- Kirsten Ballard
Rising Star Deborah Swearingen has always loved to write. She’s a curious person who describes herself as “interested in people and in learning about people,” so it makes sense she found her way to journalism. In her current role at Evergreen Newspapers she has the chance to do just that, through taking on work that has been both challenging and rewarding.
“I went to j-school at USC; that was where I realized I was good at it and it was what I wanted [to do],” she says.
She began her career in South Carolina on the arts and culture beat. After a year, she moved to Colorado—moving West was always a dream of hers—to work at Evergreen Newspapers. She’s been there since September 2016.
“The learning curve was huge,” she admits. “In South Carolina, I had never written breaking news, I never covered cops and courts.”
She built a list of sources and got to know them well. “I deal with the same people a lot and they see me going to meetings frequently. They know my face and trust me,” she says.
For access, she stresses how important trust is. She tries to meet with sources a few times before beginning recording to build up the trust and rapport.
“It’s definitely something that takes time,” she says. “People are more willing to talk to you than you imagine. Just go for it, be relatable and talkative and have conversations.”
With the proliferation of fake news, these conversations are more important than ever. While Deborah has not dealt with too much distrust of the media with her sources, she says there is an overall distrust. “We have to step up and show journalism is important and what we do is important. Make yourself available to talk to people, have conversations. That can be how we bridge that gap (of distrust).”
Her advice to budding journalists is to get experience wherever you can. “Write as much as you can,” she says. “Don’t think you’re above any position. I moved laterally, from a daily to a weekly. But it’s been such a great experience to have the opportunity to write all these different stories.”
Instead of working a beat, Deborah covers South Jefferson County for the Columbine Courier. “I pretty much do everything,” she says. “Anything from covering a trial to a school, to writing a feature covering an event, to a long-term project.”
Though it’s a small staff with limited resources, Deborah works to maintain an active Twitter feed and update social media. She attends conferences and classes to hone her skills on her own time.
For Deborah, long-term projects are especially important. She says they keep her happy and she enjoys them, giving her a reason to push through some of the more mundane stories.
In February, she wrapped up a special section called “Women in Extraordinary Professions.” It was a feature-series focused on women in male-dominated fields, like heavy equipment and firefighting.
Deborah worked on the project for a year, in tandem with the photo editor. “Originally it was going to be something smaller, but we saw how many people were interested,” she says. “With the #metoo movement, it was pretty timely.”
Next, she has her eye on covering the local jail, which just created a unit for veterans. She’s always on the lookout for stories like this that “gives you a window into someone else’s life that you wouldn’t normally get.”