In order for the Ke Alaka’I to function it takes a lot of work and effort. Sister Leeann Lambert is the adviser, mastermind, and the driving force behind our campus news magazine. We caught up with her to talk about her beginnings as a writer and where she expects the Ke Alaka’I to go in the future.
Q: How long have you been at the reins of the Ke Alaka‘i?
A: I have been here twice. I was here from 1992 to 1996 doing this same job but went back to California when my father was terminally ill. When I returned to California where I am from, I worked as a writer and editor at a local newspaper for eight years, taught at another college and got my master’s degree. When I started looking for another university job, this same job at the Ke Alaka‘i was open. I applied and they decided to hire me back. I have been here the second time since 2005.
Q: What is the most challenging part of producing a weekly news magazine?
A: The most challenging part is getting everything in on time. We have to gather together edited stories, photos, graphics, ads and even people to get it all done by the deadline. Juggling all those variables, combined with all our employees being students who have to attend classes and get homework and tests done, is definitely a challenge. When someone or something is late, it delays everything.
Sometimes technology is also the problem. If the power goes out, we are at a standstill. If the printer can’t get the file with the magazine on it to work right, we have to figure out how to fix it. One little glitch can really create havoc if we can’t figure out how to resolve it.
Q: Where did you start your writing career?
A: I first noticed a love of writing when I was in high school. I did storytelling mainly, but I loved it and was good at it. When I went to college at BYU in Provo, I didn’t know what to major in but my mom suggested journalism. I thought she was crazy because I didn’t see myself as a journalist. In the late 1970s, it wasn’t exactly what you saw a lot of women doing – especially Mormon women. My mom saw me writing for magazines doing stories about where to go on vacation, how to grow a garden, or how to recover your worn-out sofa. Interestingly enough when I was a feature writer for a newspaper, I did write a lot of stories like that.
But when I was in college, I tried out a variety of majors but gravitated to the communications field. Finally I broke down and took a news writing course and I liked it. Then I took the class where you wrote for BYU’s student newspaper “The Daily Universe.” I remember calling up the governor’s office and actually having people call me back with a statement from him. I was amazed and I was hooked. I loved it because I learned something new every day and then I got to share what I learned with other people. Being a journalist is a lot like being a teacher.
Q: What got you into writing and what inspires you to write?
A: I am a people person. People fascinate me and I love to observe them and learn about them. Maybe it’s because I was born the fifth child out of seven girls in my family. I grew up with all this commotion around me and I loved it. My family was very busy with school, church, work, friends, family and community. We were involved in sports, the arts, the out-of-door; you name it. There was never a dull moment in our household.
I am also a curious person by nature and I love learning. So journalism feeds that desire to know and understand the world around me.
Q: What’s your favorite style of writing?
A: I have been a government reporter and an education reporter, but I liked being a feature writer the best. I was a feature writer for eight years and loved every day of it because I met great people and learned interesting things.
But I also love being a teacher. Working with students and seeing them learn and develop their talents is also rewarding to me. Plus I get to use the talents I have to help them.
Q: Where do you get your news?
A: I would have said a few years ago newspapers and broadcast news. But now I get a lot of news from social media. It isn’t in-depth news but it is breaking news that’s delivered directly to me. Then I will go to the more traditional media to get the details on whatever is happening.
So much of news online is about celebrities or trivial information. But sadly, that is the kind of news that gets the most hits online. News organizations need to make money to survive and selling advertising makes money. Advertisers want to work with media sources that get the most hits, so societal trends are governing more and more what news sources publish. We may be getting the news we want, but I think we are missing out on news we need at the same time.
I still read the newspaper and magazines, but I also read news online. And like everyone else I read other people’s Facebook posts and even texts I get from people are newsy. A text is how I found out President Gordon B. Hinckley had passed away.
Q: If you could work for any news outlet what would it be?
A: There is a guy who works for CBS News who just does feature stories on people all across America. His name is Steve Hartman and he does a segment called On The Road. I believe every person has a story that can be told and this guy does stories on everyday people just being their everyday best selves. I would love to do that job because people are what matter the most to me.
Q: What is the best part about going to work every day?
A: The best part of working at the Ke Alaka‘i is working with the students here. They are truly great and I love to see them gain new insights and skills. We have writers, editors, photographer, graphic artists and videographers who all come to us with varying abilities. I especially love those moments when they have been stretched to try and do something new or different and it all works out well. Seeing their satisfaction with a job well done is so rewarding.
Q: What was the most memorable story you ever covered as a writer?
A: This is a hard question because I wrote a story a day for years when I was a feature writer. I did a story on a marine biologist named Urmas Kaldveer who took people on eco-vacations and they monitor the destruction of reefs off the coast of Mexico. One day at sunrise he headed out into the ocean in a kayak. He had a headset on listening to inspiring music and suddenly all around him where scores of dolphins jumping and swimming. He said that sight felt like a gift from god.
I also wrote story about a Kiribati LDS Church member named Iotua Tune. He translated the Book of Mormon into his native language. He had gone to Salt Lake City and translated it there in the temple. Then he took his translation home to Kiribati and a group of people sat around a table for days reading the Book of Mormon for the first time in their own language. That was a memorable story.
But I wrote an obituary once for Glen Pinoli, a man who was a member of the church who died in a freak car accident while in his 40s. He was well known in the community because he worked for the forestry and fire departments along the coast of Northern California, was a Boy Scout leader, was active in the community, and was the former bishop. He was driving the car with his family in it when it rolled. He was the only person who died. Everyone else survived with barely any injuries.
When people found out he had passed away, all along the coast flags were lowered to half mast in honor of him. Hundreds of people attended his funeral. Friends from fire and forestry stations for miles came with their fire trucks and took part in a several-miles long ceremonial drive from chapel to his burial place. Scottish bagpipes where played at his funeral services. He was also a decorated U.S. Marine plus a returned LDS missionary who had served in Italy.
But my favorite part of the whole thing was one of his sons, also a returned missionary, quoted part of the Book of Mormon in honor of his father. It was Alma 48:17, and he inserted his father’s name instead of Caption Moroni’s name. The scripture says: “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” It was a tribute I will never forget plus I got to quote the Book of Mormon in a news story.
Q: Where do you see the Ke Alaka‘i going in the future?
A: We live in a digital age so as technology evolves the Ke Alaka‘i will continue to evolve too. We already have a Youtube channel, a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, and our website kealakai.byuh.edu. We print our magazine but it too is available online at Issuu. There is something great about being able to pick up a printed Ke Alaka‘i and read about yourself and your friends. Our magazine has a local focus and thanks to the university is free for everyone to read.