As a third-generation journalist, Sally Stapleton grew up in the newsroom that her father owned in Kennett, Missouri. But her passion for journalism soon mixed with her desire for adventure, and she started working for The Tampa Tribune when she was 24 years old. Since then, her work has taken her to South America and Africa, and now to the University of Montana School of Journalism as the spring 2016 T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor.

photo of Sally Stapletion
Follow Stapleton on twitter: @sestapleton

Stapleton’s theme for her seminar, open to both undergraduate and graduate students, is “The Value of the Moment.” Coming from a full-time job as the managing editor for online and photography at The Day, she’s excited to have this opportunity to immerse herself in teaching. Over the course of the semester students will produce a portfolio of visual narrative stories worthy of publication. Stapleton uses one-on-one meetings with the students to figure out their unique skills and discuss their story ideas. “It’s about figuring out what makes you want to get up at four in the morning,” she said.

The power of photojournalism first hit Stapleton in 1984 when she saw pictures of the Ethiopian famine. Ten years later, she led a team of AP photographers in covering the Rwandan Genocide, an effort for which several members of her team won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

“I loved being on the ground and experiencing history right in front of my eyes,” she said.

Stapleton says she also loves stories told by people who stick with a story after it’s left the front page of the news. The biggest challenge for young photojournalists comes from successfully pitching their stories to an editor so that their work can be seen.

“There’s talent everywhere,” Stapleton said. She sees the J-school as part of this unlimited talent pool and also notes, “The facilities are great, the instructors are welcoming, and the minute I crossed the state line I knew this was going to be great.”

“I have good travel karma too,” she added with a laugh.

Whether or not the students have this kind of karma too won’t make or break their journalism careers. Stapleton says the options and opportunities are endless. The key to being a great journalist comes from being honest, trustworthy and keeping one’s work transparent.

Learn more about Stapleton’s recent work in Rwanda at

by Jana Wiegand

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