Alumni profile: Sami Edge ‘16 on the power of local journalism

SOJC alum Sami Edge stands in front of a white background, smiling at the camera.

Sami Edge ‘16 knows local newspapers are a powerful tool to connect with communities over concerns affecting their lives. Edge’s experience working with the Daily Emerald, OR Magazine, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and the Experience Engagement program helped her develop the reporting skills needed to tell the local stories the public deserves to hear. She reports on Latino student outcomes in Idaho for a nonprofit news outlet, Idaho Education News.

Why did you come to the UO, and what did you study while you were here?
I'm from Reno, Nevada, and chose the University of Oregon because the University of Nevada Reno’s J school seemed too close. I needed a bit more of an adventure.

What drew you to journalism in the first place?
Well, I grew up in a family of engineers, and it was clear early on I wasn't going to take that path. I didn’t have the same math skillset most of my family does. I was a big reader growing up, and writing seemed like the right avenue for me.

I decided on journalism when I was in middle school. I read a lot of National Geographic and remember a story about North Korean refugees' harrowing experience escaping to South Korea. I was frustrated that that's not the kind of story I saw on my TV. I decided I want to write about important topics, and I want people to pay attention.

What has your career path been so far?
I started my professional career at the Santa Fe New Mexican, a small daily newspaper in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I started as a digital producer and enterprise reporter on that team and then was their crime reporter for just over a year. In 2019, I moved to Boise, Idaho, to cover education here for a nonprofit news outlet, Idaho Education News.

Why are you so passionate about education reporting?
I'm most interested in student safety and equity when it comes to education reporting. The stakes are so high when that's not done correctly. Kids are disadvantaged when students are unsafe, or school systems are unfair.

Why did you choose to back away from big national news outlets instead of focusing on smaller, more local ones?
You know,  I wouldn't say that was a conscious decision. Some bigger news outlets are phenomenal, like the Seattle Times, but my first job showed me how wonderfully important a local newspaper is.

I have high regard for the New Mexican; I think it’s just an outstanding newspaper in a pretty small community. Now I’m in a bigger town like Boise, and I feel like the newspapers here are suffering. They're suffering economically, and the pandemic didn't help. It makes me sad that I'm not in a vibrant news environment where three or four reporters are competing for the same story, and the public is enormously well informed because they have, you know, five outlets to choose from that are all doing good work. That’s critical for society, and it pushes you as a reporter to have some competitors.

How did your time at the UO prepare you for what you're doing now?
It has helped me with everything, but I probably spent more time in the Daily Emerald offices than at the SOJC. That real-world experience helped me hit the ground running after school.

I have to say the professors at the SOJC are still some of my favorite mentors. They’re so knowledgeable and thinking on the cutting edge of journalism. In newsrooms, you sometimes get caught up in the daily grind, and it's hard to change with the times. It was nice to connect with professors who think big picture and incorporate engagement work, solutions journalism, and newer practices into everyday newsroom stories.

Who were some of the faculty members that influenced you the most?
Assistant professor Brent Walth was actually my first editor. I interned for him at Willamette Week before he joined the UO as a professor. He had a major influence on shaping my reporting and how I think about stories.

There are also so many incredible women at the University of Oregon who were super nurturing and helped me push myself. Senior instructor and gateway coordinator Lisa Heyamoto was always vouched for me even before she knew me well. She helped me get opportunities.

My boyfriend likes to joke that I'm just a mini version of Lori Shontz, professor of practice at the SOJC. I worked closely with associate professor Nicole Dahmen, particularly on my senior year thesis project.

What are some of your goals for the future?
My main goal is to become a badass investigative reporter, which takes time and experience, so hopefully, I'm working toward that every day. I would love to be an editor someday. I enjoy helping reporters accomplish their best work and pushing people to succeed.

What is a piece of advice you’d give to someone starting their journalism career?
This probably isn't anything novel, but I would say get involved at the UO and build that real-world experience. There are so many good job candidates that if you don't build your journalism experience and have no real-world work to show by the time you leave school, you're two steps behind. School is the perfect environment to try new things, practice, fail and learn. So absolutely get involved and start doing the work early.

Another piece of advice I have for students is: if you don't have an opportunity, make an opportunity. I wanted an internship the summer after my freshman year, and it's tough to get one as a freshman. I put in a lot of applications, but none of them worked out.

I went home to Reno, and there were a couple of different outlets I hadn't applied to for internships. So I went to the local Sparks Tribune, which is like the smallest paper in the area, and said, “I’m going to write for you guys for free this summer. I’m happy to cover whatever you need me to cover.”

They gave me like $200 as a thank-you at the end of the summer. Most importantly, I could list the internship at the Sparks Tribune on my resume when I applied for internships my sophomore year.

- By Joanna Mann, class of ‘21


Joanna Mann ’21 is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in music. This is Mann’s first year writing for the SOJC Communication Office. She is a senior news reporter for the Daily Emerald and covers the University of Oregon Senate, Board of Trustees, and Tuition and Fee Advisory Board. She also edits and writes opinion pieces for the Daily Emerald. She previously interned at Eugene Weekly, writing arts and culture pieces. She enjoys working in print journalism, focusing on local news, arts, and culture. You can view her work at joannamann.com.