Colleen Smith, well-known journalist and founder of Friday Jones Publishing sat down with me for a interview on May 12, 2016. Smith is the author and art director of Glass Halo, Laid-Back Skier, and Only Wild Plums. Specializing in arts, entertainment and nature, Smith has contributed to many publications as a freelance writer, including Sunset Magazine, Examiner, and the Denver Post. Smith has also written and directed a film that is currently being considered for national distribution. Smith offered a lot of insight into the field of journalism and what aspiring journalists need in order to be successful in this day and age.
Smith was an English major at the University of Iowa where she received her undergraduate degree. Throughout her time in college, Smith wasn’t trained as a journalist, but she was involved in the very prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop program. Smith was trained primarily to write fiction and poetry.
Upon graduating, Smith declined a fellowship in the poetry graduate program at the University of Iowa. Smith had had enough with the competition and simply wanted to write.
“I was tired of the competition of it,” Smith said. “I wanted to get out of school and write, not study writing anymore. Now I think it is different, I feel you have to go to graduate school.”
Aspiring journalists are required to have a bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications along with a minor in a specialized field such as political science or economics. With media moving from print to digital, journalists need to have a myriad of other skills including photography, photo editing, filming, film editing and having knowledge on various social media platforms. The tasks demanded of journalists are at an all time high.
Upon graduating from the University of Iowa, Smith pick up a few part-time jobs, one being with the acclaimed De Moines Register. Smith wrote features and some hard news stories for the publication, and that was her very first experience with journalism.
Prior to founding Friday Jones Publishing in 2009, Smith was involved in the process of bringing Pope John Paul II to Denver in 1993 for World Youth Day. This was Smith’s largest accomplishment, in addition to writing her books and writing and directing a film.
“We were competing with five other major U.S. cities to bring the Pope to Denver. We worked on the proposal very quickly and after that it was about a 16 month process,” Smith said. “It was also very rewrding to write my books and to write and direct my film Angels Alleluia. It is being considered right now for national distribution and Rocky Mountain PBS picked it up. I had no idea it would be on the level it is now.”
For Smith, a typical and routine work day doesn’t exist, aside from her 6 a.m. wakeup followed by a 4 mile walk around her Cherry Creek neighborhood with her neighbor at 6:45 a.m.
“I don’t really have a typical day because it all depends on which projects I’m working on, but usually I keep my mornings for handling phone calls and business,” Smith said. “I often write at night after business hours. The nice thing about my “typical” day is that because I work from my home, I can walk away from work and putter in my garden, go to yoga, or get a swim in.”
After suffering a broken pelvis from a skiing accident this past year, Smith’s work life has changed dramatically and a new life balance had to be found. Smith’s life is very integrated, and she writes about the things she loves and has interest in. When asked how many hours per week she works, Smith didn’t have a definite number of hours..
“It’s hard to clock how many hours I work per week, I would say around 40 hours,” Smith said. “My injury changed a lot. I also had a time when I worked so much that I wasn’t in balance, so I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now.”
Smith’s greatest joy while working is conducting interviews. She learns so much from each interview about topics and people she didn’t know about previously. Smith views interviews as a way to connect with very interesting people on a deep level.
Smith shared that she becomes filled with anxiety when she is about to file a story. Letting a story go is the most nerve racking and frightening aspect of her job.
“It is easy to make a mistake,” Smith said. It is always an intense moment to let a story go and hope that I have gotten it all right and have presented the story in a fair and balanced way.”
As an aspiring journalist, Colleen provided vital insight and ideas as to how young journalists can attempt to find succeed in a field that doesn’t generate large salaries.
For entry-level journalists, the average yearly salary is $32,000. For those who have been the field for longer, newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers average $40,860 per year and radio and television broadcasters average $51,430 per year.
“I would always tell people if you want to be a writer, you have to read and write a lot,” Smith said. I would tell young people to start a blog and investigate career opportunities as they are in the digital age, because those newspaper jobs are not coming back.”
Picking a niche and becoming an expert on a specific topic is crucial as well as staying up to speed on technology. In addition, Smith suggests becoming well versed on a specific publishing tool. Journalists hold a special role in the community and have the ability to affect real change.
“I don’t know if print media will last, but mass media can have a big impact,” Smith said. You are an opinion shaper and a policy maker. It’s powerful and it comes with responsibilities.”