This page is dedicated to the stories of our alumni. Many people ask, “What can you do with a COMM degree?” Because, “What can’t you do with a COMM degree,” is not a satisfying answer, we developed this page to showcase what our alumni are doing now.
This week, we feature Geoffrey Woehlk
Geoffrey is a state-award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in data journalism, making sense of complicated documents, sitting in committee meetings, and many other things that don’t involve talking to someone on the phone. He works as a reporter at The Maryville Forum where he enjoys the daily challenge of covering an unpredictably wide variety of stories that matter to the community who reads them.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
I graduated in 2014 with a concentration in Public Communication.
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I was involved with KTRM radio every year I was at Truman, hosting sports, news, music, and sketch comedy shows. I was the station manager my last two years.
What was your first job after graduation?
After majoring in Public Communication, spending all my co-curricular time in radio and preferring to hone my writing abilities…I ended up as the Assignment Editor at KTVO-TV in Kirksville, so I edited and sent out reporters on stories. I am forever grateful that they hired me. I spent my first day learning TV 101 things like what a VO/SOT is and how to properly roll up a camera cord (never did master it).
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
After four years-ish at KTVO as Assignment Editor and then Managing Editor, I decided to leave the traditional medium of television for the exciting, burgeoning industry of newspapers. I hear it’s really hot right now.
For the past year I’ve worked — and continue to work — as a reporter at The Maryville Forum newspaper in Maryville, MO. I am lucky to work in a newsroom made up entirely of Truman/Northeast grads as well as a newspaper that is locally-owned and establishing a model of how small, rural newspapers can thrive and provide value to their communities.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
As I told new reporters when I worked in television, you have to become an expert on something new every day, then be able to teach it to somebody who doesn’t care about it in less than a minute by the evening.
It was an absolute shock to me when entering the big, wide world, that not everybody’s education was like the one I got at Truman. Not everyone had the same emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving. Not everyone had exposure to so many different disciplines and ways of thinking. That’s been absolutely essential to being a good reporter. I have a very wide base of experience to draw on. So, whether I’m reporting on a local hospital that’s not being honest about its financial situation or the intricacies of electrical transmission line statutes, I have a vocabulary that fits the situation and I know what questions need to be asked, even if I don’t know the answers yet. I truly believe that puts Truman students at an advantage for any who want to be journalists: they are experts at learning.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
Principles of Accounting. I have spent so, so much time looking at spreadsheets and financial reports, and the ability to know what’s going on in them has proven to be really important.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
While I’m proud enough of these awards to #backdoorbrag about receiving the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s National Station Manager of the Year Award (2013), being named to the ΟΔΚ Student Hall of Fame, and winning a Senior Leadership Award, I’m really proudest of being able to finagle a way to work with such fantastic people as the ones I got to work with at the radio station and across student media. I am particularly proud of the exciting, ambitious, and inclusive environment we collectively cultivated. During our years guiding KTRM, I’m very proud that we had more than 130 students on the air in one year, and they represented every kind of person and interest imaginable, all welcome to explore and learn in an encouraging environment.
But I can’t say that was an accomplishment that belongs to me, so much as it was an accomplishment and an inevitability of being in a room with and having the opportunity to learn from incredible people with varied perspectives and skills like Brooke Giddens, Grace Salerno, Hannah Magee, Sam Sherman, Becky Smith, Kaitlin Hermann, Kelly Cunningham, Mitch Etter, Kathleen Barbosa, Julie Quinn, Sierra Horton, Brian Wells, Bri Zavadil, and a lot of other really intelligent, and now very successful, people whose continued success only makes me even prouder in retrospect. In truth, I don’t think that’s a terribly unique experience at Truman. Even if the people themselves are unique, I imagine that there are unique, talented people to be proud with in every class that graduates from Truman — and that makes me proud too.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
Hmm, I’ll say see the above. You’re not going to find people as talented, ambitious and intelligent who have as many different perspectives at any other university in the state.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Relax. That probably goes for any student at Truman. Everything seems so incredibly important, but try to only get hung up on the ones that you’re still going to care about one way or another in 20 years.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
1) Don’t sell yourself short, and 2) Don’t compromise your values.
Both of those things mistakes are really easy to make, especially early on. Journalism is a competitive field because it’s shrinking, and the advantage you’ll have at the beginning is that you’re cheap, so getting your foot in the door probably isn’t as difficult as you might think. But once you’re there and you show your value, nobody is going to volunteer to pay you more money. You’ve got to push for it, and that’s not always our strength as COMM majors, otherwise we’d be business majors.
But we aren’t business majors, so presumably if you’re going into journalism, you’re doing it because you have a passion for something in the field, whatever that may be for you in particular. It’s easy to steadily allow yourself to lose sight of that, especially as a young person in a corporate environment that can sometimes steamroll you and what you might think is important about your job. When that starts to happen, remember why you’re there — working long hours, not making much money and stressing out — and figure out how you can still work toward that goal you had when you started in whatever environment you find yourself in. And if you find you can’t, then be decisive in finding somewhere you can.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
Kinda miss that nice long, leisurely walk to Barnett, ya know? Never thought I’d say that, but here we are.
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
“Branding Yourself 206.” (I don’t know how the numbering works, but I remember the classes in the 200s were always like, I dunno, they just seemed to be the ones with all the cool people taught by the cool professors.)
I don’t know what kinds of classes are already offered that address this, but I do know that for journalists, a strong, professional social media presence, especially on Twitter, is very important. Being able to cultivate that following, independent of your employer, is an incredibly valuable asset for journalists both as a communication tool and as a tool to demonstrate your value. Those are tangible numbers that you can show to a current or potential employer to say, look, this is the number of eyeballs I alone am bringing in. Depending on the organization, that can be an important factor in determining whether you get a raise or get a job at all.
That kind of social media presence requires walking an extremely fine line that showcases your personality and your interests outside of the news you cover, while maintaining the professionalism and impartiality you need to do your job with credibility.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
All of that said…I’m not active on social media at all but…hey it’s my class and it’s full of cool kids so there’s probably at least one person in there who can come up to the front and demonstrate this stuff….
If you would like to learn more of Geoffrey’s story, or if you want to learn more about the Department of Communication, contact us!
You can reach us by e-mail or you can follow us on social media:
Read about more COMM alumni here!