Senior Riley Utley truly found her voice in journalism when she arrived to Gonzaga University with the help of upperclassmen at The Gonzaga Bulletin who came before her.
Now she has learned from some of the best journalists in the Spokane area, having written for The Spokesman-Review and The Inlander in addition to The Bulletin.
This fall she will serve as The Bulletin’s fall editor-in-chief. The Bulletin sat down with Utley to discuss what she loves to write the most, her passion for journalism and her goals for the publication.
The Gonzaga Bulletin (GB): When did your journey in journalism begin and how?
Riley Utley (RU): I know it’s really not normal to know exactly what you want to do with your life but I’ve known exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was in middle school. I grew up watching the news and being interested in the news. I think what really got me into it was when I found out that entertainment journalism is a thing. I love movies, music and Broadway. I wanted to find a career that had something to do with that. I’ve always been interested in how that industry works.
I thought that to be in the seat of the person interviewing these people would be the coolest job ever. From there, I’ve known forever that this is what I’ve wanted to study. I’ve never looked back and I’m really happy about my decision.
GB: What made you join The Bulletin and what has made you stay?
RU: I joined because I wanted that professional work experience. I started the fall of sophomore year. I’ve stayed because we’ve built a tight-knit community and everyone who works there is so nice. I’ve learned so much working at The Bulletin, stuff I would have never learned otherwise. I came for the experience and I stayed because of the people.
I didn’t really expect to work at the school newspaper actually. I wanted to work at one of the journals or for a magazine, but as I started to learn how to write journalistically, I became interested in the paper and haven’t stopped working since.
GB: What are your goals this semester for The Bulletin?
RU: My main goal is to innovate at The Bulletin in a way that we haven’t. I feel like we [the editing staff] have been told that we’re an online publication first before print, for as long as I’ve been editing but that has never felt true. So, I want to make that feel true.
I want us to put our online presence and social media presence first and make that more well-known.
I want people to know that we are working hard to be on the frontline of journalism in terms of what we’re using to present our content. I want people know we’re here to update them not just through our paper but through our website, social media and the app.
GB: What has been challenging as a student journalist and how have you grown from it?
RU: I’m a really introverted person so getting over that and being willing to talk to strangers and walk up to people and ask them questions without scheduling an interview, that’s always been hard for me but is something I think I’ve gotten better at.
And the other challenge, kind of the elephant in the room, is running a paper in a pandemic. It’s not something I expected to do at all. But we’re here and we’re doing it. Finding ways to re-imagine how we put the paper together has been a big challenge for not only me, but for everyone. That has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far.
GB: What has been the most rewarding experience for you as a journalist and editor?
RU: Journalism is a thankless job and that is something that I accepted early on. For someone to retweet your story with a comment on it or to get an email saying ‘Hey you did a good job on this’ really means a lot. To know you did a story justice is the most rewarding thing you could ever do.
GB: What have been your favorite stories to write?
RU: The stories I love the most are the features I get to write. Hearing a person’s whole life story gives me a lot of gratification and I really enjoy doing it. Features, especially when they are about people in the performing arts, because that’s what I’m most passionate about, are my favorite.
My first feature I ever wrote was about this man named Joshua Shank who is the men’s chorus director and he is the most incredible person I think I’ve ever met. He is so successful and has created this amazing music and I would’ve never known that if I didn’t take the story. That really turned me on to feature writing and it is also still one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.
GB: What is your dream career?
RU: I would love to work for a publication like the Hollywood Reporter, Variety or Time writing long-form feature stories about the entertainment industry because I think it is so interesting.
The Hollywood Reporter does these roundtables which are usually done during award season. They bring in the most prominent directors, actors and actresses, producers and writers and it’s all these people sitting around this giant table and then there’s the journalist asking them questions and there’s this conversation going back and forth. To be able to sit back and marvel at these people telling these incredible stories, that’s the dream.
GB: If you could live and work in another city other than where you are now, where would that be?
RU: New York City because it is the hub of journalism and Broadway is there. I love reporting on the performing arts, especially stage productions and orchestras because those people are so interesting, love to tell you their story and they’re so enthusiastic about what they do. It’s a melting pot of people so every story is going to be so different and nothing is ever going to be the same.
GB: What is your favorite music to listen to when writing articles?
RU: It depends on the mood. "The La La Land" soundtrack is a very good soundtrack to listen to whether I’m writing an article or if I’m just studying because it’s pretty instrumental. But I’ve gotten to the point where I know the instrumental so I’ll start singing along to it. I also really like low-key acoustic alternative music. I really like Christian French and George Ezra.
GB: If you could report on one musical, what would it be and why?
RU: The obvious answer is "Hamilton." Every year the question of ‘If you could interview anyone dead or alive, who would it be?’ comes up and I have never changed my answer. It has always been Lin-Manuel Miranda.
To pick a not so obvious answer, I’ve gotten really into this group called StarKid. They create comedy musicals on YouTube. It’s a very niche culture but it’s still in the musical theater world and a lot of pretty big people have gotten their start from StarKid like Darren Criss.
It would be cool to write a story about what it’s like creating funny and well-written musicals that are then put on YouTube for free for people to watch and why they’ve decided to do that.