Sandra Fish is a journalism instructor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She’s worked for various publications, such as the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, and the Camera in Boulder. She joined Camera in 1994, and it was here that she would serve as editor of the health and fitness section. She would go on to be an editorial consultant for the Colorado Independent and a freelancer for other publications. Fish got her bachelors in Journalism and Political Science at Iowa State University. She would later get a master’s in Political Science as well.
Fish was interviewed by Ben Leinen, a junior studying journalism at the University of Iowa.
Ben Leinen: Why did you become involved in journalism?
Sandra Fish: As a high school student, I knew I wanted to be a journalist covering serious news. So I attended Iowa State University to major in journalism and political science and worked some for the Iowa State Daily. After finishing coursework for a master’s in political science at ISU, I got a job at a small daily newspaper in Carroll, Iowa. For me, journalism is important because we provide people information about a range of issues that they want and need to know about, from politics to sports to food and more. Personally, being a journalist means I have an opportunity to learn new things every day.
BL: How do you define journalism today?
SF: As Kovach and Rosenstiel write, journalism provides “citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” That’s my definition too.
BL: How has technology influenced or affected your career?
SF: I’ve always loved technology, and it’s been exciting to see so many innovations during my career. Easier use of spreadsheets and database programs in the early 1990s, for example, made it easier to gather and analyze information for stories. The internet, including Facebook and Twitter, allow us to track down sources and share our work with others. Google and software programs like QGIS let us map data and display it interactively for our audience to peruse and search out answers on their own. It’s great (well, OK, not always, but often) to get feedback from readers via comments or emails online.
BL: How will technology affect the future of journalism?
SF: The platforms on which journalism is published will constantly evolve. But the mission of journalism will remain the same: to inform citizens in a democracy, to pursue the truth, to cover the undercovered.
BL: What’s one word you would use to describe the status of women in journalism today?
BL: What roles will women have in future journalism?
SF: I’d love to see more women in leadership roles in news organizations, print, broadcast and online. It’s great that Jill Abramson is in the top slot at the New York Times, but we need more women in executive roles, leading newsrooms, than we have now. We also need more women specializing in the technology side of journalism, as technologists/programmers, graphic artists/visualizers and data analysts.
BL: How do you view equality today?
SF: It’s disappointing to see how little progress has been made in the last 20 years. A few years ago I was at Poynter for a workshop at the same time there was a “future of news” seminar going on – as i looked down at that group, I noted that the future of news appeared to be a bunch of middle-aged white guys. It’s been difficult for women to break into those upper management ranks. I know many women working on this issue, but we can’t do it alone.
BL: What was your favorite memory over your career?
SF: There are too many to name. I’ve had some great times and worked with some great colleagues, men and women in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Probably the best part of my career are the lasting friendships I’ve made with so many people. Most recently, i’m especially proud of this piece I cowrote for the Orlando Sentinel with a young woman I mentored almost 20 years ago.
BL: What advice would you give to undergrads before entering the field?
SF: As it was when I started out in the early 1980s, it is now. You’ve got to want to be a journalist. We don’t get paid a lot, we work really hard, we’re not always appreciated. But you’ve got find satisfaction in learning something new everyday, sharing that information with people who need to know and doing work that will make a difference.
BL: What hurdles have you had to jump in your career?
SF: In my first job, I once had a sports editor insinuate he couldn’t possibly send me to cover a boys’ basketball game. But i did it anyway. At the same job, I had to dodge the publisher trying to kiss me under the mistletoe at a party. I’ve worked for people who weren’t that supportive, but I tried to maintain a positive attitude and look at the bigger picture of what I was trying to accomplish.
BL: What is objectivity to you?
SF: I’m not certain objectivity is a possibility. As Kovach & Rosenstiel say, it may be more of a method, and perhaps it’s better to talk about pursing stories in a fair and balanced ways, to consider all sides, but also consider that when the evidence overwhelmingly points in one direction that we shouldn’t give as much weight to those who disagree. We do owe it to readers to explain the processes and details of democracy as accurately as possible. That, to me, is more important than objectivity.
BL: Does it still play an important role in media today?
SF: As I write above, it’s more important that we “seek the truth and report it,” focusing on verification and getting the best information out to our audience.
This is part of a series of profiles of JAWS members by University of Iowa students. For a complete listing, see this page.