Catching up with alumnus Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson (B.A., 1978; M.A., 1986) is the current editor and publisher of the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, an independent newspaper and web site that started in 1889.
While he attended the Department of Communication, Wilson was involved in news writing, news editing and was also the editor for The Daily in 1977. Wilson received his BA in Journalism. He used the degree to partly pursue his interest in the political history of journalism and media. Wilson then later returned to UW to get his masters in communication in between jobs, studying mass media ownership patterns. He also spent several months freelancing in Nicaragua and other Central American nations during the time of the U.S. led counter-revolution against the Sandinista government.
Wilson described his education and experience at the Department of Communication as “A direct pipeline from the UW School of Communications to the professional field,” referring to how he and his peers received jobs right out of college in newspapers and television.
Serving as the editor of The Daily gave Wilson the experience to be able to work for weekly newspapers in Port Townsend and Whidbey Island upon graduation. Wilson then shifted into dailies with the Everett Herald and the Tacoma News Tribune, where he was the Olympia Bureau Chief, encompassing mainly government and politics.
During Wilson’s time at the Department of Communication in 1977, he established his connections though an internship with his current news job at the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader. It was not until later in 1989 that Wilson bought into the news company, making him a co-owner. Since then, he has been the editor and publisher of the newspaper. Wilson said that he hoped the news source would achieve “strong independent media, both print and online, in a world awash with corporate media”
Wilson set the strategic direction of the company while supervising the managers of its five departments. He also contributes by writing and editing stories, selling ads, and being deeply involved in civic projects.
Throughout his time at the Leader, Wilson has contributed to a number of news series that not only served a read in the newspaper but also changed the community.
In 2000, a Chimacum High School student assaulted another student in the school hallway. The assailant was arrested, convicted and then sent to a penitentiary. But reporter Fred Obee, with Wilson as his editor, decided to take a second look at the case. In his research, he learned that the student was a shy, socially awkward young man who had been bullied for years. After further investigation, Obee unearthed a series of incidents of harassment by Chimacum’s “popular” students over the weeks that led up to the attack. He learned that the harassment had peaked on the day of the incident. That was when the shy student grabbed his weapon from his locker and fought back. The Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader then reported and detailed the poor work of a local defense attorney, who called no witnesses to support the young man’s story of continual harassment. Obee’s follow-up story, when published, was sent on to former Washington governor Gary Locke, who then commuted the young man’s penitentiary and set him free from McNeil Island.
In 2010, Wilson and the Leader staff worked to produce a news series that encompassed a bio-mass plant proposal that generated uproar from environmentalist groups. The series outlined the actual science of the biomass and emission questions, rather than simply the “he said, she said” coverage. As a result of this work, the air emission question was resolved to the public’s satisfaction. The series was then used to inform the community and alter the focus of debate.
Even though the times are changing with growing technology, it does not mean that news ceases to serve its purpose. Wilson led the Leader in a direction where it can coexist with digital media while still being a successful news source. Wilson offered his advice to current communication students saying that students should “learn multi-media skills and independent business skills. That way you can start a media outlet in a community that has lost its independent voice.”
By Chris Duclos