Jane Schmucker graduated with a degree in agricultural communication in 1989. She currently farms and had a 28-year career as an Ohio newspaper reporter and copy editor.
[ACEL]: Hi Jane!! Why did you select your major?
[Schmucker]: I remember my sixth-grade self sprawled crosswise in a living room armchair, working on my entry for the Young Authors’ Conference that was to be held at the College of Wooster. My grandpa walked by and asked if I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I replied no, that they don’t make any money.
Indeed, communications jobs in general tend to pay far less than many fields. However, they can be the most interesting work of all. I credit Ohio State with helping me get started in a nearly 28-year newspaper career that kept me in the black while allowing me to get so many views of daily life in Ohio that I never would have seen otherwise. And I got to write about those events for Ohio newspapers as one of the state’s many reporters and editors working daily to compile a first draft of our state’s history.
As a newspaper reporter, I have been to crime scenes and society parties, farms and factories, the smallest of village council meetings and presidential press conferences. At entertainment events where almost everyone in the hall had taken off work and bought an admission ticket, I was getting paid to not only be there but often to get some behind-the-scenes access that the rest of the crowd didn’t have.
As a copy editor, I often felt lucky to have a job that on a good day was essentially being paid to read the newspaper. And on the hottest July days when I was headed to an air-conditioned newsroom to read while the folks at home were throwing around small bales of straw in a hot mow, copy editing seemed like the cat’s meow.
Why did you choose to attend The Ohio State University?
I transferred to Ohio State as a sophomore after a year and a half at Goshen College in northern Indiana. Goshen was a small, church-affiliated school that was a family tradition. Ohio State offered far more opportunities and was a much better fit for me – as well as being far less costly. It seemed almost like an extension of 4-H and FFA, both of which I loved.
How did your education at Ohio State influence your choice of career or your career path?
Ohio State encouraged internships and I had several public relations internships as a student there:
- AGRICULTURAL RELATIONS COUNCIL, Washington, D.C., industry group intern, 1989.
- WHITE CASTLE, Columbus, Ohio, public relations intern in corporate headquarters, 1988.
- OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY EXTENSION, Columbus, Ohio, news service intern, 1988.
What were you involved in as an Ohio State student?
- Reporter, copy editor, and a layout editor for the Lantern
- Reporter for the Agri-Naturalist
- Towers honorary
- Secretary of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Student Council
- Co-chair of the annual Agriculture and Natural Resources recognition banquet
- Attended national conventions of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow
- Representative of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Student Council
What classes did you enjoy the most while at Ohio State? What was your favorite and why?
Journalism classes, especially the reporting classes and classes related to work on the Lantern.
What professor, faculty or staff member had an impact on your education/career? How?
In the summer of 1988, after only two quarters at Ohio State as an agricultural communication major, Ohio State University Extension allowed me to work as an unpaid writing intern. My experiences there were a huge help to me in deciding that this was what I wanted to do. Credit for helping a very young and totally inexperienced college student write news releases that actually got published in Ohio newspapers, goes to Stan Ernst, a longtime Ohio State extension worker who is to be inducted this fall into the Farm Science Review Hall of Fame. He and the others in the extension communications department did so much to help teach me even though they were in the midst of one of their busiest summers ever – 1988 was the year of the drought, which led to many media calls and extra work for them.
What is your favorite memory related to your time at Ohio State?
My first quarter at Ohio State was Winter 1988. I went to Ohio State with the idea that this would just be a trial quarter and I could return to Goshen College that spring and not be out of sequence in the nursing program that I was studying there. When I signed up for classes, I wanted to make sure that I’d get as complete a view as I could of both Ohio State and agricultural communication in that first quarter. The agricultural communication department allowed me to sign up for the Agri-Naturalist course, a 400-level course as I recall, even though I had not yet even had Journalism 101. The feature story that I wrote that winter – my first feature story ever – was chosen as the centerpiece of that quarter’s Agri-Naturalist. I was hooked!
What was your first job following your education at Ohio State?
Education and agriculture reporter at the Chillicothe Gazette, in Chillicothe, Ohio.
For what schools, companies and/or organizations have you worked throughout your career?
- THE BLADE, Toledo, Ohio, 1995-2017. Left in late July to work on my family’s farm after years as a copy editor on the universal desk. Over the years, a reporter covering at various times business, agriculture, regional news, breaking news.
- THE VINDICATOR, Youngstown, Ohio, 1994-1995. Business reporter.
- USA TODAY, Arlington, Va., 1994. Rewrite desk reporter through Gannett’s loaner program.
- CHILLICOTHE GAZETTE, Chillicothe, Ohio. 1989-1994. Education, agriculture reporter.
During your career, have you received any awards or honors? If so, what are those?
Top writing awards from the North American Agricultural Journalists, Ohio Associated Press, Gannett, and Ohio Newspaper Women’s Association contests. Judge of NAAJ contests.
As of today, what is your favorite career highlight?
I’ve always been thrilled to hear that someone learned about something that was useful to them from an article that I wrote.
I remember covering the Little International for the Lantern on and asking one of the horse showmanship contestants why he had entered the competition. He said he was not an agriculture major and had never done anything like that before but he had read about it in the Lantern and thought it sounded fun. I had written that preview story that he had read some weeks earlier when the Saddle and Sirloin Club had announced plans for that year’s Little I!
Many years later I wrote an article for The Blade about the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which provides low-income seniors with vouchers for locally grown produce. The program was fairly new at the time and back then newspapers seldom printed phone numbers in articles of that type. When I arrived in the newsroom the next morning, my voice mail was completely full and every telephone on the regional desk was ringing – all with callers wanting the phone number for the office where they might sign up for this program. I probably answered 100 calls myself that day and my co-workers answered dozens and dozens more. The newspaper never printed another article about that program without prominently featuring phone numbers for the coordinating offices. On one hand, it was a complete failure of newspaper style to not have printed detailed signup information with that story. On the other hand, it was gratifying to see that so many people were reading what I wrote and learning about something that they had never heard of before that could make a difference in their lives.
What advice would you give to a current student?
Get as many professional internships as you can. Make use of every summer, Christmas break, and spring break by taking on internships in your chosen field – even if they are short or unpaid.
What did ACEL cultivate in you?
The College of Agriculture encouraged students to get paid internships and awarded college credit for them. If the final report was turned in during the fall quarter, professors counted it as a fall internship so the student didn’t need to pay for summer credit hours – even if most of the internship was during the summer. I really appreciated those accommodations and thought professors in the College of Agriculture had a very realistic view of the costs and time pressures that students were up against. Many of them had come from farms themselves. The School of Journalism was not nearly as accommodating – only wanting to award credit for internships that were unpaid as I recall. I was glad to be a College of Agriculture student.