impressive resume. Hamilton hosts the evening news segment for UPR—a position she has held since her freshman year after interning for the station. Talking to people is her job. Watching Hamilton prepare to go on-air, one would never guess she once had a phobia of making phone calls to strangers.

“I was terrified for the longest time,” Hamilton said, swiveling her chair. “That was something I didn’t see coming. It’s kind of blown my mind the opportunities they have given me.”

And she knows that the job comes with responsibility.

“A press stamp opens doors,” she said. “I think journalism can make change just by talking about something that no one is willing to talk about.” Hamilton calmly shuffles the papers in her lap—the day’s top stories she will read in 30 minutes. Then Bringhurst knocks on her door. Wildfires have spread. New stories are coming in to package. Hamilton spins her chair towards the computer. She has some work to do.

Bailey McMurdie

Bailey McMurdie, ’12, works at Fox 13 in Salt Lake City. She credits USU journalism professor Brian Champagne for helping her get the job. Photo by Tyson Bybee.

TELEVISION—In the Action

A 25-pound camera leaves a mark. The first time you heave it onto your shoulder the weight digs into the flesh above your collarbone. Moving feels awkward. Eventually, you learn how to pivot at the hips and not feel as if the camera is the one moving you. At least that’s how it was for Bailey McMurdie, ’12, when she first picked up a shoulder-cam to film an Aggie basketball game. Soon she got used to the discomfort. Perhaps because she was too excited to notice it was there.

“I think it’s the atmosphere that gets me,” McMurdie said. “I am fascinated by people who will sacrifice their time and effort for a sport.”

Just a few years ago she never would have said that. McMurdie grew up a theater girl who played guitar; sports were something her brother did. Then she walked into the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and felt the energy of the crowd for the first time. Afterward she applied for a job as a camera operator for the athletics department, dreaming of wearing a shoulder camera because “only guys” wore them, she said.

Her senior year, McMurdie filmed every home game for every USU sport, interviewing coaches on the field and chasing players down the sidelines, making sure she never missed a shot. But the job takes a certain kind of reporter to maneuver through the crowds and who isn’t afraid to use her elbows.

“Being a woman in sports broadcasting definitely isn’t easy. People look at you differently,” she said. “I am not just on the sidelines with a microphone…I want to be in the action. Being a woman in sports is great because I am able to assert myself in a different way and people respect me for that.”

Her tenacity helped her become sports editor for the university’s student newscast A-TV News. When McMurdie began, production was low quality and without pride, she said. Then Brian Champagne was hired. The veteran news photographer demanded better work from students and McMurdie loathed him for it. It took her a while to realize he was her advocate.

“The professors don’t want to send JCOM kids away without any chance of getting a job,” she said. “JCOM people are too proud of journalism to do that.”

After graduating, McMurdie applied for more than 60 positions across the country but nothing came. Every week Champagne would text her asking how the search was going. Usually not well. He still freelances for stations in Salt Lake, which keeps his skills sharp and connections fresh. One afternoon he alerted McMurdie to a job at Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City. By July, she was juggling the assignment desk, writing stories, and controlling live feeds.

“The fact that I have a job is incredible,” she said. “And I attribute that to Brian Champagne. I can say that without a shadow of a doubt.”

McMurdie understands a hierarchy exists and that she is at the bottom of it. She looks at additional tasks that fall her way as learning opportunities and resume builders. But that doesn’t mean she is waiting for her dream job—covering local sports—to come find her.

“I have no problem putting my head out first and saying ‘Hey, I can do that,’” McMurdie said. “I’m excited for the possibilities. I’m excited for the future.”

Emily Landeen

Emily Landeen is more interested in spending time behind the camera than in front of it. After interning at KSL last summer she knew she found her path. “The second they printed out that piece of paper and said ‘this is your story,’ it wasn’t a job anymore. It was an adventure,” she said. “I really like the artistry that goes along with broadcast.”

Meeting the Bar

Emily Landeen sat in the lounge of the new Agricultural Science building glancing towards the door, a light kit tucked by her feet. She is one of 12 broadcast majors who report and produce A-TV News; and she wants to be prepared for an interview the next day.

