While the future of journalism may be uncertain, Willamette Week editor Mark Zusman had some unconventional tips for success in this changing industry.
Zusman’s Adventures in Alternative Journalism presentation was the latest installment in the Walter Cronkite School’s Must See Mondays speaker series.
“People who succeed don’t do so because of what they do or how they do it, but why they do it. Because they spend some time to decide that stirs their soul,” Zusman said.
He broke down his method for soul-stirring journalism into three key values.
“The first is rattle cages. This value stems from the belief that too many journalists have lost faith with the roots of our noble profession,” Zusman said.
Zusman referenced a Willamette Week article called “The 30-Year Secret.” The article unveiled former politician Neil Goldschmidt’s molestation of a 14-year-old girl. Goldschmidt molested the girl while he was the mayor of Portland.
Goldschmidt hid the act for years and would later become the governor of Oregon while his victim lived a strenuous and harsh life. Once word of the secret reached Willamette Week, Goldschmidt and his attorney asked the publication to hold the story back. They declined and Goldschmidt soon resigned from all of his positions in Oregon.
“Our second — enter imaginatively into the action,” Zusman said. “What does that mean? Well, that means thinking imaginatively about how to make the significant interesting. It means rejecting the notion of journalism as stenography. It means engaging readers.”
Zusman explained that the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office in Oregon said garbage was public property once it was on the curb, so the Willamette Week did some digging. They sent reporters to dig through the refuse of the mayor, police chief and district attorney and published the results.
Another method of alternative journalism at the Willamette Week is engaging young voters.
“Young people don’t vote. The problem is, politics to the average 22-year-old is confusing and even boring. We set out to de-mystify politics,” Zusman said.
Candidates Gone Wild, an event presented by Willamette Week helps introduce local politicians to the youth and community. Rather than parade politicians in front of constituents, Candidates Gone Wild injects humor into the political process. One year, political candidate Randy Leonard made a milkshake by powering a blender by peddling a bicycle — while wearing spandex.
Zusman’s last value centered around the idea of recognizing charities and charitable actions. Willamette Week actively engages its readers to give to local nonprofits by spotlighting numerous charities.
Along with his alternative take on success in the journalism business, Zusman closed out his lecture by suggesting students look to weekly publications, not just dailies, for future employment. Columbia University recommends weeklies such as Willamette Week to students, Zusman said.
Journalism freshman Wafa Shahid commented on her interest in Zusman’s alternative style.
“I like that he’s trying to appeal to an intellectual audience. I thought his values were very different, they weren’t cut and dry,” Shahid said.
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