By Emily Glen
Being on time is good for most things in life, like homework assignments, paying bills, and arriving to job shadows. But after waiting for 30 minutes in a lobby before Julian Emerson, journalist at the Leader Telegram, arrived, I realized that being “on time” and getting a story are sometimes on two different agendas.
As it turned out, the reason Emerson was late to work that day is because he received a last-minute call to do an immediate interview with a source for a story he was working on and this was the only time to do it – so it had to be done!
I wasn’t upset about having to wait alone, uncertain of if/when he would show up to work. In fact, I learned a great lesson about being a journalist: unexpected things happen all the time, you have to go with it, every day is different, and that’s just the fun of the job.
Emerson is a UWEC journalism grad with a slightly-unorthodox career path. At his first real job as a journalist after college, Emerson wrote his first investigative story, but it never ran in the papers. The story was about a company that was polluting the Chippewa river, a company that was also the biggest advertiser in his newspaper, by a lot.
“Just because you can do an investigative story doesn’t mean all newspapers are going to run that kind of stuff,” Emerson said, “It’s a lot more complicated than where my brain was at, at the time, my very idealistic self.”
After learning his story wouldn’t run in the paper, Emerson quit his job on the spot. Recently married and raising a young child at home, he admits that quitting was a risky move, but he has no regrets at all.
Emerson became a freelance journalist after that, having to come up with his own story ideas and selling them to local papers. “I had to work really hard. If I didn’t work hard enough I didn’t eat.” but Emerson said it made him a better writer because of that.
Eventually, after acquiring success from some stories in the local area, newspapers and publishers from all around the Midwest started calling and personally asking for Emerson to cover stories for them. After a few years of that, he finally ended up with a job at Eau Claire’s Leader Telegram, and has been here ever since.
If there’s one thing I learned from Emerson it’s that you have to stand up for what you believe in and what’s right. Whether that be your own personal values and morals, or the dignity of another human being. “You have to remember that these are still people,” Emerson told me, in a more serious tone from his normal humorous self, “The people in your stories, they’re real people with real lives that really matter.”