Embracing Change

Issue: 

More has changed in the journalism profession in the last four decades than during any other period in history. Bill Theobald (BS ’79) has spent his 40-year newspaper career adapting to that changing media landscape day by day.

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Bill Theobald at the White House.

Theobald is no stranger to unique skills—he also holds a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University. And while working as an investigative reporter at the Indianapolis Star, he broke a story about the city’s public and private animal shelters euthenzing far more animals than comparable cities. All that alongside one peculiar journalistic talent: “Early in my career, I learned to read upside down,” he said, “because a particular source would place official papers he wanted me to see—but couldn’t officially give me—on the corner of his desk upside down and then leave the room.”

A Writer Who Edits, an Editor Who Writes

Theobald has been both a reporter and an editor in USA Today’s Washington Bureau, and he has recently been promoted to deputy Washington editor. As a reporter, he mostly covered members of congress who were from communities where the USA Today network has papers. He wrote about legislation as well as various government agencies—such as the Environmental Protection Agency—that had an impact on those communities. The USA Today network includes more than 100 daily newspapers in nearly 40 states. As an editor, Theobald now supervises a team of reporters covering news for papers in Indiana and Florida.

“Journalism is as much a craft as a profession,” Bill Theobald said. “My advice is to learn new skills— unique ones—and look for ways to set yourself apart.”

“Bill easily switched roles as papers were sold and beats rearranged,” said Maureen Groppe, one of Theobald’s Indiana reporters. “He moves back and forth between reporting and editing. When he’s an editor, he still helps with reporting; and when he’s a reporter, I still rely on his good editing eye and news judgment.” His team also admires his interpersonal skills that allow him to connect with people and get the best story.

“Bill is compassionate,” said Gary Sawyer, a former colleague. “He genuinely likes people and wants to tell their stories.”

In with the New

The modern journalist faces the new challenge of being on constant deadline. They are expected to perform duties that once were spread out over several people or didn’t exist. Today, they write stories, gather audio, photos and video, rewrite stories and post them online, and write new headlines and subheads. Then they promote their stories using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

“Sometimes I wish I had more time to think about and reflect upon my work instead of just being on a constant treadmill, and sometimes I’m frustrated at the lack of public understanding of journalism,” Theobald said. Over the years, he has covered the Supreme Court and the White House, but finds that job increasingly difficult.

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Bill Theobald on the job.

“Because there are so many more outlets competing, administrations through the years have become tight-lipped and manipulative in trying to control the news,” he said. Theobald is thankful for the many changes new technology has brought to journalism. He remembers delving into “the morgue”—a library of paper clippings in envelopes tucked away in drawers he had to dig through for background that he can now establish with a quick Google search. He is enthusiastic about a service USA Today offers that alerts subscribers of important stories via email.

“It’s still a great business,” Theobald said. “I love that I get the chance to see what other people do in their lives. I love the opportunity to write. I love that every day is different. I love the quirky people I work with. I love being a witness to history. You just have to jump in and hang on.”