A higher calling

Julia Sandidge is the new director of Student Media at Oregon State. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Julia Sandidge can point to the moment when her attitude towards broadcast news reporting changed. She was covering a racially charged riot in Minneapolis when she and the cameraman with her were severely beaten and landed in the hospital.

During her recovery, she was interviewed about the incident, and experienced what it was like to be a victim on the other side of the camera. Sandidge said she suddenly had a new perspective on what her subjects might be going through as she interviewed them. It would be 10 more years before she’d leave television journalism, but her approach to interviews would be forever altered.

As Oregon State University’s new director of Student Media, Sandidge has a long history in broadcast news, but it’s this dark moment that sometimes resonates most strongly with the students she works with.

“I started to see some of the things maybe I had done badly, including putting a camera in the face of a victim,” she said. “I had a chance to see the harm that can be caused by bad journalism. It made me a better journalist, but it also made it difficult to separate myself from the victims of the stories I was telling.”

Today Sandidge shows her students tapes of the attack, and uses it as a lesson, not only of the potential dangers of covering volatile events on the job, but also the repercussions a story might have on the lives of others.

It’s just one of the experiences Sandidge can share with students at Oregon State. She’ll be working with all forms of student media, including the Daily Barometer newspaper, KBVR television and radio, the Beaver yearbook, and the literary magazine, Prism.

Sandidge’s first foray into media was by lucky accident. She was a bartender supporting herself and her young daughter after a divorce, when she was told by a patron that she had a good voice for radio. The patron turned out to be the program director for a radio station in Boulder, Colo. Sandidge started doing voiceover work and found it lucrative and fun. She had enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder as an education major, but soon switched to broadcast journalism.

Her first job out of college was for a small television station in Fort Collins, Colo., and from there she went to the Midwest, where she picked up an Emmy nomination during her time in Minneapolis. She finally returned to her home state of Colorado, where she worked as a bureau reporter in Denver for an NBC affiliate.

In the late ‘90s, she stepped away from broadcast news and formed her own production company in California, where she worked on television and Internet productions. At that time she also had the opportunity to serve as an adjunct broadcast journalism instructor for California Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif. That was her first taste of teaching, and she quickly became enamored by working with students.

“I loved it,” she said. “This is the calling I’ve been hearing. It was so moving to watch these young people who’ve had no opportunities, many of them.”

The opportunity to return to Colorado presented itself in 2005, when she was named broadcast news and public affairs adviser for the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation at Colorado State University. In that capacity she served both as an advisor and an instructor.

Sandidge arrives at Oregon State at a time of transition for student media. In fact, while she was on campus for her interview, students voted to use student fees to create a new student media center, which is likely to be built on the east side of the Memorial Union building, where the current parking lot is located. The building will take place in the next two to three years.

“It will be part of my plan to transition into more centralized media where we’re not all in these different silos,” she said. “That building will make it very possible to do that. It’s hard to ask people to converge when they don’t see each other.”

Sandidge wants to see student media provide more thorough coverage of the university and topics of concerns to the student body. And she wants students who pursue a career in journalism to be prepared for the changing world of news.

“More newspapers are hiring broadcasters, and more broadcast organizations are hiring bloggers that come from the printed genre. Really there isn’t a line anymore,” she said. “There are still the old school ways of doing things but more organizations are experimenting and trying to figure out what does stick and what does the public want. I would like us to be the ones who tell the professionals how and what it is that people want. I’d like to see us be on the cutting edge of all that and preparing the students who will eventually run these organizations.”

Sandidge’s husband, Duane Noriyuki, a retired Los Angeles Times reporter, and her youngest daughter, Rhuby Noriyuki, 12, will be moving from Colorado to Corvallis at the end of the month. Her elder daughter, Rhiley Ethridge, lives with husband Levi and their son, Keean, 3, in Washington State.

Sandidge is looking forward to leading OSU student media toward greater journalistic goals, as students continue to provide community-based news stories for the campus.

Ultimately, Sandidge says it’s still a higher calling to be a journalist. “I still believe deeply in journalism and I feel that without it we are in serious risk of failing democracy.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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