“Some people say we do a mock newscast,” she said. “I don’t like that.”

Students have real assignments and use the same equipment found in professional newsrooms to get them filed. They operate under strict deadlines and function according to conventional news practices. The show airs on campus television and is broadcast on YouTube.

“If we don’t deliver, it’s not just letting your grades slip, it’s letting the whole newscast down,” Landeen said. “Excuses don’t have any weight; you’re either doing it or you’re not.”

After each edition the class meets to critique production and dissect story packages. They discuss areas for improvement and pause to recognize good work. Initially, Brian Champagne returned her stories suggesting she submit improved versions. After a few weeks Landeen began to appreciate his pushback.

“It wasn’t about getting an A or a B or a C, it was because he knows what he’s doing. He teaches us the industry standard,” she said. “I remember the first story I was actually proud of and thinking I can make it in this field. [Champagne’s] not just a teacher—he’s a mentor.”

Landeen began her senior year in the department’s new broadcast studio complete with new cameras and monitors. Despite the advancements, she laments new students may not fully understand the improvements.

“It’s going from the ’80s to the 21st century,” Landeen said. “They’re coming into this world at JCOM that has never happened before.”

With five new hires since 2010, the department has boosted its expectations of students. Under instruction from JCOM department head Ted Pease, professors are to grade harder and expect more because students are capable of meeting the bar. He has ratcheted back enrollment, aiming to “trim from the bottom” by upping rigor.

“We are now practicing even higher professional standards,” he said. “Sometimes you have to revisit them to make sure they stick.”

Students appreciate the results. Dozens of their stories have aired on Salt Lake news or been published in national media outlets in the last year. Since 2011, they have been recognized with 29 Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“We want to make sure our stuff is brag worthy,” Landeen said. “When someone you used to do lighting for snags a good job in the industry you are happy for them. We want to be proud of each other and ourselves.”

Cameron Salony

Cameron Salony, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Site, leads outreach activities about the site’s environmental cleanup. More than 5 billion gallons of contaminated ground water have been treated to date. Eventually, parts of the site will be opened to the public for heritage tourism, preservation, and industrial use. Photo courtesy of Cameron Salony.

PUBLIC RELATIONS—Important Work

Before World War II, the town of Hanford, Washington, was not much more than a stopover between somewhere else. And then the federal government came to town. On March 9, 1943, government officials red-tagged homes and farms, explaining to residents and native tribes they were being relocated because the area was needed for “important war work.”

The site was selected for nuclear production during the Manhattan Project because of its location along the Columbia River and distance from significant human populations. The production site produced nearly two-thirds of the nation’s supply of plutonium during its operation. The process also created 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste. Seventy years later, Cameron Salony, ’09, is helping the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with other important work—cleaning it up.

“I think it’s very important that we honor our commitments to the public and protect the environment and our workers,” he said. “It is a big commitment, but it’s something we are working towards every day.”

Salony, a public affairs specialist, leads public tours of the site and outreach efforts with stakeholders who often have opposing ideas of how the land should be stewarded. Salony was overwhelmed when first hired to the post four years ago, and credits the JCOM program with giving him a foundation from which to build upon, he said.

“Hanford is much bigger than I ever thought it would be,” he said. “There’s no blueprint for this. This has never happened before.”

Hanford is 586-square acres of rolling sage brush dotted with plutonium production facilities. It houses the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor where plutonium in the bomb detonated over Nagasaki was manufactured. In 1989, the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington established an environmental cleanup plan. The project will take decades to complete. Cleanup is projected to conclude in 2060, but the timeline is adjusted as new contamination deposits and cultural artifacts are discovered.

Hanford is among the most complex environmental cleanup sites in the world, Salony said. “This is the first time the country has undergone a cleanup effort of this kind.”

