Alum’s career in journalism spans many mediums

Floyd McKayBy Erica Thompson -

Floyd McKay (Ph.D., 1995) has worn many hats throughout his career, and he says that the progression has been natural. “I think journalism is an area in which you can move, not only from one medium to another, but really from one field to another and use your journalistic skills,” McKay said.

Born in North Dakota, McKay moved to Oregon when he was 12 years old. He is a graduate of Linfield College and began his career with a community newspaper, The Springfield News, in 1958. Two years later, he moved to the Oregon Statesman, now the Statesman Journal, in Salem where he began covering the political scene. It was during this time that McKay was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, a prestigious award given to mid-career journalists for a year of study and exploration at the University.

He left the Oregon newspaper industry in 1970, joining KGW-TV, the KING Broadcasting Company station in Portland, as the news analyst.

“I had no idea that I would ever wind up in television,” McKay said. “We didn’t watch much television at home.…When KING hired me, they really took a risk. I suppose they were looking for a pretty face and there I was.”

McKay won an Alfred I. duPont Columbia Award with a documentary he produced about the Northwest timber industry while at KGW-TV. He said this production “helped set the agenda as we moved away from old growth and into an era of managed forests.”

Other memorable reporting topics included covering regional elections, as well as a documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1982, which still stands today.

After 16 years with the news station, McKay was ready to leave local television and joined forces with a man he had become acquainted with throughout his political reporting career. McKay was named administrative assistant to then Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt for two years, who he said shared a lot of the same priorities about what needed to be done in the state.

“By the time I left full-time journalism in 1986, I had really done most everything I had wanted to do in journalism in the region and I wasn’t interested in being a national journalist,” McKay said. “So teaching was a really good natural progression.”

After his service with the governor, McKay went back to school to get a master’s at the University of Maryland and was hired at Western Washington University in 1990. He served as chair of the Department of Journalism from 1994 to 2002. This is when he decided to come to the University of Washington to achieve a Ph.D.

“I needed a deeper background particularly in media history, which is one of the subject areas that I was teaching at Western,” McKay said, “and although I had done quite a lot of reading, I had never really taken any academic courses in the area, and of course that’s an area where the UW is very strong.”

Although McKay technically retired in June 2004, he hasn’t stopped writing. He has continued to do freelance work and wrote a twice-monthly opinion column for The Seattle Times for six years. In 2008, he began writing for Crosscut.com.

“I’m really enjoying getting back into writing with Crosscut,” McKay said. “It’s been a good experience for me and a new form of media, which is always interesting for someone who is now is his 70s.”

McKay said he is reporting on plans to ship coal through Northwest ports, which “is among the most significant reporting jobs that I’ve done despite the fact that I’m supposedly retired.”

But don’t think he left out radio in his bag of tricks.

“We have a little show up here in Bellingham called The Chuckanut Radio Hour, which is sponsored by the local, independent bookstore Village Books,” McKay said. “We do an hour every month and my role is to interview an author. It’s been fun because I never did radio before.”

The basis for everything he has done in his career lies in quality writing.

“There are always jobs for people who can write well and who can analyze detailed material and write for an average reader,” McKay said.

With all the job changes and mediums, McKay said, “It really makes it an interesting career. I have no regrets at all on that.”