Getting to know the new Atwood Chair of Journalism

For over three decades, UAA’s Department of Journalism and Communication has welcomed seasoned journalists from all across the country to teach in its classrooms. The Atwood Chair of Journalism was established in 1979 by long-time editor of the Anchorage Times Robert Atwood. The chair awards one-year faculty appointments at UAA to the news industry’s best and brightest in an effort to “advance the quality of print and broadcast journalism in Alaska.”

Over the summer, former Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley was named the newest Atwood Chair. O’Malley is only the third woman to serve as an Atwood Chair, and has brought new insights into the rapidly-evolving field of journalism to campus.

After leaving the Anchorage Daily News in April 2014, O’Malley was faced with an uncertain future. Carrying out a career in journalism was not as straightforward as it once was.

“I was in journalism at a time when everyone lost their jobs and the industry just hemorrhaged people,” O’Malley said. “There were many times that I just thought to myself like, ‘What am I doing? How in the world will these skills serve me this industry that feels like it is dying?’”

Shortly after parting ways with the paper, O’Malley dove into the world of digital and entrepreneurial journalism. O’Malley created a website and used her Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to her online articles. It was the best way for the writer to build on the rapport she developed with her readers who wondered why they weren’t seeing her columns in the paper anymore.

“I’d run into people all over town and they would be like, you know, ‘Where is your work?’ Where can I read your stuff?’” O’Malley said. “And I would be like, well, I have this website.”

The website, titled “An Alaskan Life,” is where the professor deposits all of her freelance work and is a helpful resource for editors determining is whether they want to contract her for an article.

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It was O’Malley’s experience in this new way of conducting journalism that convinced Paola Banchero, Chair of the Department of Journalism and Communication, she was the right person for the job.

“[Students] are going to walk into a world where that is much more common than the world I walked into, which was find a steady job, rise up through the organization, become an assistant managing editor and then go somewhere else and become an editor, etc.” Banchero said.

O’Malley’s year of working solely in digital media has influenced the approach she has taken to teaching her sophomore-level news writing class this fall.

“One of the things were focused on right now is just tone and social media,” O’Malley said, “Sort of, how do you pivot from a person who is posting on social media for fun … to somebody is a professional existing in a world where social media is really important to how your brand is shaped?”

For some of her students, enrolling in O’Malley’s class meant coming out of their shell on social media.

“For this class, I had to sign up for a Twitter and an Instagram,” journalism student Haley Bissell said. “I’m kind of a social media hermit — I have a Facebook, but I rarely get on it — so it has kind of been a big adjustment for me to be using these things.”

But for others, the class has simply meant changing some of the habits they developed that O’Malley would argue are harmful to their “brand.”

“I’m known to be like, taking a selfie everyday,” journalism major Danielle Ackerman said. “[O’Malley] basically engraved in our minds like, turn the camera around and selfies are not fun and not cool.”

Last week, the O’Malley’s students were given an assignment involving their Instagram accounts and a stroll along 13th avenue in downtown Anchorage. Using hashtags such as #fairview2you, #soanchorage, #fairview, and #alaskalife, students were instructed to take pictures of the businesses, people and oddities that caught their attention and then posting them to their social network. See what they came up with here.


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