For many journalists, their experiences began early in high school with the desire to learn the art and skill of reporting, editing and design. But for SPJ member Elizabeth Kelly Klay, the encouragement came a tad later — after a high school English teacher saw talent in her writing. And Kelly Klay recognized an opportunity to have a longer lunch period.
“I never figured I would actually go into journalism as a career,” Kelly Klay said. “Growing up, I thought I would be an elementary teacher, and journalism class was a ticket to a leisurely lunch.” But as time elapsed, she said, “I found journalism and the program opportunities SPJ provided to be something I really enjoyed.”
Years later and seldom taking long lunches, Kelly Klay has found journalism to be a fitting career, full of challenges and opportunities. Yet along the way, she’s also mastered the art of interviewing, job hunting and the tricks necessary for landing the perfect job.
As an undergraduate, she helped to start an SPJ chapter at Truman State University, and by her senior year served as campus representative at large on SPJ’s national board. Following graduation in 1998, she went to work in Kansas City, first for The Kansan and later for the Sun-News. At both publications, she covered government, health care and education.
A year later, Kelly Klay married her college sweetheart, John Klay, an officer in the U.S. Army. As the wife of a military officer, Kelly Klay quickly realized that a transit life would become normal. With stays in San Antonio, Texas, and Clarksville, Tenn., before settling in Springfield, Mo., Kelly Klay was able to use contacts she made through SPJ to help her land jobs.
“I knew that it would be tough for employers to want to invest in me since I moved around a lot without any control of where I would live and no definite time range,” Kelly Klay said. “It was also hard because sometimes the moves didn’t come with active SPJ chapters or even job openings.”
During one move, Kelly Klay went two months without a job and found herself scared, thinking her career might be over. Instead of being let down, Kelly Klay used the time off to freelance and stay in touch with her SPJ contacts.
“Networking is so significant, and it’s a great service that the SPJ provides to its members,” she said. “SPJ helped me stay connected and saved me when I was in a pickle.”
Today, as features editor for the Springfield News-Leader, Kelly Klay is finally in a position she has made her own, and she’s an active part of her community. Supervising a staff of six, Kelly Klay’s department produces the daily Life, Friday Weekend, Sunday Home and Tuesday Health sections. While leading the team, she also provides inspiration.
“Elizabeth is great to work with, and my writing has only improved under her direction,” said Michael Brothers, a feature writer and music columnist for the News-Leader. “She looks out for us and for the department, much the same way that a politician looks out for his constituents. There isn’t a better person to learn from than Elizabeth.”
Beyond her supervisory role, Kelly Klay also has turned the heads of others at the newspaper. Robert Leger, former SPJ president and former editorial page editor for the News-Leader, met Kelly Klay as a student and was just as impressed with her then as he is today.
“Elizabeth has outstanding talent and through her involvement in SPJ, she has worked countless hours and under some of the most trying circumstances while showing amazing organization and grace,” he said. “Her ideas are terrific, and she has a great way of getting people excited about journalism and in SPJ.