Chris Frisella ’85 earned his undergraduate degree in journalism and international studies with a minor in political science at the University of Oregon in 1985. He worked at The Anchorage Times for five years as an editor and chief of copy desk before working for The Register-Guard in Eugene from 1992 to 2018 in various editing roles.
Currently, Frisella is a freelance editor and writer for clients like the California Speech Hearing Association and Luminare Press. He recently took a part-time position as the remote copy chief of The Inlander, Spokane’s alternative weekly newspaper.
Here are the nuggets of wisdom Frisella had to share about entering into and navigating the field of journalism, specifically as an editor.
1: Start building your professional experience ASAP
I didn't get involved with the Daily Emerald newspaper when I was here [in Eugene]. People who were deeply involved with the newspaper back then got a lot of experience, and you had a lot of clips to show when you went on to look for a job. I would have had more options if I had done that.”
2: Get involved in student media and start networking early
I didn't have a great network, and that’s part of it too. If I worked at the Emerald and gotten involved there, I could build a network that way. Nowadays, networking, getting involved with campus publications, whether it's the Emerald or another magazine, can make a difference. Professional organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists and ACES: The Society for Editing also offer great opportunities to expand your network.
3: Use internships to get your foot in the door
When I started, you generally worked at a weekly newspaper and then moved up to a small daily, moved up to a mid-size and maybe a metro again. It’s not at all unheard of to get a couple of good internships and move into a decent size newsroom. A lot of young journalists these days probably never work at a weekly.
4: Find challenges that match your strengths and fit your work style
I'm an introvert or a borderline introvert, so interviewing people can be really uncomfortable for me. And that's why I veered very early in my career from reporting over to editing. The copy editing track was a perfect fit for me.
There are a couple of things people might find challenging about the industry that are actually great. From my perspective, one was deadlines. I lived with really tight, strict deadlines every day for 30 years. As a copy editor, you come in with a blank slate every day, and you go home with a finished product, so it was a fun process of creation every day.
5: Be ready for constant change
The other thing some people might find difficult was that until the very end of my newspaper career, it was near-constant change. I always saw it as an opportunity to learn new things, and I enjoyed that about the work. I was in the same job title as news editor from 1998 to 2018, yet the job had changed tremendously.
6: Find your niche
Just as an editor, you're constantly dealing with new topics. If you don't like learning or if you want to specialize in one thing, maybe the copy desk isn't the best place for you. It was great for me because I'm a generalist, and I love learning new things. I love being able to grab bits of information and apply all these different things that I've learned over time to different topics that I was editing. I always saw them as things that attracted me to being a copy editor in particular and ended up being a news journalist in general.
7: Persevere and be flexible
Persevere because you'll step up if it's what you want. You can always move up to something better, and you can move between media.
One of the things my dad told me when I was starting out and was definitely true for many years, was you can choose where you want to be, or you can choose what you want to do. Maybe at some point, they'll change that, and they'll have remote opportunities. I don't mean it in a discouraging way. You’ll have opportunities, whichever way you choose.
8: Get in where you can, and leverage what you’ve got
I think my advice is still relevant, but you might have to recalibrate it for today's job market or today's outlook of the industry. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you want to be a journalist, you need to do journalism, and wherever you can do it.
The important thing is to start building a portfolio of work that's been published. Whether it's a newspaper, or a magazine, or a website, just get started. Any way you can even then try to leverage what you've done into something more.
— By Serena Khader, class of 2021
Serena Khader ‘21 is earning her master’s in journalism at the School of Journalism and Communication. She is interested in development and international issues, as well as education. Khader currently works in management at a startup that helps small businesses with their shipping needs.