The Payoff

Jake Gunther ’22

When someone asks Jake Gunther ’22 what he wants to do after graduation, he may not be completely sure. One thing he does know — he wants to tell stories. Here, Gunther shares some of his exploits as a newspaper intern.

As an anthropology and sociology major, I’ve learned the ins and outs of culture, human behavior, and organization while developing a framework of social theory. And by studying narrative journalism, I’ve had the chance to explore compelling stories ranging from the experiences of late-night travelers at a Greyhound bus station to a radical ballot initiative to decriminalize drugs. In both disciplines I learned effective strategies for conducting interviews, doing investigative research, and writing — a lot — under tight deadlines.

All these skills came together when, at the beginning of the fall semester, I got an internship with the Newark Advocate. Writing for the Advocate taught me something important: Characters are not exclusive to fiction. What makes a story great is the spirit of the subject.

I talk to people I’ve never met before and ask them personal questions. This can be uncomfortable, but the end result — a published article that I’m proud of — makes it worth it. And I’ve learned how fun telling stories can be. Everyone wants their voice to be heard and if I can provide a platform, even if it’s just for a local newspaper, it feels incredibly rewarding.

Working as a reporter on the ground, I was immediately thrown into the field, covering a story on a Newark native inducted into the Central Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame. Had it not been for my years of academic experiences at Denison, I probably wouldn’t feel as prepared.

I arranged a phone interview with Dorothy Garrett to learn about her long-lasting altruistic career. It was my job to capture her character. I asked her open-ended questions to allow her to elaborate on past experiences and clarified when necessary so I could quote her authentically.

In another article, I found an incredible character in Matt Munhall, a musician who has been creating community through the power of music in Newark. He taught me that putting yourself out there pays off.

There were times when I was nervous. On one occasion I was assigned to cover a local high school football game. Both teams were winless going into the last game of the season, so playoff implications were off the table, but the stakes were still high. Pacing back and forth down the sidelines, taking notes, and recording scoring plays, I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

The real challenge would come after the final whistle, confirming the win for the home team. Fans rushed the field, parents congratulated their kids, and rain began to fall.

The article couldn’t be complete without quotes, so I navigated the crowd looking for the head coach — except I didn’t know what he looked like. It didn’t help that just about every man was wearing the same team sweatshirt, coach or not. Eventually, I found my man and rushed home to write the article so it was ready for the morning paper.

It’s more important than ever that authentic human stories are still told, especially with local reporting roles diminishing and a rise of sensationalism journalism. The Advocate and other local newspapers makes sure the former still happens.

December 17, 2021