For this week’s Media Monday, we’d like you to meet Nicole Jennings, staff writer for the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter.
1. How did you find yourself at the Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter?
This past spring I was nearing the end of a Fulbright year as a teaching assistant in Salzburg, Austria, and was applying to quite a few journalism positions back home in anticipation of my move back to the U.S. in June. Ironically, the first place from which I heard was not one of the jobs I had applied to. My editor, Carrie Rodriguez, sought me out over email. She had gotten my name from the editor of the Kirkland Reporter, and was interested in having me interview for the Issaquah journalist position, which had just opened up. (We have one journalist for Issaquah and one for Sammamish, plus a sports reporter.) The interview process involved navigating through a nine-hour time difference and Skype calls that malfunctioned, (one of which I did from a hotel room while visiting England for a weekend). Despite the 6,000-mile distance, we managed to complete two interviews (one over the phone and one over Skype), and I landed the job. Five days after I got back to the U.S., I started work in Bellevue.
2. Which of your stories are you most proud of?
I’ve only been here six months, but I would say I’m proudest of the series of pieces I’ve done on the troubled Issaquah Valley Senior Center. It’s been my first chance to really dig deep and do some investigative reporting, and I’ve been able to reveal some injustices that had been swept under the rug for two years, as well as give voices to seniors who felt like they hadn’t been heard. I’m proud of any time that I feel like my writing has truly made a difference in people’s lives, and hearing the gratitude of the seniors I’ve written about every time I walk into the senior center has been so amazing and humbling. I hope I’ve been able to help them.
3. What is your favorite part about your job?
It’s hard to narrow it down! First and foremost, it’s incredible to get paid to do what I love most – to write all day. I’m also very thankful to have such a kind and supportive editor and wonderful colleagues. Finally, the exciting thing about journalism is working on a different story every day. I get to learn about a new topic and meet new people for every article I write. This past Friday, for instance, I got to get up close with a tiger for an article on the Cougar Mountain Zoo’s holiday festivities! It never gets old.
4. What is your interview style?
My interview style may be a little irregular in that is more of a conversation than a series of questions. I learned way back on my high school newspaper that if I go in with specific questions, I know I will spend more time stressing about getting all the questions answered than jiving with my subject. Instead, I go in with general ideas of what I want to talk about, but I just let the conversation flow – all while taking copious notes, of course! I end up discovering things I never would have discovered if I had just stuck to a basic question list, and I feel like this conversation method puts my subject – and me – at ease much more quickly.
5. What do you look for in a story?
I look for anything that pops out as a little-known fact, anything people might be surprised about. I also look for relevance – what does this story mean to an Issaquah audience? If the average community member wouldn’t care, then there’s no point in writing the story.
6. What is your day like at your job?
The first part of my day requires extreme patience, because my commute takes over an hour! (I am coming from Mount Vernon.) Usually I try to get between one and two stories written in a day, so that I’m never stressed and having to rush things out on deadline. I’ve never been able to procrastinate. The first thing I do when I get to work is check Twitter and my emails, update the website and Tweet out the new stories. The social media side of things can be deceptively time-consuming! After that, I usually start in on phone interviews, or, if interviews are done, then writing. Sometimes in there I edit photos, as well. A couple of times a week on average I go into Issaquah to cover a story or do interviews in person. My favorite thing is when I get to go out in the field on a story – getting away from my desk, stretching my legs, meeting people and taking photos is always a nice change to being in the office all day. I usually leave around 5, and if I can, I try to make my long commute useful by getting done what I can in the car. Obviously I can’t write while driving, but I often listen to city council or school board meetings while I’m driving. On Wednesdays, our production day, we spend the entire day laying out the paper and copy-editing. I enjoy doing layout because it’s a chance to stretch my artistic muscles.
7. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
Reporters who don’t lose their values in order to please an audience or a news outlet. Reporters who stand up to criticism and stay true to their work. Reporters who keep pursuing a story against all odds. Reporters who are willing to put themselves in danger in order to report the truth.
8. What is your favorite news outlet?
I like to keep up with world news, and I find that American news sources tend to be very U.S.-centric, so the BBC is usually my go-to website. I also enjoy keeping up with the German language newspapers from the areas of Germany and Austria where I have lived and where my relatives still live, such as the Salzburger Nachrichten out of Salzburg, Austria, the Süddeutsche Zeitung out of Munich, Germany, and the hometown newspaper, the Fränkischer Tag out of my family’s hometown, Bamberg, Germany. I occasionally try to keep up my French skills by reading Le Monde. Back home in the U.S., I read CNN for national news, and on the local side of things, I of course grew up watching KOMO, KIRO and KING after school.
9. Fill in the blank:
- If I am not reporting, I am…reading novels, jogging, traveling or doing community theatre! I am currently in the show “A Christmas Story.” Singing and acting are my secondary passion.
- If I could interview anyone, it would be…Chancellor Angela Merkel, in German. I admire her strength and intelligence as a woman on the world stage, and I would love to be able to combine my love of languages with my love of journalism.
- My favorite thing about the Seattle area is…the natural beauty. We have everything here! Farmland, forests, mountains, lakes, ocean and even (if you go far enough) desert and rain forest. I am swimming and hiking all summer long. I love living in the Skagit Valley because it is out of the city and I’m surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes. I live down the street from the tulip fields, and pass them on my morning jogs in April.
10. What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate. Fashion magazines (it’s not hard-hitting journalism, but I wouldn’t mind working at one for a while!). British dramas. Historical romance novels. Musicals. At this time of year, cheesy Christmas movies. Buzzfeed quizzes.