Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Daniel Wallace

Daniel grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in a family oriented environment. His move to Rochester came on the wings of starting fresh in a new place, knowing only a few people. This posed its own unique challenges for Dan, but he has since come to find Rochester his new home. Ben and I, like many other Rochesterians, have come to know Dan primarily through his work with the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. In his short tenure he has been able to increase advocacy for young professionals making their mark in the community by delivering a weekly column, On The Ladder, for nearly a year now. Recently, while maintaining his commitment to On The Ladder, he has shifted some time and energy to articles on ecology. It is an honor and a pleasure to feature some of his story and insights. ~Joseph

Where did your interest in journalism begin?

I graduated from Cass Technical High School in 2001. Growing up I heard so much about lay offs that I wanted to pursue a career that was in high demand. So, in the beginning I started in computer programming. That became my curriculum throughout high school, so I was never really exposed to journalism. After a short time though, I realized that I wasn’t really into computer programming. But, I stuck with it because I was studying more the business side. This ended up getting me into a club, Business Professionals of America.

I was a part of that club for a couple of years, so my senior year I ran for President and I got it! At that point I realized that I really liked talking in front of other people and I enjoyed dressing up. So, I saw myself in public broadcasting…even though I hadn’t taken any journalism classes.

When it was time to get ready to go to college, the decision was difficult. I really wanted to go to the University of Michigan, but the tuition was just so expensive. Meanwhile, my best friend was going to Michigan State, but it just didn’t make sense for me to go there either. Even though I got into both places, I realized that the cost was just too much.

There was one scholarship though that I carried in my backpack for nearly the entire year because I never thought I could get it. But, after applying for so many others and not getting enough money to attend the University of Michigan, I went for the scholarship, a full ride to Wayne State University in Detroit, and got it. So, I went there. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was a full ride. In fact, I didn’t know how hard the school was until I got there.

I had this one professor there that was just so tough. My freshman year I took a course with him and gained his respect, but then my junior year I had him again. There was this one paper which I wrote for him that I really goofed up on. I just had so much work that semester. I had a night job so I was working from 11 PM to 7 AM, I had a small internship at the paper, and I had classes. I wrote this paper, didn’t proof read it, and just handed it in. To make a long story short he shared it with all of my professors. I realized that something was wrong when all of my teachers started to kind of gang up on me. They got really tough. Then one day, another one of my professors pulled me aside and shared with me that my one professor shared that paper with all of them. After that I had to work really hard to regain their respect.

By the end of the year, the professor that was the hardest on me actually recommended me for journalist of the year, which I got! At the time I was working for Ford Motor Company and I had an internship with Fox 2 News, so my resume was strong.

In addition, I went down to the Poynter’s Institute on a Fellowship which was a fantastic experience. I had writing coaches from a variety of prestigious newspaper companies. After that, I went back to Ford Motor Company briefly before I accepted an offer from the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester.

How did you get into doing the On The Ladder?

When I was on the business desk the idea came up to create a feature on young professionals as a way to be an advocate for the younger generation in Rochester. They picked me because I’m a personable guy and I’m a young professional. It happened in February of 2008 and they wanted one every Sunday. At first, I was scared because I had no idea how I was supposed to feature a new person every Sunday, but we’ve only just started to feature the same profession more than once. It has gotten a lot of great feedback. In fact, some of the video footage we’ve shot for it has gotten some of the most hits on the website.

What do you see as your next step?

It’s most likely going to involve the young professionals’ community. We’re working on a few pieces right now which really focus on the problems faced by young professionals right now. For example, I’m currently working on a story talking about how lay offs are effecting us.

Some interesting facts I’ve learned about that have come from the labor department. Many young professionals are sticking around now because of the stability of the housing market and some of the other opportunities here. That’s been really cool to learn.

What do you enjoy the most about the paper?

The most fun part of the job is researching and writing cool stories, but there’s a balance because at the end of the day you’ve got to keep feeding the beast. So, it’s between doing stories you really want to do and just getting content out there. That’s a big challenge for this industry.

If it could happen with the snap of your fingers, what would you really want to be doing?

I’d really like to be on Good Morning America. After being in the industry for a little while, I realize that it takes a long, long time to get to a place like that, but in an ideal situation that would be fun. It would allow me to really bring out the lighter side of my personality.

We know journalists tend to move around quite a bit. Do you see yourself moving away from Rochester?

I really like it here. The way the industry is going, if you’re in a decent market the advice is to stay put for a bit. And, Rochester actually has some of the strongest numbers for Gannett, its parent company. We have one of the highest readerships of people who read us daily and on Sundays. So, people are reading my stuff. You can’t ask for anything more than that as a writer. We have about 230,000 readers, which is great market penetration for our market size.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love traveling and cruising. Love to eat! My favorite food place in Rochester would be Esan on Park Avenue. They serve Thai Food. I really enjoy dressing up. So, I’ve got a ton of dress clothes; 15 suits and 75 ties. I’m trying to get to 100 ties by the end of this year. And, I love cars as well.

I grew up with a huge family so I never had to cook. Then, I moved away from them to Rochester and now I’ve got to cook for myself. That has really gotten me into gourmet cooking.

One unique thing about the atmosphere in Rochester is that the young people seem to get along very well. Coming from Detroit, I have seen a lot of prejudice. But, in Rochester I’ve got a diverse set of friends and we all really get along. I love it. That’s one thing that really comforts my family back home because I’m really getting along well here. When I moved, my friends came together and helped me move my stuff. We’re there for each other. The young people here are just fabulous. That is a real plus for Rochester.

What final advice would you like to give?

It takes both good and bad experiences to help a person develop their confidence. The bad experiences are almost worth more because it sometimes helps motivate you to strive for perfection.

Dan can be reached by email at: DJWALLAC@democratandchronicle.com.