Aspiring student journalists look to those before them for inspiration. On April 28, Bill Whitaker and Heidi Wigdahl visited DePaul’s Advanced Reporting class to answer questions and provide advice for the next generation of journalists. Bill Whitaker, a correspondent on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” came to DePaul along with Hiedi Wigdahl, a multimedia journalist at KARE 11 and DePaul alumna. Both were honored by DePaul’s Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence, awarded by Carol Marin, former CBS 2 anchor and co-director of the center. In addition, Newton Minow was honored at the ceremony with this year’s Distinguished Mentor Award.
Whitaker was honored as the center’s Distinguished Journalist of the Year, after two years of the ceremony being held virtually because of the pandemic. After four decades of reporting all around the world from Tokyo to Los Angeles, even embedding in presidential campaigns, Whitaker’s journalism experience speaks for itself. Of his biggest stories includes his “60 Minutes” story on the opioid crisis in which he won a Peabody Award.
In an interview with student media, Whitaker offered advice to student journalists looking to break into the field.
“Don’t be discouraged. When I first started I was so full of myself that I was determined I was going to get a job in the northeast, or the West Coast, Chicago,” Whitaker said. “I looked for work for almost two years and got rejected by so many places that I was truly ready to give up.”
Whitaker said his wife encouraged him to push past the setbacks. That’s when he finally got a job at WBTV.
Wigdahl gave similar advice to student journalists. She was awarded the Distinguished Alumna award at this year’s ceremony. When she graduated from DePaul in 2010, she was named “Journalism Student of the Year” by the College of Communication. Best known for her work as a multimedia journalist, Wigdahl believes the best way to start out is to branch out into all formats of journalism.
“My first piece of advice would be to do everything — so as you get further along in your career, you most likely will get more specialized, kind of hone in on your expertise,” Wigdahl said. “Just getting out there, trying all the different types of media forms and then getting into the practice of doing it will help you so much in the end.”
When Wigdahl was at DePaul, she was the News Editor of the DePaulia, worked on Good Day DePaul and interned with Carol Marin and Don Moseley on DePaul’s Documentary Project. Wigdahl believes all of this helped her get to where she is today.
“Knowing how to do all of it, and doing it well is really important because a lot of times you will be asked to do both web and broadcast,” Wigdahl said.
Getting over failure and rejection was the biggest takeaway Whitaker emphasized from his own personal experience. Whitaker added that passion is important for someone’s career to last, it can’t just be about money.
“You will be rejected. Well, you have to have a thick skin and you have to want to do this,” Whitaker said. “Once you get it…now, what are you going to do because it’s really hard. It’s really hard. The hours are long, the pain is in the middle. The pressures and the challenges are relentless.”