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Meet the Media: Will Denner

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For this week’s Meet the Media, get to know Will Denner, sports editor at Madras Pioneer. 1. How did you find yourself working for Madras Pioneer as a sports editor? A pretty random stroke of luck. Shortly after wrapping up a post-grad internship with the East Oregonian in Pendleton, I applied for a position at a […]

For this week’s Meet the Media, get to know Will Denner, sports editor at Madras Pioneer.
1. How did you find yourself working for Madras Pioneer as a sports editor?
A pretty random stroke of luck. Shortly after wrapping up a post-grad internship with the East Oregonian in Pendleton, I applied for a position at a paper in the Portland area owned by Pamplin Media Group, which also owns the Madras Pioneer. Somewhere along the company chain, my contact information and portfolio was forwarded to the Pioneer’s publisher, Tony Ahern. He reached out and said he was interested in interviewing me for the open sports editor position. The job wasn’t on my radar, quite honestly, but after I drove out to Madras for an interview, I had a good feeling about the place. I accepted a job offer shortly after and have been here since November 2016.
2. Which of your stories are you most proud of?
Last Fourth of July, I wrote about a community running event in Madras that pays tribute to a hometown kid who died tragically while trying to save his dogs from drowning. The story is well known within the Central Oregon community, but I challenged myself to look for a new angle and flesh out details that hadn’t been previously reported. I did plenty of advance reporting prior to the event, which included lengthy conversations with surviving family members, then turned around and wrote the story on deadline the same day of the run.
My last term of college, while writing for the University of Oregon’s student newspaper, the Daily Emerald, I profiled UO (University of Oregon) men’s golfer Aaron Wise, who had recently announced he was turning pro after just two seasons playing in college. He was always a tough interview, and rarely revealed much about himself. That led me to contact secondary sources, including Wise’s mom, to gather more insight about him. She told me a story about him working at a golf course in high school to be around the sport more often. I brought this up in a subsequent conversation with him. He told me how his family had some financial trouble when he was growing up, which was juxtaposed in the story to the money he would soon be making as a pro. The finished story, to this day, remains one of my proudest clips.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job?
The relationships I’ve developed with coaches, athletes and community members. It has been an invaluable learning experience in terms of building rapport and establishing trust with people I interview for stories. I also appreciate how much passion the community has for sports.
4. What is your interview style?
Not sure that I have one dependable style, but in almost every one-on-one interview, I aim to get a subject to open up. Sometimes that requires me to ask lots of follow-up questions in hopes of digging beyond the surface; other times, I simply need to ask the initial questions that spark thoughtful answers and talk as little as possible.
5. What do you look for in a story?
Above all else, originality. I want to find a person, a trend, or a new angle on a previously reported story that hasn’t been covered. Conflict and human interest are crucially important news values, too.
6. What is your day like at your job?
On game nights, my routine is usually predictable. Arrive at the office in the early afternoon, check up on emails, call sources for other stories, if necessary, and sort through photos from the previous day. I arrive at game sites 15-20 minutes early, and usually post some pregame information on Twitter.
Once a game begins, my primary focus is on my Canon EOS 60D to shoot photos, which will later accompany my stories online and in print. I also take notes on important moments as often as I can. At the conclusion of a game, I interview coaches and athletes. Since we’re a weekly paper, I don’t always write a story the same night. However, there are certain instances when I return to the office to get a post on the web, or at the very least, a photo gallery of images I took at the game.
Monday is our main production day to layout the weekly print section using Adobe InDesign. That gives me and our two other editorial staffers a final chance to write and edit copy, select photos and decide where all the stories will appear in print.
7. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
Too many to name! But if I had to narrow it down to a couple…Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated sets the industry standard for longform sports profile stories, in my opinion. His subjects – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, LaDainian Tomlinson, to name a few – are most often superstars with plenty already known about them. But I admire his ability to deconstruct those icons, and methodically pore over the smallest details to tell a story.
Bill Simmons, former ESPN staffer and current CEO and founder of The Ringer, is an inspiration for journalists who follow unconventional paths. He is considered a pioneer of sports writing in the digital age, after he grew an audience writing a weekly column for AOL, while also bartending to make a living in the early 2000s. Over the years, he’s spearheaded some important projects, such as co-founding the “30 for 30” ESPN documentary series and introducing Grantland, a sports and pop culture website that was a precursor to his current Ringer venture. And, he continues to bring fresh ideas to a rapidly-changing journalism industry.
8. What is your favorite news outlet?
The New York Times. Whether it’s news, opinion or sports, their coverage encompasses everything I’m looking for. They’ve also produced some excellent multimedia work in the past five years. For investigative journalism, ProPublica piques my interest, especially because it operates as a nonprofit organization.
9. Fill in the blank:

  • If I am not reporting, I am…Hiking, snowboarding or watching movies.
  • If I could interview anyone, it would be…Barack Obama.
  • My favorite thing about the PNW is…The easygoing lifestyle and people.

10. What is your guilty pleasure?
Music from the ‘80s. Even the cheesy stuff.
Check out last week’s Meet the Media where we spotlighted Camilla Mortensen, editor at the Eugene Weekly. 
Want to be featured in a Meet the Media? Email [email protected] for inquiries.

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