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 Olwell Wins Journalism Award

Chris Olwell at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention.

Putting UMD's Journalism Program to Good Use

UMD’s Journalism program produces journalists in fields from photo to video to newspaper to broadcast, and one student has taken what he has learned at UMD and applied it to his career. Chris Olwell, a 2008 UMD graduate, received the first place in the 2010 Minnesota Newspaper Association's New Journalist of the Year category. The award is given to the best new journalist of the year in Minnesota, based on work from the previous year. The annual award convention was held in the Twin Cities at the end of January.

Olwell said that he was “nominated and selected by a panel of judges in Maryland.” Olwell’s bosses at his current job as the Eden Prairie Sun Current’s Community Editor submitted a few pieces of his work to the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “It was all print submitted for the award, mostly news and feature writing,” Olwell said.

Judges for the award said that Olwell’s journalistic work shows excellent promise for his future career. “Catchy, narrative-driven leads pull the reader into Chris’ stories. He clearly knows how to hook a reader," they said. "Equally important is Chris’ ability to retain the reader with crisp writing across a variety of topics. It’s also important that Chris is embracing new media as the first on his staff to do a daily webcast. ‘New Journalist’ must be prepared to deliver content across a myriad of platforms. It appears Chris can look forward to a great future in journalism.”

Gaining experience at UMD

At UMD, Olwell majored in history and minored in journalism. He also worked at the Statesman as the opinion editor and a crime beat reporter. “It helps to have real newsroom experience,” Olwell said.

The newsroom experience that Olwell gained also came from the journalism classes offered at UMD. Many of the classes take a hands-on approach giving students experience in the journalism world. While at UMD, Olwell was taught by John Hatcher, assistant professor, Chris Julin, instructor and former instructors Drew Digby and Chris Godsey.

In a co-taught class with Digby and Godsey, Olwell learned about the pressures and stress that comes with being a journalist. “The reporters teamed up with an editor and were assigned a beat...Other people said that it was pretty demanding,” Olwell said. “One afternoon, Digby came in and said, ‘You know, you think you’ve got it rough. It’s not unusual for a professional journalist to make 20 phone calls for a story.’ I didn’t believe him at first and thought I could do a story in three phone calls, but now I’m making 20 phone calls, like he said, in order to write a well thought-out story. Sources are important.”

Olwell found other journalism classes useful to his career. “When I was taking Chris Julin’s broadcast news writing class, I didn’t think I would need to know any of that, but the newspaper I was hired at put me working on the Internet a few months after I started,” Olwell said “What I do know about multimedia, I learned in that class.”

John Hatcher’s Media Law and Ethics class was applicable to Olwell's career and he found that ethical issues come up a lot more than he thought they would. Also, Hatcher’s Community Journalism class has significantly helped him in his work at a community newspaper. “It was good practice for me to be able to learn about community journalism; that's what I'm doing now.” Olwell said.

Pointing to the Future

Olwell also interned at the Duluth News Tribune. After graduating, in 2008, Olwell was selected, along with a small number of other students, to participate in the Poynter Institute for Media Studies Summer Fellows program in St. Petersburg, Florida. The summer fellows program has been likened to boot camp for journalists and offers an opportunity for up-and-coming young journalists to take classes, report on geographic beats, have their work published and make connections for future jobs.

Olwell’s education and experiences from UMD have led him to the Eden Prairie Sun Current. He works there as the Community Editor for Eden Prairie and is the only full-time editor on staff. Olwell’s job position entails reporting, photography, video and editing.

Olwell says that doing all these tasks is just a part of working in a newsroom. “I've done the video and the photography because if I didn’t do it, no one else would,” Olwell said. “I also do copy editing because I like the idea of being able to take a story that is good and make it better.”

But ultimately Olwell considers himself a reporter. “I think that’s always been my favorite part. You’re learning something that no one else knows about and you are meeting new people every day,” Olwell said. He realizes his studies at UMD help him today. “A lot of things I learned at UMD dawned on me gradually. You don’t feel like you are learning much right away, but it all helps.”

Written by Mandee Kuglin and Donna O'Neill.

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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Last modified on 04/22/11 02:36 PM
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