The scientists leading the cleanup efforts are charting new territory similar to the contractors who built the first reactors in the 1940s. Salony set out to explain the complex cleanup process in terminology the public could understand. He partnered with Hanford scientists to learn about the former nuclear power plant—the good, the bad, and the clandestine. He produced a documentary film about his first year on the job called The Area: A Journey through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that has been shown at universities across the Intermountain West. The film can be viewed on YouTube.

“I find that when people come on a tour they have those types of reservations—why does it cost so much? Why does it take so long?” he said. “It’s all about education. I love the opportunity that I have been afforded. [Hanford] is a big part of the nation’s history.”

Mackenzie Love

Mackenzie Love, president of True Blue Communications, a student-run public relations and advertising firm at USU, seeks to expand its list of clients this year.

An Immediate Impact

Mackenzie Love’s generation uses texting as its preferred mode of communication. Nearly all have some form of online presence, and many may never be asked for a paper resume. For Love, ’13, businesses without a website or social media strategy aren’t likely to get hers.

“Social media can be a make or break for a company; I really feel that way,” she said. “I think it helps legitimize a business.”

Love, ’13, is studying public relations at USU. She is president of True Blue Communications, the university’s student-run public relations and advertising firm. The group partners with professional clients that students develop marketing campaigns for and execute in real-time. Their success is not measured in grades, but by website hits, follower counts, and client satisfaction.

“It’s such a neat opportunity for students to get that experience—especially for students close to graduating,” Love said. “Some of the companies we have worked with have hired students afterward.”

True Blue’s client list includes the American West Heritage Center, Aggie Ice Cream, and ICON Health and Fitness. Love’s goal is to expand the club and its client base. For her, the task is akin to advancing a startup through social media and branding efforts—a job she would like to occupy one day. Love is attracted to work in public relations because of the direct impact one can have on a company using creativity and innovation. After taking a social media course where students designed strategies for local companies, she saw how it can make a difference in a company’s bottom line.

“It is important. It is not just a fun class—it’s a tool you will use,” Love said. “I feel you have to be a jack of all trades.”

Public relations students at USU are taught using the same journalistic principles and ethics as print and broadcast majors. They understand and practice good journalism. But for Love, seeking a degree in the field was a tough sell.

“I was kind of scared and skeptical to go into journalism because some say it is a dying field,” she said.

But taking Introduction to News Writing with department head Ted Pease changed her mind about the future of the industry and her role in it, she said. Love is refining her photography, graphic design, and writing skills as an intern at USU Extension and Botanical Center.

“I have so much love for this program,” she said. “I feel like it has opened up so many doors for me already.”

Jeffrey Allred

Jeffrey Allred believes everybody has a story. He uses photographs to try to tell them. Photo by Tyson Bybee.

PRINT JOURNALISM—Something to Be Proud Of

When Jeffrey Allred first learned to photograph the news, pictures were printed in black and white and film was hand processed. Things have changed a bit since 1990. For one, Allred no longer sleeps with a police scanner switched on in his kitchen. Now he almost always shoots in color using a digital camera and darkrooms no longer have a place in newsrooms.

“I count my blessings every day for the job,” Allred said. “I really owe it to my professor and mentor Nelson Wadsworth [who retired from Utah State in 1994]. He was instrumental in getting me internships; he was instrumental in getting me interviews.”

Allred spoke between assignments for the Deseret News—his employer for the past 18 years. At each site he shoots, downloads images, edits, and captions photographs without ever having to set foot in the office. The process is different from his first job at The Salt Lake Tribune—a position he was offered before graduating from USU. He completed coursework remotely and wound up photographing his class graduation instead of walking with his peers. The assignment was a fitting punctuation to Allred’s academic career.

“At Utah State I learned the basics of my craft,” he said. “My teachers taught me ethics that never go away…This whole job has been a good education for me.”

He has traveled to nearly all 50 states and touched down in Russia, Italy, Greece, Haiti, and Mexico on assignment. Allred has won several press awards and been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for a body of work he produced while embedded with Utah medical personnel volunteering in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. But Allred shies away from discussing accolades.

“Journalists enter a lot of contests,” he said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m really happy if I can come up with a couple of images a month I can be really proud of.”

