Sarah Fenske '99
Editor, Riverfront Times
Major at Wooster: English; Political Science
How did a political science/English major with no degree in journalism end up with one of the industry’s plum jobs? It began with experiential learning at Wooster and a passion for the discipline.
Sarah Fenske ’99, editor-in-chief of the Pulitzer Prize-winning tabloid LA Weekly since Oct. 2011, says her role as co-editor of Wooster’s student newspaper The Voice was critical to her development, as was an internship at Northern Ohio Live that Career Services helped her to find following her junior year. But nothing was more important than Professor Peter Havholm’s course on magazine writing and its requirement that the class produce a glossy magazine.
“I was co-editor,” she remembers. “We titled our magazine Stan, and it was an homage to Stan Hales (the president of the College at the time). I just loved the in-depth feature-length writing. I took the magazine with me to my first eight job interviews, and they said, ‘Really? You were the editor of this?’ My practical experience helped me to get my foot in the door and I just had to push the rest of the way through.”
Fenske pushed steadily upward. After two years as a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times, she was promoted to columnist in in 2007, where she put her political science degree and Independent Study (titled “Dirty Tricks and Dirty Dresses: Newspapers and White House Scandal”) to good use. She was awarded a prestigious Livingston Award For Young Journalists in 2011 for a series of reports on corruption in the Housing Authority of Maricopa County in Arizona, leading to the ouster of the head of the authority.
Her focus in Los Angeles has expanded to include arts and entertainment, requiring a sharp learning curve to cover her new city and new home. “It’s hard to be a journalist in a city you don’t know that well. But seeing it with fresh eyes is a real advantage. Some of the best stories I’ve done have occurred when I’ve been relatively new in a city. I don’t have alliances; I’m open to anything. And that’s when good journalism happens.”
In addition to its weekly 100-page newspaper, LA Weekly also produces a website. “We have 30-something new pieces of content every day,” Fenske says. “We’re trying to do good stuff, and it’s hard because the quantity has to be so great.” But the challenges of the job are also what she loves most about it.
“There is just constant stuff flying at me. It feels like I’m a shortstop and somebody is hitting line drives at me all day long.
“At the end of the day it feels great to be totally exhausted.”