John Daley, general assignment reporter for KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, has spent 10 years working on stories as varied as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, which the city hosted, and the subsequent bribery scandal, as well as the legislative beat at Utah’s Capitol Hill.
During that time, he also came to specialize in investigative stories about the environment, transportation and air quality and has won a number of national and local awards, including the Earthwrite Environmental Award, the RTNDA Environmental Fellowship and the Society of Environmental Journalists Beat Reporting Award.
Daley recently spoke with NewsPro correspondent Allison J. Waldman about the challenges of the beat and the range of skills it takes to do his job well.
NewsPro: What are the challenges you face doing investigative environmental stories in your market?
John Daley: They’re the ones we’re seeing everywhere in the industry. We used to have a much bigger staff, but we still have the same amount of news programming that we put on during the course of a day. We’re stretched more thinly than before and there’s way less time to work on long-term projects that require more digging. There’s no doubt about that.
News Pro: Do you look for stories about the environment to investigate?
Daley: As a general assignment reporter, you’re out and about a lot and you’re crossing paths with a lot of other people, and that can lead to story ideas and tips on this or that. I also cover legislative issues on Capitol Hill, and there are any number of stories that come out and you learn about just being there.
News Pro: What happens when you have a story you want to do but there aren’t the resources at the stations to cover it?
Daley: That happens from time to time, but my bosses are really supportive of good journalism. Yes, we’re all in the same boat and that boat has shrinking revenues, and adjustments have to be made. The thing that it requires is that you have to have a long-term vision and persistence on certain stories. You may not be able to crack that nut today, but if you are continuing to work at it over weeks or months, a lot of times you can get to the bottom of it.
News Pro: What skills are necessary today to do your job well?
Daley: There’s no doubt you need to be good across multiplatforms. That’s where the future is. It’s all starting to blend together. Our stories are not just on the air, they’re on the Web, and we have a lot of extra content on the Web. Newspapers are putting video on their sites; we’re doing more writing on our TV sites. In the future, a lot of the hiring will be people who can do it all: write and film video and get it up on the Web. It may not always be like that in your career, where you’re a one-man-band, but you have to be prepared to do it all. The budget realities force you to do that, and that’s not all bad.
News Pro: How advantageous is it to have SEJ as a resource?
Daley: I think it’s very valuable on a whole bunch of levels. They’re sending out the news wire and the daily TipSheet, so that’s a constant source of ideas. Another is the SEJ talk, which once you’re in SEJ you can be part of that and its just different members of SEJ e-mailing around. That’s quite entertaining and informative. It’s a good source for story ideas and a platform for some members to vent, which is kind of useful as well. But most important is that there’s just a great wealth of smart, talented people around the country who are all connected through the SEJ network, and you can reach out to other folks for ideas, for contacts. On that SEJ talk, for instance, you’ll see members pop on there and they might be working on a story about chemical exposure and ask if you know any experts. That’s really, really valuable.
NewsPro: What else about SEJ distinguishes it from other groups?
Daley: You’ll see job postings occasionally. There’s just a great variety of stuff. Overall, it’s a really useful resource, especially this network of people. It’s a social network for reporters. We’re all like-minded journalists interested in similar things, and thanks to the Internet, we’re in easy contact with each other.
NewsPro: What reaction do you get from viewers about environmental stories?
Daley: The climate issue has driven the environmental concerns in the general public to new levels. Climate issues have raised awareness. One of the challenges is that this is an issue that’s become very politicized as well, and that complicates it in a variety of ways. We’re one of the regions — Salt Lake City — that’s going to be affected by water issues. We’re one of the driest places on the planet. Wild fires are also a major issue out here. There’s a lot to chew on.
NewsPro: What advice would you have for other journalists/broadcasters interested in specializing or advancing their careers?
Daley: If you saw the piece on CBS about Don Hewitt a few weeks ago, I was really taken by it and what he said. He was an interesting, colorful, charismatic guy and the thing that really struck me as someone working in the field was that when he was asked a similar question at a conference, he said, ‘Tell me a story.’ I loved that. That’s really what it’s all about. Whether it’s general assignment news or environmental issues or investigative pieces, you have to tell a story.