Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Advice to next generation journos: be fair, just & honorable

Jan. 16, 2013, 8:13 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

As Knight folks head to Phoenix, Ariz. to announce the News Challenge: Mobile winners at Arizona State University on Thursday, we took some time to talk with Jacquee Petchel, the new executive editor of News 21.

Based at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, the program brings together talented journalism students and pairs them with working journalists to report and produce report in-depth, multimedia projects for major national media.  

In the Q&A below, find out why Petchel - an Arizona native and ASU alumna who will start her new job on Feb. 4 - decided to return to home, and what to expect from this year’s students.

And be sure to tune in to knightfoundation.org/live on Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET to hear the latest News Challenge winners give lightning talks about their projects.

What made you want to become the executive editor of the News21?

J.P.: The position beckoned me. I have been a journalist for more than 32 years and an investigative reporter, executive television producer or editor for the last two decades or more. I never aspired to run an entire news operation, but instead to be integral to those stories that have a lasting meaning in any given community. It is my greatest joy to see reporters stretch to their full potential for the sake of a fabulous story or investigation and so, experience the the results and accomplishments that come with it. What better place could there be where I might (will) be able to influence, shape and inspire the next generation of journalists? Under the leadership of Dean Chris Callahan, the Cronkite School has become a working laboratory for the future of journalism and investigative journalism in particular. It is a place where instruction alone is not the standard, but instruction coupled with "working" experience is paramount. It was never simply a question of "wanting" the position, it was a matter of believing in it.

Can you give us a sneak peek about what kinds of investigations or issues the students will be working on this year?

J.P.: Well, I don't want to steal any thunder from my accomplished partner and former Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie since he is starting the Carnegie-Knight seminar right now while I prepare to move, but I will say that the students will be looking at issues involving military vets returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You have an impressive career as a journalist. How has your career helped prepare you for this new job?

J.P.: I have been devout and determined in pursuing a destiny that I personally believe was shaped at the age of 17 when Arizona Reporter Don Bolles was killed. I was a senior at West Phoenix High School at the time and decided then and there what I wanted to be: an investigative reporter. Whether it be through might, stubbornness, talent or simple faith, I did it. I viewed investigative journalism over my career as a responsibility and I am obsessively energetic about it. That I accomplished many things has been a wonderful sidebar to my life, but that I set upon it with such passion is what defined me. I reveled in the moments where a life or a community was changed, or a miscreant got his or her due for harming someone else or stealing from the public trough. As an editor, I gave my whole self to the success of a story. I want the students in this program to be inspired by the possibilities as I have been and know that nothing is out of their reach - if only they will it and work for it.

What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?

J.P.: Be fair, just and honorable. Get it right. Always. Look beyond the obvious. Find the details you think impossible. They are not. And believe that you can do it.

You're an ASU alumna. What does it mean to be heading back there?

J.P.: It means everything. I owe my career - and therefore all those who benefited from my work - to ASU. Its professors guided me, pushed me and inspired me. Phoenix is my home. I am an Arizona native and both my parents, now retired, were public employees serving the community. My sister also is a graduate of the ASU journalism program and was my greatest supporter in seeking this position. I look forward not only to joining the university, but promoting the Cronkite program far and wide. Most importantly, I will be back where it all began, knowing I can influence future journalists and hope they pursue their hopes as aggressively as I did mine. The world needs them.

By Elizabeth R. Miller, communications associate at Knight Foundation

Related: “Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, record number of colleges join News21’s all-start student journalism investigative team” on KnightBlog and “Knight News Challenge: Looking forward to 2013 and back on 2012