Alumni Spotlight Jeff Engel (JOUR ’11)

Jeff EngelContent is King: Graduate Grows Journalism Skills from Marquette Tribune to World-Wide Media

Since his graduation from Marquette in 2011, Jeff Engel has rapidly advanced in the ever-changing field of technology journalism. Once a writer for the Marquette Tribune and the Milwaukee Business Journal, Jeff is now based in Boston covering technology as senior editor at Xconomy, an online news publication that provides daily, local coverage of innovation in 10 markets nationwide.

1. Do you expect journalism to continue growing online in the future?

We would certainly like to think so, although at Xconomy we are really a mix of new and old. What I mean by that is we marry old-school journalism with new-age technology. We publish stories that offer in-depth, balanced, and skeptical reporting, but delivered solely online—no print.

2. You have a broad experience in all phases of journalism for someone only three years out of MU. How valuable was it for you to work at small newspapers?

My experience starting my career at a small daily in central Wisconsin, the Marshfield News-Herald, was crucial. It allowed me to really dive into the community, hone my reporting skills, work closely with a small staff of editors and reporters who had the time to mentor me, and it gave me room to occasionally make mistakes.

The Milwaukee Business Journal was a great next step because it was a bigger market. It was a lot more work to learn all the players in Milwaukee than it was in Marshfield, but I think I was ready for it. I’m thankful for the opportunities at both papers, and I wouldn’t have been given a shot at Xconomy without those experiences.

3. What did you learn from being editor of the Marquette Tribune?

I learned how to manage a variety of personalities and motivate people to do their best. I don’t consider myself the type of leader who has some grand vision or constantly comes up with creative ideas. My leadership strategy was to hire great people, work hard, and expect others to do the same. That hard work paid off at the end of the year when the Tribune was named the 2010 Best All-Around Non-Daily Student Newspaper in the country by the Society of Professional Journalists. It was a great honor.

Editing the Tribune also made me a better reporter because I got to see stories from a different perspective, and I got to help reporters find ways to improve their stories.

4. How is your Marquette education helping you now?

First, my Marquette education gave me the skills that I need to succeed as a journalist—writing, reporting, copy editing, finding the best story angles and more. I learned a lot of those things in the classroom, and I got to practice those skills in real-world situations with the Tribune. Those experiences helped me land internships, which helped me get my first job.

Beyond the skills I gained at Marquette, I believe my experience there helped shape me into a better person. I’m a sharper critical thinker (a trait that society values less these days than it should), a harder worker, more open-minded, and more passionate about making a difference in my community.

5. In your estimation, where is journalism headed in the 21st century?

It’s a tough time to be a journalist, no doubt. Traditional newspapers still haven’t figured out how to make money online, and many of the new-age online news publications seem to only value shallow stories with headlines that are rarely more than clickbait.

But I’m confident that quality content will ultimately win out. People can get the same basic news of the day for free from about 50 different websites, but where can they get the stories that go deeper and explain what that news means for them and why they should care? Those are the kinds of stories and publications that people will seek out. The trick is making that a sustainable business. I think Xconomy could be one of those quality publications that succeeds. Our business is primarily supported by a combination of annual underwriting and event sponsorships and ticket sales, with traditional advertisements constituting a fraction of total revenue. I’m proud to work for this company, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.