Austin HornbostelSeptember 28, 2021
Austin Hornbostel is the editor of the California Democrat, a community newspaper serving Moniteau County in mid-Missouri, and currently lives in Jefferson City. He is a Kansas City native (Go Chiefs/Sporting KC!) and graduated from Truman in 2017, after which he worked in Truman’s Office of Admission for two years before starting at the Democrat in 2019.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
I graduated in spring of 2017 with a concentration in Journalism, as well as a minor in Photography through the Art Department.
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
I joined the Index literally within days of moving into the dorms, like the big nerd I am, and continued there for the entirety of my four years as a student. I even brought every copy of the newspaper I’d worked on in high school to show my editors, who could not have been less impressed but still hired me (yikes). I also was an active member of Pi Kappa Phi and Phi Sigma Pi.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
Nope, no grad school for me. I have thought about it as an option further down the road, though! I thought, in the reporting field especially, it was more important for me to get experience as soon as possible, then use that later down the road if I decide more education is in the cards.
What was your first job after graduation?
I actually found my first job at Truman as a member of the Office of Admission. I spent a year working partially with the students of northeast Missouri and partially in-house and a year as the regional representative for Kansas City, living remotely in downtown KC. That year, especially, was a lot of fun.
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
I am now the editor of the California Democrat, a weekly community newspaper located in mid-Missouri, about 20 minutes from Jefferson City. The amount of times I had to tell family members “Actually, this is not the west coast/big city California” after accepting the position was no less than a thousand. I’ve been with the Democrat for more than two years after starting in July of 2019.
I essentially function as a full-time general assignment reporter on top of being the editor. I’m constantly writing and shooting photos to go with my copy and I lead a small staff of reporters in filling the rest of the paper and editing their content. I also get to read/edit all the fun, small-town submitted content, like when people write about who went to dinner at each other’s houses and who grew the best plate of six green beans at the county fair.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
It has made me more well-rounded. I tackle problems, speaking from a liberal arts perspective. I don’t tend to think about issues restricted just to what I learned in my COMM classes only (which were helpful in their own right for the more specific aspects of working in journalism). I think when you combine the two, you end up with a pretty good recipe for developing the type of tool set that can help you with any job you ever have.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
Probably the most difficult one, which was my junior year News Reporting and Writing class with Dr. Marilyn Yaquinto. She was the kind of instructor that asked a lot of her students, and as a student I remember wondering what the point was when I had already been writing news stories for the Index for years (nothing quite like the hubris of a 21-year-old who thinks they know everything). When I look back now, though, many of the habits and tools of the trade I use most often were things I learned in that class.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
Serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Index. It was a trying year with how we restructured the student leadership, but I think that experience made me a better manager in my professional life. I was always the most proud to be a leader at the newspaper when I was a student, so I invested a ton of time there (often to the point that it was consuming pretty much all of my waking hours).
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
I always told prospective students when working in Admissions that it really comes down to the individual. For me, Truman was an excellent fit, because I knew after I visited that the faculty would be friendly and accessible (and they were, thanks Prof. Krause, Dr. Yaquinto, and Dr. Self!) and that it would be easy for me to get involved in the student media as quickly as possible. If you’re talking journalism specifically, the Iowa Caucus class and trip was also one of my absolute favorite benefits of studying in the COMM Department and was a massive highlight of my time in college.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Work. For. The. Student. Media.
There is no better way to prepare for life as a journalist than getting experience as a reporter, editor, or whatever it is you specifically have your sights set on doing. Get those reps! That experience got me hired at the Democrat — my current role is my first professional job in the field. I have two colleagues that work for sister publications — the Jefferson City News Tribune and the Fulton Sun — that worked for the Index, too.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
Don’t expect to start out at the top. When I applied for journalism jobs, first in 2017 post-grad and then in 2019 when I was leaving my role with Truman, I was asked back for a whopping total of two interviews between both job searches (and spoilers, neither job was very glamorous). It’s because I was shooting waaay too high. You’re not going to graduate and immediately be a lead reporter for the New York Times — or even like a decently-sized metro daily — even if you think you’re the best reporter on the planet. What you are going to find, though, are opportunities to get your foot in the door in smaller markets and hone your skills. You have to take those and put in some time working in the not-so-fun jobs before you can start climbing the ladder.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
“The people” would be cheating I think, so I’ll say I most miss some of my favorite spots around campus. Barnett Hall of course, since I essentially lived there. Ophelia Parrish and the library, too. Those were some of my favorite places to take prospective students when they toured campus. Oh, and the Greek Corner. Someone ship some feta fries to me in Jeff City please.
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
I’d probably say “COMM — There is literally no job you won’t use this for,” but I’m open to suggestions.
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
One of the best skills I’ve learned on the job has been enterprise reporting, so it’d be about that. I’d call it “Making Your Source Work For You.” I’d pretty much walk through how to build contacts with sources that can lead to future reporting, since that’s 99% of how I source stories for my newspaper, unless I’m getting a tip or something from a reader. I think this would be a cool class since a lot of the work would be practical and come from establishing an enterprise source across a semester and building toward some more detailed reporting by the end.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
If you go after what you think you would be best at and would make you feel most fulfilled, you can do no wrong. There’s also nothing wrong with taking longer than immediately after graduation to get a job working in your field. What has mattered most to me, regardless of the steps I’ve taken along the way, is that I’ve gotten to develop professionally in a field where I feel I’m really contributing something important to the world, and that’s something I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without what I learned at Truman. Think that covers it.
This is the question I end every interview with btw, good practice for you future journalists out there.
If you would like to learn more of Austin’s story, you can follow him on LinkedIn and you can even check out his portfolio.