Welcome to ProfNet Spotlight, a Q&A series with a journalist and ProfNet user. This installment belongs to Darryl E. Owens, editorial writer/columnist with The Orlando Sentinel.
After earning his journalism degree at Howard University, Owens joined the Orlando Sentinel in June 1990. During his two decades with the Sentinel, he’s covered small-town politics, the night police beat, family/parenting issues, health and wellness, and human interest topics.
Where was your first job as a journalist?
While attending Howard University in Washington, DC, I worked as a reporter for the Prince George’s (Maryland) Post, a neighborhood weekly, then for the Washington Afro-American, one of the nation’s legendary standard-bearers of the weekly black press.
When did you realize journalism was your calling?
When I realized math wasn’t. I was a marketing major and soon realized math and I would forever be embroiled in a blood feud. A friend, cognizant of my prowess for writing, suggested I follow the path of Clark Kent.
What’s your role at the Orlando Sentinel?
These days, I serve on the Editorial Board, writing editorials and managing our online Opinion channel content. I also write an award-winning, once-weekly general interest Metro column.
What type of stories do you cover?
As an editorial writer, I write institutional opinion pieces about legislative issues, criminal justice, K-12 education issues and more. As a columnist, I write about whatever tickles my fancy that week, from poignant pieces about my family life, politics, education, race, religion, social commentary, social justice, mentoring, homelessness, etc.
Are your stories usually assigned or do you select what you cover?
Both. I generally generate ideas for editorials, but my supervisor can assign ideas. And with my column, I steer the ship, with occasional course corrections from the powers that be.
Do you have a “favorite” aspect of your job — something you like best about it?
Because of my fondness for narrative writing, I simply enjoy telling the stories of ordinary Janes and Joes, stories of succeeding against all odds, human stories of failing and rising like the phoenix, and stories where the ending is the ending we all ultimately face. No one gets out of this life alive, and the stories of people facing that prospect, sooner than later, are often the most compelling and instructional.
What is the toughest part about being a journalist?
These days, watching our ranks go the way of the dinosaur, thanks to changes in the way people consume information and the democratization of information by the Internet.
What has been the most challenging assignment to cover?
My most challenging assignment was covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, gathering at the makeshift morgue where coroners tried to ID bodies, watching broken people trying to find their lost pets at a makeshift pet shelter, watching a man push a shopping cart of government ice five miles to share with home-bound residents of a ramshackle housing project.
Is there a career highlight that stands out?
I’ve won both national and state first-place awards for column writing, but my career highlight was writing a story about homeless children “shopping” for school clothes at a shelter’s store, preparing for the first day of school. Though the story wasn’t a plea for contributions, readers contributed about $45K to the shelter to help those kids after the story published. Cool.
What’s your advice for someone thinking of becoming a journalist and also for someone who’s just starting out?
In this current incarnation of journalism, it makes sense to ground yourself in the digital realm. Become versed in social media, learn how to shoot and edit video, and learning web design won’t hurt. And oh, yeah, hone your writing craft. Though writing is often tertiary to Facebook and Twitter and video web clicks, you still need to be able to tell a good and compelling story.
Do you use social media in your job? What do you like most and least about it?
Yes, we use Facebook to promote our editorials and my columns, and to engage readers in discussion. I like the immediacy of response, but I dislike the often ill-informed and sometimes Cro-Magnon responses legitimate issues often provoke.
Have you ever thought of doing anything other than journalism?
Yes. I’d give this all up to be a blues guitarist traveling with Robert Cray or Buddy Guy. If only I could play the guitar.
What do you do in your spare time?
Evelyn Tipacti is a community relations specialist at ProfNet. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic.