Journalist Spotlight: Kristi Gustafson Barlette, Editor at Times Union
Welcome to Journalist Spotlight, where we go behind the scenes with a journalist and ProfNet user. This installment features Kristi Gustafson Barlette (@JustKristi), an editor at the Times Union, a Hearst publication in upstate New York.
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When she was in eighth grade, Kristi Gustafson Barlette attended a day-long program for girls and heard NBC’s Chris Jansing (Chris Kapostasy, at the time) speak.
“She was a local TV journalist who talked about how each day was different, and exciting, and how she was always learning,” recalls Kristi. “She also shared stories of the people she met, and the experiences she had, including a bit about riding in a helicopter with her feet hanging down, nearly brushing the tops of trees. I got home from school that day and told my parents I wanted to be a journalist.”
Before recently becoming the real estate and Solutions editor at the Times Union (@TimesUnion), Kristi penned TimesUnion.com’s “On the Edge” blog, the region’s most widely read lifestyle and pop culture blog. She’s won multiple awards for blogging and writing, including first place in the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors Excellence in Feature Writing and first place in the state Associated Press award for blogging. She has numerous “Best Of” honors for blogging, reporting and Tweeting.
In addition to her work at the Times Union, Kristi has a weekly segment on WFLY-FM (@Fly923), the area’s top 40 radio station, where she talks about everything from fashion and relationships to pop culture and social media.
Can you tell us about your first job as a professional journalist?
I worked as an editorial assistant in the features department at the Times Union right out of college. I did all the things you may expect — filing, sorting mail, answering phones, compiling calendars — but also took on every story I could get. If no one else was interested, I’d volunteer. This led me to write about everything from potholes to pot racks. Seeing my first byline in print was, possibly, more exhilarating than if my feet were brushing tree tops.
What type of stories do you like to cover the most?
The wonderful thing about social media is we know — instantly — what people care about. What they’re thinking. What matters. I love telling the stories that resonate with readers — stories that make them think and, perhaps, cause them to alter their view or opinion.
In the more traditional sense, everyone truly has a story. Sometimes you just need to dig a little to find out what that tale may be. Sharing the trials and triumphs of everyday people who live in our area (or have a connection to the region) is enriching.
You work for the Times Union and also have a radio segment on WFLY – what do you like most about each medium?
With print journalism you have the time — and space — to explore topics at a deep, rich level. Thanks to blogs, you can have an ongoing dialogue with readers — sometimes that dialogue lasts for days, even weeks.
Radio is live and fast-paced and you have to be quick-witted. I thrive on the “nerves” that can crop up seconds before you’re on-air. The entertainment value that (naturally) comes with live banter is awesome.
In both mediums, one of the greatest compliments is “you make me laugh.” That, for my beat, is a success.
Do you make suggestions regarding the stories you cover or are they assigned to you most of the time?
A little of both. Editors love when you have a suggestion, but they also appreciate a writer willing to tackle a topic or subject they assign.
Can you tell us about your favorite or most challenging assignment?
Challenges on the front-side (aka during the reporting) are often mitigated by a good editor. I’ve been really, really lucky to have amazing editors.
The challenges I notice are those that happen after the story runs — the ones you don’t expect. Many years ago I wrote about laser hair removal and the art/illustration was a (modest) two-piece bathing suit hanging on a clothesline. People declared me immoral and disgusting and called for my job (they didn’t think we should write about hair removal, especially of the bikini line-kind).
Another time, I blogged about a roadside memorial, and had readers threaten me physically. Death threats happen, and they don’t get less scary.
I’ve been criticized for everything from my appearance to my views to the clothes I wear or the car I drive to the topics I cover or how well I write. While you can certainly “shut out” those views, you don’t want readers to feel you don’t respect their position, or that they’re being ignored. Finding a balance is tough, and often challenging.
How do use social media at work?
Social media is excellent for crowdsourcing, understanding what interests readers most and even finding expert sources or story ideas.
Is there a best part to being a journalist and having your specific role?
Like Chris Jansing said nearly two decades ago, journalism really is different every day. I thrive on the unknown, and love a job that sometimes (often?) causes me to pivot. Your brain is always working, and thanks to social media, email, etc. you’re in a position where you pretty much always know what your “customer” (the reader) thinks. Feedback is essential to success so I love that we now have the platforms that make this instant interactivity possible.
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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.