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School Of Communications

“People Are at the Heart of Every Story:” Deseret News Editor-in-Chief Offers Advice to BYU Journalism Students

Deseret News Editor and BYU Alum Sarah Jane Weaver Answers Questions About the Role of Faith and Education in Her Career

Recently named Deseret News’ first female editor-in-chief, Sarah Jane Weaver (’94) found success in her career through faith and diligence.

From her beginnings as a student at BYU and a writer for the Daily Universe to the internship that kick-started her career with Deseret News, Weaver shares how her faith, education and life experiences helped her thrive in both her work and life.

Deseret News Editor-in-Chief Sarah Jane Weaver
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Weaver

Q: How did your education at BYU prepare you to work in the journalism field? How did it impact your career choices?

Weaver: There is nothing that has been more of a defining influence on my life than my education at BYU. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, so when I entered BYU, I immediately got involved with the Daily Universe and declared a major in journalism. I also had amazing professors who encouraged me to apply for the Pulliam Fellowship, a journalism fellowship program. Overall, through the fellowship and my time working at the Daily Universe, I had plenty of experiential learning opportunities while I was at BYU.

I think the most influential experiences I had were through my internship at the Washington Seminar internship. While I was in the Washington Seminar, I worked for the Deseret News Washington Bureau. Through the connections I made during that internship, I was able to get a job at Deseret News after I graduated.

Q: How does your faith impact your work?

Weaver: The Deseret News is a newspaper owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Deseret News espouses many of the priorities and beliefs of the Church, including belief in the Constitution, freedom of religion and in the right to share your beliefs in the public sphere. This has been a very important part of my career, to be able to take my faith and my full self into my work. I think that it is important, not just for Latter-day Saints but for all people of faith, to have that opportunity.

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said that people who believe in God should work together. One of the greatest blessings of my career is being able to see how various people of faith can work together to have a positive impact on the world. I have been blessed to see how people of faith can join hands to do good for society and in the process strengthen individuals, families, states and nations.

In my case, faith is such an important part of who I am. It's where I draw strength and comfort. Knowing that I can bring my faith to work with me has been very important throughout my career.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a journalist?

Weaver: One of the things that I love about my job is the idea that information can empower people. When people are better informed, they can make better decisions for themselves and their families. That information can be used to have an influence in their communities and in their nations. Information not only affects the way people vote, but it also affects the way people spend their money, the way people spend their time and what they prioritize and support. So I think it is really important to make sure that the information we share as journalists and newspapers is accurate and truthful so that people can make better decisions.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?

Weaver: I would tell myself to remember that things will always work out. We all go through a lot of hard times in our lives. If you stay true to the gospel and work hard, then things have a way of working themselves out.

Q: What advice would you give to current journalism students at BYU?

Weaver: The advice I would give to current journalism students is to remember that people are at the heart of every story.

A few years ago, when ISIS was causing great conflict in the Middle East, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was donating humanitarian money to refugees in northern Iraq. I was given the assignment to travel to the Kurdistan region of Iraq to write an article about how the humanitarian efforts were impacting lives, and I went to a camp for internally displaced people in northern Iraq. The camp had about 16,000 people living there, mostly women and children, and most of them were of the Yazidi faith. On the day I visited the camp, the equipment at the camp’s bakery had broken. Although the people who worked in the bakery had made enough bread to feed half the camp, they decided not to feed anyone until they had enough to feed everyone. It was a hard day for the camp. I felt so tender that day, because I knew the people that I was going to be interviewing hadn't eaten.

I was with a Muslim surgeon, an amazing woman who volunteered to leave her practice in Europe to come to the camp to provide medical aid, and we were on our way to see if the baking equipment could be repaired. We came across a woman who had taken a small clay tandoor oven with her when she fled ISIS, and she was baking naan. I stopped to speak to her and I asked if I could buy some of her bread. She said, “I don't sell my bread, but I am willing to share it.” For me, at that moment, journalism came right into clear focus.

There are all these forces that interact when we are trying to tell a story. In the case of that story it was political tensions, civil unrest, refugees and humanitarian aid. At the core of all those forces are people. It was about people trying to rebuild their lives and other people offering help. In this case it was one woman who said, “Nobody's eaten in this camp. I have some bread. I can't feed everyone, but I can feed one person.” At the heart of every story there are people. As journalists, we share the stories of these people.

I did not know what I would write about until that moment. There were people who were hungry and had been driven from their homes, there were people who were striving to make a difference and there was one person who was willing to give bread that she had made to feed herself to a stranger.

Deseret News Editor-in-Chief Sarah Jane Weaver
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Weaver

My advice to students and recent grads who are starting a career, is to remember that at the heart of every story you tell are people. Remember to ask yourself, “How does this impact the people who live in this community?” “How does this impact the political landscape in our state?” “How does this impact the nation?” and “What does it mean for people?”

Q: Is there anything you'd like to share with the BYU audience?

Weaver: I owe a huge debt of gratitude for the education that I got at Brigham Young University. To this day, my husband and I are BYU fans, not just because we love BYU sports but because of what BYU means to each of us. We met each other at BYU and we learned that education comes hand-in-hand with studying your faith. We care so much about this university—our oldest daughter graduated from BYU in December and our second-oldest is currently studying at BYU.

The university literally changed our lives and opened the door for opportunities that made such a difference in our future.

Another thing the university did was connect us to other BYU alumni who were able to give us opportunities. I participated in the internship at the Washington Seminar because a former BYU student was willing to provide opportunities for current BYU students. I am grateful for all BYU has done to give me a strong foundation for a career that I love and that led me to where I am today.