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Chicago Tribune editor offers advice to student journalists

Margaret Holt, standards editor at the Chicago Tribune, works with issues of ethics and fairness in the newsroom.

Margaret Holt, standards editor at the Chicago Tribune, works with issues of ethics and fairness in the newsroom.

By Jessica Gibbs
University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

Margaret Holt, a graduate of the University of Missouri, worked a variety of reporting and editing jobs before joining the Chicago Tribune Co.  In 1987, she became business editor of the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida.  In 1993, she moved to the Tribune as sports editor.  Holt began working on customer and accuracy issues in 1995 and is now the standards editor of the Tribune.  She works closely with reporters and editors on issues of accuracy, fairness and ethics.

In a phone interview, Holt offered advice on getting internships and talked about the future of journalism.

Getting internships was similar to an “auction,” Holt recalled of her years at the University of Missouri.  The times were different, she said, and the university helped students by bringing in many recruiters. Now, fewer newsrooms offer internships because of budget cuts.

At Missouri, Holt received numerous internship offers, but she said getting internships is highly competitive.  She advises students to use local connections first by figuring out what  news sources are available in their local communities.

Students, she said, should expand beyond their interests; be creative.  A trade internship may provide valuable knowledge for future reporting.

Holt  doesn’t approve of  nonpaid internships. “People who settle for unpaid internships are selling themselves short,” she said, noting the Tribune does not offer unpaid internships.

Once hired, her advice for aspiring journalists is simple: Be flexible and ready to adapt.  Things are changing dramatically.

The Tribune is changing dramatically as well, she said, especially on the digital front, where the newspaper is connecting to its community.  The paper is covering things it has always covered but its doing it better and in different forms.

She said acquiring a wide range of knowledge prepared her the most for her journalism career.  She tells students to be curious about the world and talk to people who are different than they are. Read a lot and think a lot, she advised.

As standards editor for the Tribune, Holt said no single day is typical. Holt said she focuses on questions about the Tribune’s stories: What is ethically right or wrong and what is fair.  She monitors accuracy and helps maintain the reader/reporter relationship.

The Tribune has a long, established practice and a good reputation for its commitment  to accuracy, Holt said, and she believes people value that. Journalists must be accurate and rigorous with establishing the facts.

Holt also has hope for  journalism’s future.

“There is always a place for storytelling.”

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