The Missouri Press Association (MPA) last week honored Southeast Missouri State University alumna Katelyn Mary Skaggs of Festus, Missouri, as the recipient of its 2020 William E. James Outstanding Young Journalist Award.
The award is given to two Missouri journalists under the age of 30 who have demonstrated excellence in the field of journalism and maintained the quality, ethics and standards of The Journalist’s Creed, according to mopress.com. The aim of the award is to reinforce the importance of a journalist’s role by recognizing and nurturing talent to further promote quality journalism.
Skaggs, 23, earned her Bachelor of Science in multimedia journalism with a minor in photography in December 2018. After graduation, she immediately began working as a reporter for Leader Publications, which covers Jefferson County, Missouri, and the surrounding area. She was nominated for the award by the Leader’s assistant publisher, 1985 Southeast graduate Peggy Scott, and editor Peggy Bess.
“I was shocked to learn I had won the Outstanding Young Journalist Award,” Skaggs said. “I never imagined I would win such a prestigious award so early in my career.”
Skaggs, who grew up in House Springs, Missouri, said she fell in love with Southeast after attending a Show Me Day.
“I was able to speak with several journalism professors during the Show Me Day and found out Southeast would allow me to start writing for the Southeast Arrow right away,” Skaggs said. “I learned Southeast had the best opportunity for me to pursue my dreams.”
Her passion for journalism first bloomed in high school after an English teacher encouraged her to join the newspaper class.
“She developed in me a passion for local news and ethical reporting that I never knew I had,” Skaggs said of her high school teacher. “She showed me why it’s so important for communities to have a watchdog.”
At Southeast she got started pursuing that passion right away serving as news editor to the Arrow, the student-run newspaper, for nearly three years. Now, after a year and a half with Leader Publications, Skaggs said she’s still excited about journalism and especially by the trust she’s built with the communities she covers.
“I believe my readers know I bring them stories with the facts laid out so they can decide on how they feel about a topic,” she said, noting her sources can expect that she’ll always report the news — good and bad — and “make sure they follow Sunshine Law.” The Sunshine Law outlines the guidelines for public meetings and government transparency. Skaggs credits much of her knowledge and steadfastness about such guidelines to mass media professor Dr. Tamara Zellars Buck, who teaches several journalism classes in the Department of Mass Media, including media law.
For the Leader, Skaggs covers the Missouri cities of Eureka and Byrnes Mill, as well as police and fire news and the local health department — a beat which has earned her plenty of COVID-19 coverage this year.
“I understand how important a public health system is for a community and how important sharing health news can be,” Skaggs said. “I want to make sure people have the most up-to-date information as fast as I can write the story.”
In addition to being named Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year, Skaggs also learned last week that a story she’d written about a bear trapped in a local school had won the MPA’s Craziest Story Contest.
“I was looking at Facebook when I saw a video of a bear in a familiar place, my old grade school,” Skaggs recalled. “I called my editor over so he could see the video and make sure I wasn’t seeing things.”
The Leader was first to report the story and ran it on the front page, she said.
“I joke in the newsroom that I have become a wildlife reporter,” Skaggs said. “I have reported on a bear, turtles, a zebu, ducks, chickens, pit bulls, geese and a coyote.”
When she’s not working, Skaggs can be found knitting, reading, training for a triathlon or baking something sweet. The Southeast Marching Band’s former feature twirler, Skaggs said she even teaches some twirling lessons.
For current Southeast students and new graduates, Skaggs has some advice.
“Use the vast network of alumni to get career advice or even a job,” she said, noting several Leader colleagues are fellow Redhawks. “Southeast has some great alumni who are ready to help students and graduates move forward in their careers.”