Spring 2014 Scholarship Winner: Jessica Opatich

Jessica Opatich is the Spring 2014 News Literacy Scholarship winner.

As a child, Jessica Opatich would stiffen her boredom by reading. When she wasn’t binge reading novels, skimming newspapers or thumbing through journal entries, she would just plop herself down on the couch late at night next to her parents and watch “60 Minutes.”

And she loved every minute of it.

Photo by Janelle Clausen

Photo by Janelle Clausen

Which may partly explain how it is that Opatich, as a freshman transfer student, won the News Literacy 2014 Spring Essay Contest. She was, she says, channeling her love for reading when she challenged then-New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald’s ideas about the future of the news. Opatich used food as a metaphor, saying the news should nourish the consumer with “just the facts,” all on a plate served just the way she, a prolific reader, likes it.

“Give me the facts with a side of context,” Opatich wrote in her essay. “Hold the opinion. I don’t like when my food touches.”

Opatich grew up on the south shore of Long Island. In high school, she was an athlete and won a berth on the soccer team at the University of Rochester. Her passion for reading followed her to Rochester and she matriculated as an English-Literature major. After a chronic injury persisted, and the world of academia started looking more and more bleak, Opatich transferred into the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University.

“Journalism is a subject that I can consistently learn new things,” Opatich said. Being able to be continuously read, write and explore interesting topics like politics, art and sports is also what drove her toward journalism, she added. Opatich has always been addicted to consuming news: listening to National Public Radio, scanning Politico and binge-reading her Twitter feed of posts by Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Clarissa Ward.  She loaded her iPod with hours of podcasts, before Serial or whenever podcasts became cool, she said.

Opatich said her essay could have been very dense. There are not a million interesting ways to write about Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald’s opposing views of objectivity and journalism. But she had to try to write a letter to Bill Keller lending her voice to the debate.

“Who really, legitimately, wants to read about objectivity,” Opatich said. “You always need to bring something unique to a piece of writing. I did not want to bore my professor to death with a standard essay. I didn’t want to sound like some academic who has been studying in this field forever. I wanted to sound like myself.”

Opatich said she encourages future News Literacy students to heed her advice: Don’t ever try to give a standard response. Some day the student is going to be paid to do what they do. Be creative, don’t be boring, she added. Or the student won’t hold their job for much longer.