The Collegian finds new mission through Pulitzer Prize-winning writer

by Jennifer Johnson,

Former Oregonian editorial writer mentors newspaper staff.

  • Len Reed
    Len Reed, former editorial writer at The Oregonian, meets with copy editor Tatiana Amrein ’20, left, and features editor Nick Sabatini from The Collegian. Reed is meeting with news staff for a Monday night news budget meeting to discuss developing stories.

Have you picked up a copy of The Collegian lately?

News stories, for the most part, no longer rely on first person. More interviews fortify stories. And more stories take root in the Willamette University community. 

The changes reflect a cultural shift staff members pursued with guidance from Pulitzer Prize winner Len Reed, a 22-year veteran of The Oregonian and former feature writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times. In 2014, as a member of the Oregonian editorial staff, Reed won the industry’s most coveted award for explaining how the state pension system impacts readers’ lives.

The Collegian has long been viewed by students as a platform for free expression and commentary, but now it has refocused its mission to better serve the campus community, said Editor-in-Chief Madelyn Jones.

“A lot of people want to write for The Collegian, because they want to get their voice heard or discuss something they’re passionate about,” she said. “But it’s really important to remember that the newspaper is a service — it’s not about ourselves, but the Willamette community.”

Consultation and consideration

Last year, after brainstorming potential improvements to the paper, The Collegian’s executive team decided to hire an independent journalist for consultation.

Once Reed was selected — among several candidates suggested by advisor Emily Morris and others — he helped staff write a mission statement and revise its approach to reporting and writing in the future. Reporters now follow a shared, consistent set of guidelines that determine everything from story categorization to event coverage.

Reed said, “The Collegian is not here to recreate Watergate or topple despots, but it is, I believe, a discerning, clear-eyed voice for a very diverse community.”

He consults by phone reporters and editors on story development, visits campus to participate in editors’ planning meetings and conducts all-staff training sessions on technique and ethics. But he is not physically present for staff on Tuesday’s production night — when editors gather at the University Center to produce the paper — though he is available to call.

“At the end of the day, it’s the executive team making all of the decisions,” Jones said.

Skills for the future

Sports editor Jarin Kobashigawa ’20 and Jones say Reed’s consultation has had a positive impact on the paper, especially behind the scenes.

They’re learning how to write better stories, find the most relevant topics and become better interviewers, they said.

Kobashigawa, who is enrolled in the dual BA/MBA degree program, said he can’t see himself pursuing a journalism job after Willamette. However, he and Jones — who plans on staying in the field — both said they’ve learned a lot and have a greater appreciation for newspaper work.

“All of the skills I learned here will translate to whatever field I decide to go into,” Jones said.

Reed, who has been a freelance writing coach and consultant since he left The Oregonian in 2017, will continue to assist Collegian staff as long as it is productive, he said.

He enjoys working with student journalists. “At the end of the day,” he said. “I am just a true believer in the power of documentary reporting and how it serves individual lives as well as the broader society.”

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