Catching up with Ken Smith, getting some great words of advice for student journalists

In updating the “Dynamics of Media Writing,” I got a chance to catch up with an old friend and incredible journalist, Ken Smith. Ken spent the past 15 years at some of the best news organizations in the country, helping to cover some of the most important news of the day.

During his time at the St. Petersburg Times, he was a copy editor and designer who worked on numerous big stories, such as the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl win and the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster in 2003. As a Page One designer at the Houston Chronicle in the middle of the decade, he worked on hurricane coverage (Katrina and Rita) as well as the death of Pope John Paul II and the Texas Longhorns’ 2005 national championship.

After moving to the Washington Post in 2006, he spent seven years as an assistant news editor/national politics producers. During his time at the D.C.-based publication, he was the lead designer on the extra edition and commemorative edition for President Obama’s inauguration and he worked on the design and production of two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories– The Virginia Tech shootings and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center crisis.

Today, he is the web and emergency communication specialist for the city of Bryan, Texas, where he oversees multiple websites for organizations throughout the area. He also serves a a liaison to the regional emergency operations center, meaning he disseminates crisis-communication information during disasters. He said he relies on his journalism training every day and that writing remains at the core of what he does. He was  also nice enough to offer some advice to students about what they need to succeed in this field:

 

  • “Everyone needs an editor. No matter who you are, or what you do, or how high you rise, everyone needs an editor. And, that editor will save you from yourself.”

  • “Get it right. If you’re not sure, don’t write it. Your credibility is everything in journalism and in life.”

  • “Don’t ever write something down that you don’t want to see splashed all over the Internet. This is especially true of social media. Employers do look at your social media accounts. Don’t ever think that the disclaimer “opinions are my own, not the company’s” will matter to your employer.”

  • “Learn to code. It can only help you. It will also impress people and raise your profile. You don’t have to be a back-end development wizard, but just knowing how to do the basics — and knowing how hard it is — will give you a greater understanding of what can and can’t be done, and it will allow you to speak intelligently with developers and other technical persons.”

  • “Learn everything you can. No matter what it is, never turn down an opportunity to learn some new skills. You never know when you might need them.”

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