By Colleen Otte
When Margie Bauman placed an ad in Editor and Publisher that read “J-grad, female, will go anywhere,” her degree in journalism from Michigan State University landed her 15 job offers.
That was in 1964. Bauman had come to MSU from Newark, New Jersey, where she graduated from Weequahic High School. The school was great academically, she said, but terrible at football – winning just one game in the four years she attended. She chose MSU because it accepted her just two weeks after she applied.
And it had a winning football team.
Bauman returned to her alma mater recently during homecoming week to meet with Knight Center students interested in an environmental journalism career similar to her own.
It was not a direct path. She had decided that the best of her 15 offers was to become the society, entertainment and religion editor at The Anchorage Times in Alaska.
She spent a year at The Anchorage Times, before realizing she needed more education and experience working with seasoned journalists from broader backgrounds. She returned to New Jersey, landing jobs with organizations like the Associated Press and CBS News, while Walter Cronkite was still in command.
But Bauman missed Alaska and was glad to return in 1971. She worked for the Anchorage Daily News (now Alaska Dispatch), the Alaska Native Press (Tundra Times), various weeklies and also produced freelance work.
Now, Bauman is the Alaska bureau chief for Fisherman’s News in Seattle and the fisheries reporter for The Cordova Times in Cordova, Alaska, on Prince William Sound.
She works from her home office, covering most stories by phone and hundreds of miles from the publications for which she works. She has never actually been to Cordova. On occasion she will fly out to report on really interesting stories, she said – like an annual fisheries conference at Kodiak Island – but she mostly works in South-central Alaska.
She lives on 8.5 wooded acres with a view of snow-capped mountains in an area called Knik, a community of dog mushers about 70 road miles from Anchorage. At one point she had 21 huskies of her own, and now has five that are happy with their very large fenced playground, she said.
“There were probably more people in Spartan Stadium than there were in Alaska when I got there,” she quipped.
Nonetheless, she said Alaska has become a destination for many. People come from as far as Japan to photograph the northern lights, and the state was selected as the location for President Barack Obama’s recent climate address.
“You meet people from all over the world up there,” Bauman said.
She also said she sees wildlife “all the time” – from moose to foxes to bears – and that there are actually skilled Alaskan organic farmers growing fruit trees and an increasing number of farmers markets.
Perhaps for these reasons, Bauman said Alaska’s journalism market is just as tight as everywhere else.
She advised students to figure out how best to sell themselves and to do anything they can to start getting published.
“Look around at what you’re really interested in writing,” then find a news source to match, she said.
Cultivating a lot of sources is important, she said.
“People think I know a lot about fisheries,” Bauman said. “No—I just know the people who do.”
She said she has 60 pages of contacts she can refer to on her computer.
When asked if she fishes often, her response was immediate: “No. I eat fish.”
Bauman said one of the most prominent issues she faces in her region is the ongoing struggle between the oil and fishing industries.
Much of Alaska is dependent on oil for income, but cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic, where marine mammals are already threatened by climate change, is virtually impossible, she said. Drilling in this region risks destroying a $6 billion fishing industry.
Bauman said her favorite part of her job is having the authority to speak with a variety of people about all kinds of scientific discoveries and disasters and then informing others what they should know about them.
It’s a role for which she was well-prepared.
“I thought the J-School was terrific when I was a student there,” Bauman said. “But now it is light years ahead of what it was then.”
Colleen Otte is a student at MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and reports for the center’s Great Lakes Echo.