Truth, Justice, And The New American Way
Long before Clark Kent first slipped on a stylish pair of spectacles, journalists have fought to
give voice to the voiceless [I hate this phrase] and defend the rights of underserved communities. SPJ UW President, UW Daily reporter, and Seattle freelance journalist, Kelsey Hamlin, may not think of herself as a hero, but she has spent her college years wielding words as deftly as Wonder Woman slings her lasso of truth. —Megan Jeffrey, Department Communications Specialist
What path led you to the Department?
“For me, there was no roundabout journey. It was always straight-up Journalism. I wanted to pursue it for a long time. I just enjoy writing, found out that I was good at it. But there were moments I was concerned that journalism wasn’t going to be ‘enough;’ There is always this pressure to make money. Then after one quarter, I realized that, yes, I love telling people’s stories. I enjoy the responsibility of doing that ethically and accurately. I also like the freedom of delving into things on your own, digging through records, and connecting all the pieces. Journalism is intersectional and so multifaceted that there is not one thing I could say that would encompass everything I love about it.”
It is an interesting time to be a student and a journalist. Tell us about some of your recent stories…
“It’s [wild] right now. I think I’ve written about ten stories in the last few days. I’m even a little angry with myself for working so hard, but I’m not surprised; It is the expectation when newsrooms are underfunded and understaffed and so many chaotic, upsetting, and newsworthy things are happening all at once.
I tend to cover protests and politics, but it can be overwhelming. It’s also time-consuming when you end up walking 3-8 miles during multiple marches. Recently I have covered, for different publications, the Women’s March, the Westlake marches, the breaking news of AG Ferguson suing Trump […] I mean, the UW shooting alone resulted in three or four pieces, and there was another break in that story last night!
The Milo Yiannopoulos protest was one moment, of several actually, when I felt I was doing what I was meant to be doing as a journalist. I arrived on the scene right when the shooting happened; all other journalist were inside covering Yiannopoulos. Everyone was freaking out. My friends texted me asking if I was OK, but it was fine and I knew I had to be there. This was and is my job. I’m not going to back down just because it’s scary.
I am the daughter of a cop, so I have been involved in politics my entire life [without necessarily realizing it until I went to college]. Reporting on chaotic events like this is natural for me. I’m also pursuing a minor in Law, Societies & Justice, and the knowledge I have gained from that has been extremely handy when reporting on freedom of speech and equity issues. I have a lot on my plate, and many people reaching out to me with assignments. While it is lovely that they have that trust in me as a journalist, I still have to balance everything with school.”
How has it been working for organizations like The Seattle Times and South Seattle Emerald?
“Working for so many different publications—different not only in name but also in the ways they operate—has taught me more than I can express here. For example, when I worked as a legislative reporter for the Times, it was an opportunity to learn the dynamics of a larger publication, but the learning curve was very intense because you are dealing with a huge community [at the State Capitol]. You have to learn how to match names with faces because if you don’t, you’ll have a hard time catching sources for comment when they rush past you in a hallway. The first two months were a struggle, but I got the hang of it in the end.
Going back to the Emerald—where they are dedicated to serving a specific, but neglected, community—the challenge still exists just in a much different way. At that organization, where I’m usually working very closely with my colleagues, you still have to convince the community to view you as a trusted advocate. It’s hard, because they can initially treat you like [a member of the institutions that have harmed them], but if you’re willing to commit to it, to finding those familiar community faces, learning people’s names and sharing your own, you will be a good journalist. The Emerald taught me that you should not tokenize people by reporting on a story and then waving them off; you should stay connected and involved in what’s happening.”
What has been your goal this year as President of SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) UW?
“My goal this year, and ever since I joined the Chapter, has been to increase the diversity of our membership. We want to be representative of our students and their values. We do a good job promoting ourselves as a resource for other communicators who should consider us a hotline for questions on reporting, media ethics, and really anything else. I also want to make sure our students are getting involved with community outlets as soon as possible. It really has made all the difference for me.
I started at The Daily and then News Lab and South Seattle Emerald. Making those contacts and having those experiences have been invaluable. It is still early in my career, but I have already done a deep, yearlong investigative piece for Real Change. I had the chance to tell one man’s story and show how it was indicative of intense systemic issues with jails and how America handles mental illness. When writing that story, I found the most frustrating interview subjects! The Public Information Officers and head of jail services made me jump through hoops, would contradict themselves, and even shredded records. Things eventually reached such a point that my Editor had to step in because they did not take me seriously as a journalist, which, in a funny way was to my benefit, because they said some things to me on record that they probably should have kept to themselves.
I think the main advantage students in SPJ UW have is access to all of these ‘lessons learned’ from their peers. In the end, we are likely writing the same types of stories, so we should be resources for each other, even while remaining competitive.”
Any final lessons you have learned that you want to share?
“Marcus [Harrison Green], the Editor in Chief of the Emerald, told me to ‘go where the silence is.’ I really remember that, and I think I will always strive to do that as a journalist.”
Know someone worth howling about? To nominate an undergraduate student for a “Hello Huskies” profile, email Megan Jeffrey, Department Communications Specialist