CoJMC alum and investigative reporter visits college for Nebraska High School Press Association convention

CoJMC alum and investigative reporter visits college for Nebraska High School Press Association convention

Monday, October 28, 2019 - 1:30pm
Olsen headshot
Olsen is a 1998 news-editorial graduate of the CoJMC.

by Molly Roe

UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications alumna Lise Olsen, a 1988 news-editorial grad, visited Nebraska this month to speak with students and serve as the keynote speaker at the Nebraska High School Press Association (NHSPA) convention.

Olsen, a Lincoln native, is a senior writer and editor at the Texas Observer magazine in Austin, Texas, and previously worked as deputy investigations editor at The Houston Chronicle.

Olsen spoke to more than 600 students and teachers at the NHSPA Convention about how journalists should remain vigilant, listen to their audiences and learn how to investigate using documents and resources including such as public records.

“You (journalists) should start small, work hard and listen to people,” Olsen said. “Sometimes crazy stories turn out to be true.”

Olsen’s work in investigative journalism over 20 years has led to prosecutions of a former congressman and a federal judge, inspired laws and reforms, contributed to solved cold cases, restored names to unidentified murder victims and freed dozens of wrongfully held prisoners.

Olsen’s work is featured in two documentaries, CNN's "The Wrong Man" about the innocence claims of executed offender Ruben Cantu and the six-part A&E series on the victims of a 1970s serial killer, "The Eleven.” She has been named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors three times.

During her time as a student at Nebraska, Olsen worked for the Daily Nebraskan, where she said she first began her journey as an investigative reporter.

“We had a lot of adventures investigating, for example, what student fees were used for,” she said.

Olsen and the DN team also investigated whether the Husker basketball team violated NCAA rules by practicing out of season.

“That’s an example of how investigations are not always popular,” Olsen said. “We had a lot of fun, but that was a time we were under fire for the administration.”

Olsen also noted the positive impact of her depth reporting class with Alfred “Bud” Pagel, former professor.

“In my UNL days, Pagel was both a great professor and a power player who helped us all get great internships that launched our careers,” Olsen said. “Best of all, he has remained a mentor and friend.”

Olsen’s advice to current students it to explore a wide range of topics in college and be open to all possibilities.

“I suggest they (students) take a range of classes and not just focus on learning one kind of journalism,” she said. “(They should) learn about broadcasting, how to use software like spreadsheets and take political science classes, especially if they’re interested in investigative reporting.”

During her visit, Olsen also met with current Daily Nebraskan writers and spoke to a beginning reporting class. CoJMC Professor and NHSPA Executive Director Michelle Hassler invited Olsen to Nebraska to be the keynote speaker and lead a breakout session for this year’s convention.