Working everyday with a helping heart and passion: Jon Yates shares his experience of helping readers with members of the Society of Professional Journalists. From left to right: Courtney Briley, Abby Betts, Nickkita Lau, Jon Yates.
To Jon Yates (B.A. 1992), columnist and staff reporter of The Chicago Tribune , satisfactions do not necessarily come from covering corrupt trials of public officials. He said solving readers’ problems such as dealing with a cable company through his column gives him a good feeling.
His twice-weekly column “What’s Your Problem?” helps readers solve any problem they have, which usually have to do with companies and government agencies. He recently helped a man who waited for months to get his passport to go to China to pick up his adopted son with special needs. Yates called the State Department, and within four hours they approved the passport.
“I’ve worked in the newspaper business for 14 years, and I’ve done all kinds of reporting,” Yates said. “These are really some of the most rewarding things I’ve done because you can have an immediate impact. It’s on a very small scale. I’m not changing the world, but I’m changing a little piece of it sometimes.”
In addition to writing his column, Yates enjoys being a general assignment reporter. He likes the rush of a story and going to work every morning without knowing how the day will be.
Yates said parachute reporting, when a reporter is sent to a foreign place to report on a big story without any prior knowledge of the locals and the place, is what he likes the most. The use of new technology makes covering stories like the Virginia Tech shooting more exciting but also easy to go wrong.
He said how media outlets picked up the false initial report on the shooter’s identity from The Chicago Sun-Times made the online transition seem “scary.” He said having more than one source, particularly when the source is undisclosed, is important in the online era.
“When you are putting a story up on the website, sometimes only one to two editors will look at it,” Yates said. “So we really have to make sure we’re giving the readers as good a story as we can.
“We’ve known that competitions have had information that they were going to put on their website,” Yates said. “We’re ok with them breaking something if we’re not 100 percent sure if it’s true.”
Since graduating in 1992, Yates has worked for five newspapers, from Iowa to California to Tennessee and back to the Midwest. He enjoyed covering the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996 and crimes in Nashville. He also had his downs when he did not make enough to pay his electricity bills, but he is always amazed by his passion in reporting.
“It’s weird that journalists is a group with more complaints than anyone about their job,” Yates said. “But I can’t think of another group of people who love their job more. I just can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”