Watchdog Wonder: Megan Luther

There are just a few reasons why a college student will get out of bed before noon on the weekend. Other than the beckoning of Denny’s hash browns or to head home for the start of a semester break, we take advantage of every second of our slumber.

If we are lucky enough to have 15 minutes to nap during the week, it is probably because we’re forgetting to do something.

But, on Saturday, October 18, I did it. I overcame the forces pulling my eyelids together and got myself out of bed, not only before noon, but before 7 a.m.

I had the opportunity to attend an Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Watchdog Workshop at the Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York.

There, I met IRE Training Director Megan Luther.

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In addition to all of the incredibly valuable information she and the other presenters shared about improving our work, I also learned quite a bit about attending graduate school as a journalism major.

The thought of going out into the “real world” is scary. The thought of doing it in just over a year, is terrifying. Deciding whether to go to college for another two years or throw myself immediately into the job market is a thought that has been clouding my mind for months now.

When I got to speak with Megan again, she reminded me that what I’m going through is not out of the ordinary and she too was once in my position.

“I had a hard time deciding what job I wanted or where I wanted to apply, and that made me think that maybe I [was] not ready.”

And this is where the debate really begins.

Journalism is just one of those majors that makes people raise their eyebrows. I have been through it a thousand times:

There aren’t many jobs in the newspaper industry anymore.

Oh… what do you plan to do with that?

At least you don’t have to go to grad school.

But I do have the option of attending graduate school.

Columbia University has a Journalism School. An ivy league has an entire school committed to the studying and practicing the art of journalism.

“You’re warned that you’re not going to get necessarily a better job or more money with a master’s… I decided I really loved journalism and I loved the study of it, the analysis, the ethics and the philosophy.”

So, she went. After attending the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for her bachelors degree, Megan went south to the University of Missouri. During her graduate studies, Megan held an assistantship with IRE. Her experience in graduate school changed her career path drastically.

“I did take an Excel class in college but I wasn’t going into journalism thinking, ‘I’m gonna do data.’ Then, when I went to graduate school and did my assistantship at IRE, that totally changed. I really love that aspect.”

What if going to graduate school could have that same effect on me? What if I receive a job offer right out of Fredonia and miss out on that opportunity? What if two more years of school just puts me two more years in debt?

I’ve always been indecisive. I like to have a plan. I need to have a plan. Not having a plan for my incredibly near future is terrifying. I am sure it will come in due time, but for now, I aspire to have the certain passion Megan has for her position with IRE.

“I love training. I love teaching. What’s awesome is I just get to meet a lot of great journalists and I learn a lot on the road when journalists share their tips. It’s fun to help reporters with stories they’re working on.”

The first step to finding and landing the job I love is to get myself noticed. I have been told over and over again that the best way to get my foot in the door, as Kelley Lord said, is persistence.

Megan had the opportunity to shadow one of her inspirations, Twin Cities tv reporter Boyd Huppert, on the job.

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“He is an amazing writer and an amazing storyteller. Calling him a reporter does not do justice to what he does. In my free time, he allowed me to come with him during the daily grind. I was with him through the whole day.”

At the Atlanta Journal-Counstitution, Megan worked under Editor Jim Walls, a man who never obtained a college degree and still managed to have an incredibly successful, 38-year print journalism career. He gave Megan a realistic perspective on journalists working in the field, regardless of how extensive their collegiate experience may or may not have been.

“He was one of those people who knows what he doesn’t know. He just had a great upbringing of working his way up. He knows, ‘Hey, I don’t know everything but I’m going to find out.’ He knows what he doesn’t know.”

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Admitting ignorance is one of the most difficult things for people to do. As journalists, we must do it all the time. If you walk into an interview overconfident or unprepared and without having even so much as looked up your subject or interviewee, things are not likely to end well.

“I think it’s a great philosophy to live by as journalists. We know a little about a lot of different things and as soon as you think that you’re an expert at something is when I think journalists tend to get in trouble.”

Just having the opportunity to converse with  Megan (through a bluetooth system on her way to the airport) and discuss her experiences has helped immensely with my graduate school debate. Her final advice is still ringing in my ear:

“Get as much input as you can. I think that’s what we do in our nature anyway as journalists, [we] gather all of the facts.”

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