The role of a journalist is to tell the stories of one’s community, Abigail Beckman says.
“It’s really rewarding and important to me that I help people in my community stay well-informed,” she said. “To be able to provide that service and answer questions about things people might not know or even realize are going on is really important.”
Beckman recently returned home to Colorado to join 91.5 KRCC, Colorado College’s NPR-member station, as its new “Morning Edition” host and reporter.
“I grew up just north of here in Palmer Lake and went to school in Monument,” she said. “My parents still live up there and all my siblings but one live around here, so it feels good to be back around family.”
The 28-year-old studied journalism and Spanish at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., on a track scholarship, where she met her husband.
“I was a sprinter, but if I never have to sprint again in my life, that’s OK by me,” Beckman said.
After working about a year as a newspaper reporter in Dodge City, Kan., Beckman went back to school for her master’s degree in communication at Wichita State University.
She recently spoke with the Business Journal about coming home to Colorado and her love of journalism — especially radio broadcasting.
How does it feel to be home?
It’s wonderful. I love being able to sit outside during the evenings because it’s cool and there aren’t mosquitoes. I love that. I also am finding I appreciate it here more than I did before because of my husband. We will be driving down Interstate 25 and he is just looking at the mountains and talking about how beautiful it is and I won’t even really be looking. He is now helping me to appreciate where I grew up more. We can go hiking right out our back door in Palmer Lake and see wild turkeys, and he is just in awe of all of it. It’s really neat to relearn to love the place where I grew up and now live again. We decided before we have kids and are really rooted somewhere that we wanted to be where there was more stuff to do.
How did you get into radio?
Going into college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was always a good writer, so that was kind of in the back of my mind. Then my college adviser grabbed me and said, ‘Why don’t you take my class?’ She was the associate professor of journalism and I ended up just loving her class. I started out as the photographer for the school newspaper but then got more into the writing part of it. I worked with the paper all of college and then my first job was for a newspaper in Dodge City, Kan. I stayed there for about a year and really liked newspapers, but then I decided to go back to school for my master’s. It was then I met my old boss who was the news director at the public radio station in Wichita. I didn’t have any radio experience, but she said if I could write she could teach me everything else, so I started as an intern. That’s how I really made the transition from print to radio.
Talk about being the ‘Morning Edition’ host.
I am the ‘Morning Edition’ host and a reporter. I am on the air live from 6 to 9 as the morning edition host and then the rest of my day is spent reporting for spots and features. I come to work at 5 a.m. and leave about 1 p.m. It’s been an adjustment, but not too bad.
What have the first few weeks been like?
Mostly, right now, I’ve been figuring out how we do news here, including what the listeners like and want to follow. I haven’t started much reporting yet. My time has been spent learning how to run the board and be in the studio. … That’s what I have been focusing on now, but we have been working on solidifying more of what else I will be doing.
Have you been on the air yet?
This was my first full week by myself, but I can always text my boss. She still gets up and is listening so I can message her if I have a question, but I did this week all by myself, which felt really good. It’s crazy trying to think that I am doing it for thousands of listeners. You are in the studio by yourself, but it can be overwhelming to know all those people are listening and that they can base their day off what we say and play. That’s why it’s really important everything I say is accurate.
What’s the difference between newspaper and radio?
I feel like radio is more fun. I can add music into something if I want to or just having the actual person share their thoughts in their voice with background noise. … I feel like that adds a lot that you don’t get in print. I also feel like things can be longer in the radio format. You can fit a lot in a four-minute feature. I felt very limited by inches with newspaper. I do miss the layout aspect of building newspapers because I loved that, but I feel like radio brings things to life. I feel like I’ve been able to do more creative stories I couldn’t communicate in print. For instance, I did a piece in Wichita for Memorial Day about a guy raising money for a new bugle. He plays for Bugles Across America. He was a veteran. For Memorial Day, I had him play ‘Taps’ and then I had him saying why he chooses to play for the organization interwoven with the music. I don’t feel like I could have written that for a newspaper and did it the same justice. … No matter what format, I always think there is a really big responsibility in interviewing someone and communicating their thoughts accurately and clearly.
Why is journalism important to you?
I think people undervalue journalism and don’t realize the things they wouldn’t know if we didn’t have newspapers, especially in smaller towns. I also think people take it for granted because journalists are just always there. However, I think that it’s important for people to be literate in media and be able to show all sides of a story. Journalists have to know and understand that there are varying degrees of opinions. I think that there is no better way to get to know a community than being a journalist.
What current challenges do journalists face?
A lot of people think they know what it’s like being a journalist or in the profession and they don’t. It’s a hard profession to stay in longterm. Every newsroom or radio station normally only has a couple of people who have been there for a really long time. I think a lot of people get burnt out because of the 24-hour news cycle and competition. And the expectation from the community to always know and have the latest information. I just don’t think people realize all the work and time that goes into what journalists do.
What immediate goals do you have?
I really want to get to know the community better because the limitations of being new can be hard for a reporter. I want to look for avenues of interesting stories by joining groups and also so I can become an active member of the community. Right now, I am just focusing on how to be the morning edition host and fit the sounds of NPR and our station while giving people the information they need.
What types of organizations are you interested in?
Through the Society of Professional Journalists, I previously did a program called Gridiron, which they also do in Washington, D.C., where we kind of spoofed the year in news. I did it two years in a row. Wichita has the longest running Gridiron in the country. We would rehearse for a month and it’s written all by journalists. All ticket proceeds go to journalist scholarships. It’s a two-hour show that is extremely funny. We like to say it’s like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but it’s definitely not that good. … Once I get more used to my schedule, I plan on seeing what people are involved with here and getting into something.
Can you share some advice for other young professionals?
Just get involved. When I started this job, I thought that I had to know everything about a subject before I could report on it and would be apprehensive of about reaching out to someone to ask a question because I didn’t want to sound dumb. … There is always someone willing to help. I also think people need to find a mentor. It’s really important to have someone you can bounce ideas off — that’s a really big deal for me. … It’s never a unique situation as much as it feels like it. I have several people in my life that have been helpful in that way, and don’t know if I could do this or be where I am if I hadn’t met my college advisor.