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After Graduation: Reporting from Kansas

Hello Loyola,

I’m Kamil Zawadzki, an alum of Loyola’s School of Communication, Class of 2010. Since my graduation in May of that year, it’s been pretty interesting, to say the least. Like some of you that may be reading this, I majored in journalism, a field that so many people say is in its death throes.

Yet, nearly two years after finishing my undergrad studies, I am at work, practicing this field and keeping it alive and well. The twist is, I’m no longer in the place that was my hometown for more than a decade – Chicago.

I live in Garden City, a small town of about 30,000 in southwestern Kansas. I work at the local paper, The Garden City Telegram, and serve as the Web Editor, which entails shooting and producing video pieces to go along with print stories to be posted up on our website.

Now, let me say that even at my graduation ceremony, if someone had told me I would within a year be living and working in Kansas, I would’ve said they are out of their minds. I could never! And yet, here I am, and doing pretty well. Though I have written only a few articles here and there in my year working at The Telegram, I have on average filed two to three videos per week. Comparing my first few to my most recent pieces, I have seen improvements, while taking note of what else I might need to work on to get better yet. Additionally, I am part of the daily news process including deciding on the story budget, copyediting and laying out pages. After a year of doing this, not only am I a triple-threat – able to write, edit and design on deadline, produce video packages and manage web content – but I find myself still as in love with journalism as I was back in college.

And that, I believe, is thanks in part to the place of work I’ve landed in as my first job in the field: Small Town, USA. This is where journalism is still important, and it’s where a person fresh out of college can thrive – if nothing else, get some clips, multimedia pieces and learn the ropes before moving on to bigger or better.
I’m not here to say that I’m making a six-figure salary, and quite frankly I don’t know if I ever will – that’s a bridge I’ll cross whenever I have a chance to get to it. And it’s not an easy thing to literally pick up your life, stuff it into a car, and take off for parts unknown, in a completely different part of the country.

But sometimes, that’s what you have to do. Few people, if any, will be fortunate enough to start at CNN, the Chicago Tribune or any such big-market brand right out of college. In fact, many news outlets in Chicago require some years of experience to even apply for a position.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try – you just might get it! But be realistic as you begin prowling for jobs in this field (or any field, for that matter). Sometimes, even internships or years working at the college paper don’t count in these top-level markets.

Be willing to move to the smaller locale. Because much as some feature ledes might have you believe, these “sleepy hamlets” are not always so sleepy – indeed, it is in small towns like Garden City, Kansas that you can find remarkable stories that may exist but are often lost in the hustle and bustle of the big city.
In my year living and working here, I have had the pleasure and honor of helping people share some amazing stories from their lives. From the tale of a woman who grew up with lions literally in her house to a mother grieving for a lost son, to pulling together a breaking news story on a fire threatening a neighboring town and covering a local election, I’ve pretty much done it all. And just the other day, I was surrounded by about 50 bison amidst breathtaking landscapes, as part of a multimedia package for our weekend feature.
These small towns are where some of the most precious gems, and most exciting news, are often hidden by outsider misconceptions. But journalists must be curious. It is our job to find these stories and give a voice to people who have simply never been asked about their lives before.

You might not land in a big metropolis, and might end up following the path I and many before me have taken to start small and work your way up. But that first year or so on the job, especially in a smaller community, will not only shape you as a journalist, but will determine whether you sink or swim. If you can make it out in the smaller towns, you’ll be able to make it in the next step up, and you’ll be a better journalist for it.

Good luck,
Kamil Zawadzki