On Tuesday, Feb. 9, I sat down with Professor Jamie Thompson, the newest faculty member in the University of Dallas Journalism department, to talk about writing, surfing and Thompson’s new Feature Writing course.
JS: You come to UD with an impressive journalism background, having written for several respectable publications. What sets journalistic writing apart from purely academic writing?
JT: I think the primary thing would be accessibility. We strive to write like we talk somewhat in journalism, whereas in academia it’s [a] different audience — you’re writing to scholars, so it’s a little more high-browed, a little less accessible. So I would say familiarity. The kind of writing is really storytelling. We’re aiming more to tell stories with beginnings, middles and ends, and to write about the world around us [and] discern meaning. It’s a completely different genre, really.
JS: I heard that you took a year off from writing to go surfing with your husband. Can you talk a little bit about that?
JT: My husband and I met at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. I had been there for about five years, covering a lot of cops’ news, a lot of death and bloody car accidents. I was going to work on a Saturday, and I was [at] a funeral of a guy who had gotten gunned down in a Radio Shack, and it was horrible, and I was sitting there thinking … “I just cannot do this anymore! I need a break. I’m just tired of all this.” And my husband is a big surfer, and we were getting married and we knew we wanted to have kids, so we thought, “Well this is our last chance to get out and have some fun and freedom.” So we quit our jobs, which was kind of a stupid thing to do … [laughing] but we just decided to do it! And so we sold our condo and packed up and we pretty much tailored our trip, and we knew we were going to do it on the cheap — trying to live on $5 or $10 per day — and he had spent a lot of time in Indonesia because they have some of the best surf spots in the world, and it’s very cheap there. So we decided to sort of guide our trip around surf spots [laughing]. He did a lot of surfing. I tried but I’m not very good and [so] I did a lot of picture taking. And then we came back and it was hard to find another job because the journalism market is so crazy. So we ended up in Dallas where we got hired at the [Dallas] Morning News. [During our year away] we went all over Indonesia, Singapore, we spent a month in Bangkok, three weeks in Australia. We pretty much hit that whole part of the world. And since we’ve had children we haven’t gone anywhere since, really!
JS: You’re new at UD. What are your thoughts on the school so far?
JT: I think it’s a lovely, nice little place. The students are very engaged, and it’s a kind, welcoming atmosphere. I love walking on the campus and being here so far. I really think it’s a little gem of a place.
JS: Do you think it is important for everyone to study journalism?
JT: I do think training in simple, clear writing is valuable to everybody. That’s a skill that everyone values no matter what you do. It helps in business; it helps in law … so I think the basic facets of good writing are helpful. [But] I think that journalism is such a rough and tumble business that unless you really feel a calling to do it, I would go to law school or [do] something else! You have to really want to do it … it’s [a] hard [profession], especially right now.
JS: So are you saying that everyone should learn to write like a journalist but not everyone should be a journalist?
JT: Exactly. In fact, don’t be a journalist unless you really want to. [laughing] It’s too hard!
JS: Do you have any plans or vision for the journalism department at UD?
JT: I don’t know … I don’t have a good sense of the macro [yet]. I think my little piece of it is to try to add some story-telling, feature-writing outlet to it. I feel like that’s what we’re trying to add through this [Feature Writing] class — a story-telling element to show students that, you know, news is good and vital and important, but the fun stuff is really the story-telling, where we connect with people and write about life and give folks that side of the business, which is the side that I like.
JS: Do you have any advice for the UD student body as a whole?
JT: I’ve always lived by the [maxim], “Do what you love and the rest will come.” Work hard and do what you love … that’s really been my guiding philosophy. It’s not necessarily the path to riches and fame, but it does tend to lead to happiness!