Vidette Editor Ema Sasic Talks Success and Gender in Journalism
Illinois State University’s longtime newspaper The Vidette had a historic year, bringing home a record 29 Illinois College Press Association (ICPA) awards at the organization’s annual conference in Chicago last month.
The Vidette also took first place in General Excellence among daily collegiate papers, a first in the paper’s history.
Ema Sasic took over as Editor-in-Chief of the paper in August 2017, the latest in a long line of women Vidette editors. The Schaumburg native joined The Vidette her freshman year, later becoming a columnist and news editor. Sasic shared her thoughts on the paper’s success, recent surges in the women’s movement and women in the journalism profession. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you first become interested in journalism?
“My mom and I were talking about it not too long ago and I came to the realization that news has always been around me in one way or another--I just never paid attention to it. My dad would always have CNN or any of the local channels playing in the background. He’d always have the Sunday Tribune brought in. We were also in a very good area where there were so many newspapers around: the Tribune, Sun Times and Daily Herald.
It wasn’t really until high school that I realized I loved writing. I’ve always loved English, so I thought I could be an English teacher. As much as I loved kids, though, I didn’t see myself being as happy as my teachers were. Writing came very naturally to me. I took one journalism class in high school and everything kind of clicked for me. I loved doing magazine writing and just reading magazines so that also influenced me.”
What drew you to Illinois State University?
“It was between ISU and Eastern for me. Affordability was important for my parents and me because we immigrated here. My parents are former refugees from Yugoslavia. We immigrated from Germany. [My parents] journeyed from Yugoslavia to Denmark and then Germany where I was born. We came [to the US] in the late 1990s.
College was never something they talked about for me because they didn’t even have enough money to secure basic resources for themselves so [college] was really like the last thing. But they saw that I was a very dedicated student and I really loved school--I still do. [My parents] felt like it would be a shame if I didn’t have the chance to go on to higher education. I really just looked for low-cost options and anything to help out my parents. Luckily I was approved for a few scholarships here. Financial aid helped me as well.
When I toured the campus I saw the TV-10 studio and WZND. I didn’t get a chance to [talk to representatives for] The Vidette that day, but I knew I wanted to do something with print journalism because I had done print with my high school paper. Everything looked so professional...I felt like I could really succeed here so ISU was the best option for me.”
Tell me about The Vidette’s recent success at the ICPA conference.
“Our previous two years we won 16 awards, and as they usually say, it’s not about the awards you win, it’s about the experience you gain there, but it’s nice to have the cherry on top! I just hoped some of my current staff members would be recognized for all of their hard work. You can really tell that they care about this paper; they put their heart and soul into their stories. I had four or five of my current staff members recognized and they brought in multiple awards so I was very happy for them. I brought in a few awards, and then our staff members from last year brought in a few awards so that was a great feeling.
The last category, General Excellence, is where we send in three random issues [of the paper] for critiquing. They look at everything like photos, captions, headlines and stories. It’s kind of like the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We ended up winning first place in the daily category among the largest schools. To have our paper selected as the first place winner was just out of this world. John [Plevka, Vidette General Manager] is actually the President of the ICPA Board, and he was the one who handed the plaque over to me. That was the best moment. I’m happy that I was able to accept that award on The Vidette’s behalf during my time as Editor. It’s a great finish for me. ”
The last year or so saw significant coverage of women’s issues with the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. How have those issues played out on campus and how did The Vidette cover them?
“What’s great about being on a college campus is you’re surrounded by individuals that really care about the national and global issues. This campus is full of people who really care and aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and show why these issues, matter not just to them but to everybody around them.
It’s been wonderful to cover these issues in 2017 and what I believe will be a strong 2018 as well. Last year I was able to attend a pro-Planned Parenthood rally in Downtown Bloomington. It’s different when you can actually attend those rallies versus just reporting on what’s going on in D.C. or Chicago. [When you’re not there in person] you don’t get the shared experience with others that you can reflect on.
While we were at the rally we had a chance to speak to women whose lives were changed and saved by Planned Parenthood resources. These rallies are meant to open our eyes and tell us that [social issues] are more than just a black and white image. There’s more to the story. There’s more to what people are experiencing. It’s important to actually go out and talk to them.
When we attend other rallies and marches on campus like Light the Night, we have to cover those issues [in the paper]. It doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree with them. People’s stories need to be heard and their voices need to be shared with others. That’s what news is supposed to do--share people’s experiences. I’m hopeful that as these marches keep happening and we have more of them in the community and on campus, our reporters will be be ready to talk to as many people as they can and share their experiences.”
More women are studying journalism, but the profession continues to be male-dominated. Any thoughts on why that might be and how that might change?
“I’ve noticed that a lot of my classes are mainly women. It doesn’t translate into the professional world, where you’d expect to see more women in those higher-up positions. There may be more female reporters but when it comes to executives, editors, that kind of thing, it’s mainly male driven. Maybe, like in a lot of professions, women don’t see themselves represented in those higher positions, so they don’t apply for them. Maybe they don’t feel like they’ll be welcomed as much as a male counterpart.
Luckily I didn’t have that feeling at The Vidette. I always felt equal to a male reporter. It doesn’t matter to me [whether a man or woman] writes a story; I don’t have any favorites here. I judge my sub editors by [the quality of] their work. I can look at a story and it doesn’t matter who wrote it, as long as that story is strong and I see good journalism in it, that story will go on the cover. I try to remain unbiased because everything runs through me. That’s how I will continue, and I hope maybe I can be in a higher position someday. I just hope the people who select me for that position can do the same as I do for my reporters. It doesn’t really matter what gender or ethnicity I am or that I wasn’t born here in the United States--just judge me based on my writing. That’s really what it should come down to.”
What are your plans after you graduate in May?
“I’ve been applying to as many places as I can [for work], but I am also planning to go to Europe with my parents--that’s like a graduation gift. I’m going to finally see my hometown in Germany, and I’m going to see my grandpa who I haven’t seen in over 10 years. I’m excited for that; that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”