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Chicago Tribune graphic designer urges students to be versatile

Katie Nieland is a graphic designer for the Chicago Tribune.

Katie Nieland is a graphic designer for the Chicago Tribune. Photo provided by Katie Nieland.

By Kaitlyn Nelsen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Every journalism student should aim for versatility.

For Katie Nieland, a graphic designer at the Chicago Tribune,  that’s critical advice. Her own versatility has led to many career opportunities, she said in a phone interview. And it has proven advantageous in her job at the Tribune.

Nieland graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. At UNL, she majored in news-editorial and also studied graphic design and English. She worked for the campus newspaper, The Daily Nebraskan, as well as Redwire, a magazine published then by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

After graduating, her first job was an internship at The Montana Standard in Butte, Mont., where she worked as a reporter for the summer. Nieland said internships are a great tool for students both for networking and gaining experience. “They give you a chance to see if you really enjoy the work or not. You’re able to get a day-to-day view of what goes on, and you get a window into how everything works. You also get a chance to interact with professionals in the field, and they usually have some great advice.”

From The Montana Standard she went on to work for a computer technology company where she created graphics, which she described as “a little different.” After a few months she went on to work as an online editor at the Lincoln Journal Star. Eventually, she left to become a graphic designer at the Chicago Tribune.

Part of working as a graphic designer is collaboration. Nieland works with reporters and editors to produce graphics. “You’re stretched across all parts of the newspaper,” she said. “We throw around a lot of ideas. I will usually either work with a reporter or do my own research to build a graphic. The graphics editor and the reporter go over the graphic before it’s sent to the copy desk.”

Nieland emphasized how her previous experience as a reporter has become an advantage to her while producing graphics. “I was really glad I was a reporter first. I can understand where they come from. Some of the graphic designers that just have a design background don’t really understand some of the challenges a reporter has. I see my background as a strength compared to some of my colleagues.“

She also offered these helpful hints and tips for journalism students:

  • “Have a sound understanding of how to put together words. No matter how good it looks, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.”
  • “Be absorbing of the information your professors are giving you, and bounce ideas off of your professors.”
  • “Keep reading. Read newspapers or magazines, whatever you are interested in getting into. Read so that you can get a feeling for the publication and how it works.”
  • “Verse yourself in everything. Be a whole bunch of things. The work is exhausting, but so fun. There’s a feeling of accomplishment that I feel like you don’t usually get in other work places.”
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