Allred is more interested in storytelling.

“Our job [as photojournalists] is really to inform the public,” he said. “We’re not a lot different from writers. They’re trying to tell a story with words, I try to tell it with images. If I can get a reaction out of people, I have done my job.”

Allred works as a freelance photojournalist for The New York Times, Reuters, and USA Today and teaches burgeoning photojournalists at Brigham Young University as an adjunct professor. Twenty-five years ago he started photographing homeless people around the country. Most photographs have never been published. Allred is still figuring out how to show them in a meaningful way that benefits the homeless community.

“This could be a way of giving back,” he said.

The project has its roots in a photography class at USU when Allred decided to go out into the community and take portraits of people in their own environment. He has never really stopped.

“I love being out in the community. I love meeting new people every day. I love not knowing what I’m shooting in the afternoon because it could change,” Allred said. “Everybody has a story. Everyone has story they can tell. And I try to do that.”

Rhett Wilkinson

“I will always admire what I feel to be the heroic efforts of journalists,” said senior Rhett Wilkinson after his internship on Capitol Hill. “I did definitely learn a lot from a media aspect by being there because I see how divisive our nation is right now in terms of policy. We really need balanced media. It’s so important.” Photo by Tyson Bybee.

A Profession Worth Fighting For

As an intern in Congressman Rob Bishop’s office in Washington, D.C., Rhett Wilkinson, ’13, gave tours, answered phones, and corresponded with constituents. Not a bad gig for a political junkie like himself. While he fell hard for the city, the experience highlighted the challenges that befall political reporters.

Wilkinson’s internship coincided with one of the most gridlocked periods in the nation’s history—a time when few laws were passed and dialogue between political parties appeared nonexistent. For the journalism major, good reporting seemed crucial for helping pass policy, yet he witnessed a lack of respect for the profession across both sides of the aisle.

“The role of journalists is so critical,” he said. “The media is just as important or more important than the politicians. We really need balanced media. Politicians can’t really do their job very well if the media isn’t there. They need to be kept honest, and they need to have their policies made known to the public...[Political reporters] are heroes in my mind because they really do the dirty work.”

Wilkinson was that 13-year-old who got up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the news. In high school he won a national competition to report a game of the Utah Jazz. Now he is a freelancer for the Deseret News and the Standard Examiner whose stories have been picked up by papers, including USA Today. Wilkinson is passionate that print survives. Last year, he helped found Aggie BluePrint—a monthly online magazine produced by entirely by students and designed to provide a voice for them.

Over the summer BluePrint received a grant from Campus Progress, a non-profit supporting campus media organizations, to produce its first print version which debuted in December. Wilkinson suspects his work as assistant managing editor helped him secure the internship in D.C. and snare a position working in the communications arm of the Utah Governor’s Office. He wrote speeches, transcribed interviews, and maintained the governor’s website; all while wrapping up his degree at Utah State and churning out freelance stories.

“Reporters have to be more well-rounded than probably anybody else in society,” Wilkinson said. “That’s why I will advocate 24 hours a day for media and communications degrees because our society is so much better off when people are informed. Maybe the best cause to fight for is against ignorance.”

That’s why Ted Pease is adamant students graduate with the skills journalists need to thrive. Innovations in the field have historically forced JCOM faculty and students to adapt. When email first emerged, professors were early adopters, requiring students to get on board. At one point, a USU intern was the only person at an area newsroom who understood how to use it, Pease said. In 1996, he started Hard News Café—the first online news outlet in the state. Writing for the publication remains a requirement for JCOM students.

“Journalism education nationally in the past 10 years has really struggled with this whole idea of technology congruence,” he said. “But chasing technology is impossible because it’s always going to be ahead of you…Writing is still the most important tool.”

After a decade at the helm, Pease will step down at the end of the year feeling on top of his game.

“We have a new building, new blood, and I like where the program is heading,” he said. “We’re keeping the foundations. You still have to write. You still have to fact check. But you have the new delivery systems. We’re not chasing technology, but our students can compete with anyone.”