If anybody knows what it takes to make it in journalism, it’s recently-retired Wall Street Journal talent editor Jim Pensiero, a 1975 UO graduate.
During a 31-year career with the iconic newspaper, Pensiero held myriad leadership positions from deputy managing editor to assistant publisher. He and his wife, Karen Miller Pensiero, the journal’s current editor of newsroom standards, have been longtime allies of the UO’s School of Journalism and Communication, giving both time and money to support the program.
So last spring, when two SOJC faculty members wanted to take a group of journalism students to New York for a one-week media tour, the university knew the couple to contact. The Pensieros were all for it.
Advertising students had been making the trip for years, but this would be a first for those on the journalism track.
“Some of the students had never been to New York, and I think that’s its own reward,” Jim Pensiero said. “And I think the ones who had been to New York had never seen it for what it really is: the media and financial capital of the United States, and maybe, arguably, the media and financial capital of the world.”
The couple liked the idea so much, they made a gift to help fund the trip — and shared their time, expertise and New York connections to help make it a success.
With the leadership of Lisa Heyamato, a journalism instructor, and Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism, the students visited 16 diverse media outlets, from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to ProPublica and BuzzFeed, and two powerhouse J-schools, the City University of New York and Columbia University.
Professor and Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement Andrew DeVigal was instrumental in making many of those crucial connections with the publications, Heyamoto said. “DeVigal used to work at the New York Times, and has a vast network of New York journalists that he generously tapped into to set up the visits.”
The group also met outstanding UO alumni, including journalist and photojournalist Ann Curry, a UO trustee, former NBC News network anchor and international correspondent who has won multiple national news Emmys as well as numerous other awards.
In addition to learning and networking, the trip gave students a chance to show East Coast media outlets what Ducks are all about, said Jonathan Bach, who graduated in June and is now interning at the Wall Street Journal’s bureau in Detroit.
“It was an opportunity for journalism students to represent the University of Oregon well,” he said, “and to show these newspapers and news outlets that the J-school at the University of Oregon really puts out excellent students.”
The Pensieros not only helped him pay for the trip, they helped secure the internship, Bach said.
“The most important lesson I learned was that these places are not as hard to reach out to as you might think. Even if you are a young journalist, there are opportunities for you at these prestigious institutions.”
Samantha Matsumoto, a 2016 graduate, was most surprised by the “unique personality and culture” at the New York media companies. Even so, one of the most important lessons she learned from the trip is the notion that standards and ethics are platform-neutral.
“In order to keep up with the changes in the journalism industry, it's important for young journalists to push boundaries and question why we do things the way we do,” she said. “But the traditional ethics that guide journalism remain, regardless of the changes.”
Matsumoto, who hopes to work at a newspaper after a summer internship at The Oregonian, believes the trip would have been financially impossible for her if not for the Pensieros’ gift.
“It meant a lot to have people believe in my future as an SOJC journalist and to invest in giving me and the other students such a powerful experience,” she said. “This trip really opened me up to what is possible in journalism, and I am so grateful I was able to go.”
Judy Holtz, another 2016 grad who is now a video production assistant for UO Communications, thought the trip would be about finding employment opportunities, but she soon learned it was about much more.
“I have never been pushed as hard in my college career as I was in those five days,” she said. “We were rushed between two to three companies every day and in each conversation my peers and I were in a rapid-fire question-and-answer period.”
The most valuable piece of advice she received? “Just get out and create work,” she said.
“As a student, there are times when you feel like you are hindered by your abilities to produce work that is at a professional level. I learned from this experience that you should just keep pushing yourself to produce work that you are proud of and challenge yourself on a daily basis.”
After the trip, senior Shirley Chan was filled with optimism. She was inspired, particularly, by the innovation at the New York Times labs.
“Seeing how technology was being put to use got me excited for the future of journalism,” she said. “The power of data and technology came together to take audience engagement to the next level.”
She credits the Pensieros with providing a life-changing opportunity for her.
“Without their support and generosity, I wouldn't have had one of the most valuable experiences of my time at the SOJC,” she said. “The lessons I've learned continue to stick with me every day.”
For the Pensieros, the admiration is mutual. After meeting the students in New York, they were impressed.
“I thought the kids were very, very smart,” Jim Pensiero said. “If you look at their blogs and social media posts, they’re quite perceptive. I think we got to see the best and brightest from the school.”
He believes the trip was important because it allowed the students to see their profession in its highest form.
“Sometimes when something’s very far away it becomes intangible, and maybe it’s not even in your scope,” he said. “So if it opened a few eyes and made some of them shoot a little higher, then it’s worth every nickel.”
—By LeeAnn Dakers, 1996 School of Journalism and Communication graduate