From nun to journalist: The experiences and advice of PSNE President, Liz Allen

Photo courtesy of www.goerie.comBy Kaitlynn Maloney

If she didn’t have to be a nun, Liz Allen was going to be a journalist.

Allen came to this realization after winning a Catholic school writing competition about the life of a nun. After winning the competition, Allen feared that she actually had to become a nun. However, this fear was diminished in tenth grade when her father came home from parent open house and reported what Allen’s journalism teacher had told him, “Sister Virginia Anne says that you should be a journalist.”

This ordained blessing was all Allen needed to shed her forced aspirations for the sisterhood and embrace her life as a journalist.  Since then, Allen attended Marquette University in Milwaukee where she majored in Journalism and wrote for papers across the Midwest before returning to Erie, Pennsylvania where she currently holds the positions of Public Editor for the Erie Times News, and President of the Pennsylvania Society of Newspaper Editors (PSNE).

Shortly after her new career aspirations were realized, as a high school student, Allen approached the Editor of the Erie Morning News with a concern that would carry through to her work as an Editor and President of PSNE.

“I contacted the Editor and asked, ‘Why don’t you have more positive news in the paper about young people?’” Allen said.

After her inquiry, Allen was invited to job shadow at the paper.

“I got to see how everything worked,” Allen said.  “I knew stuff before everyone else, the immediacy of the newsroom.  Being in that atmosphere was an experience that shaped my approach as an Editor today,” she said.

One of those experiences, Allen said, was shadowing a journalist who was assigned the task of going to a family’s home and acquiring a photo of their son who had recently died as a soldier in Vietnam.

“I was 16 years old and my lip was quivering,” Allen said, “When we left the house I asked him, ‘How do you ever get used to that?’  He said, ‘You don’t,’” Allen said.

Allen said that the experience taught her one way to be a journalist.

“You can be skeptical without being a cynic” Allen said.  “There are ways to approach a family. You can still get the inside story while being professional.”

Allen said that she has similar goals for the interns covering the Pennsylvania Press Conference and Keystone Press Awards.

“I hope that interns will polish their skills, gain confidence and make great contacts.  These networking opportunities are really useful in saying, ‘Hey, I met you at the conference, this is what I can offer to you,’” Allen said.

Allen said that she also hopes that the interns own passion for journalistic writing will be ignited by their mentors.

“The love of this craft is one that endures,” Allen said, “The people we have at the conference have been doing this for years and are still in love and passionate about what we do.  Hopefully interns will be able to say, ‘Is this what I want to do?’” Allen said.

Though the Keystone Awards date back to the 1950s, the online internship initiative began when Sandra Long, Vice President for Editorial Product Development for Philadelphia Media Network and board member of PSNE, wanted to “make sure we involve young people in the conference and try to provide them with as many tools as possible,” Allen said.

For all the interns attending the conference Allen said that the best advice she can offer is the same she was given as a young journalist, “Be persistent without being obnoxious,” Allen said, “Pursue internships, get the professional experience that you need and figure out how you can make a contribution, because no matter what size organization you are with, you can make a contribution,” Allen said.

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