Journalist Spotlight: Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times
Catharine Hamm’s peripatetic career (newspapers in Kansas, Missouri, and California) mirrors her peripatetic life: She was born in New York and by the time she settled in Los Angeles, she’d had 34 addresses, including Virginia, Hawaii, the Philippines, Kansas (where she earned her B.A. in Spanish), and Spain.
Hamm has been with the Los Angeles Times Travel section since 1999, serving as travel editor since 2003. During her tenure, the Travel section has won the Lowell Thomas Award for best newspaper section five times.
Her favorite destination? Always the place she’s going next.
Did you always want to be a journalist?
Yes, I just didn’t know it. I thought I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and work with veterans in helping obtain benefits after their service. But one day I realized that my mother’s side of the family—the Irish side—loves nothing better than telling a story and that I did too. It took me awhile to figure out that I could take what came naturally and make a living doing it.
Where was your first job?
My very first job was sorting Multiple Listing Service cards in a real estate office. I was about 16. My first newspaper job was not in writing, but in production. This was some time ago, so newspapers—and this was a six-day-a-week small-town paper—still pasted up pages. I did that for a year.
Please tell us about what you do at the Los Angeles Times.
As editor of the Travel section, I select and do a final edit on stories and work on the design and photo processes. For online, I am the editor of the blog. For both print and online, I write a weekly consumer column and occasionally other stories.
What are your favorite stories to cover?
Those that make me say, “Wow — I never thought of that.” Being in travel journalism is like being in school every day. I could have been a perpetual student at an institution of higher education, but instead chose something that allows me to be in a classroom of sorts each day.
What is the toughest part about covering travel?
Travel journalism in its highest form is a combination of news reporting and consumer reporting. First and foremost, you need facts — travel reporting isn’t just what we call the “rosy fingers of dawn” — that is, watching the sun rise over (fill in the blank) place. It’s history, culture, people and world events; it’s the attractions we want to visit and those that are lesser known. Couple that with the consumer aspect of reporting. You are essentially telling people how to spend their time and money so you must become — very quickly — an expert.
It’s an amazing responsibility that sometimes leaves me breathless, even while so grateful to be doing it.
Do you make suggestions as to what stories you cover or are they assigned most of the time?
Yes, I do make suggestions and assignments. We know our readers (we think) and we generally know what is trending in travel. The trick is to put the two together in a way that interests a million people each Sunday.
What has been the most difficult assignment to cover?
Probably my trip back to the Philippines in 2012. I had lived there as a child. Upon my return more than 45 years later, everything had changed and nothing had changed. I have a great affection for the country and especially its people, but my heart broke when I came face to face with some of the same horrible living conditions that existed in 1966. Many of the same social, economic, and political issues continue to hold back this beautiful country. I wanted to weep.
Do you use social media as part of your job?
Yes, especially Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
What’s your advice for someone thinking of going into journalism and also for someone who’s just starting out in the business?
Always overreact and always overreport. By overreacting, I don’t mean having a meltdown, but when a situation arises, do more than you think you need to do at that moment. You may not need the information at that moment, but you will have it (or the muscle memory) in your hip pocket for a time when you do need it. By overreporting, you will be able to write with confidence and authority, which is not to say arrogance. Plus you get to check facts and points of views with several sources. The key to overreporting, though, is to do just enough of it and to not let it become an obsession because otherwise you’ll never get finished.
Travel is not just your job but your life! You’ve lived everywhere!
There are many places I’ve been lucky to live. The downside: When people ask me where I’m from and their eyes glaze over after about 15 minutes, I know I’ve crossed the TMI (too much info) line.
Besides traveling, what do you like to do when you’re not at the office?
I love gardens, and I love to garden. I love and hate computers and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time making them do things I want them to do. Most of all, I love my family and want to spend as much time with them as I can. Luckily — or not — they are spread all over the country, so seeing them means — what else? — travel.
Evelyn Tipacti is a community relations specialist at ProfNet, a service that connects journalists with expert sources. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic. Members of the media can register for PR Newswire for Journalists to begin using ProfNet and other free media tools.