Born and raised in Appalachia, Amanda Womac is no stranger to the great outdoors. She’s grown up with strong ties to the land, water and mountains she calls home.
Science and environmental journalism came naturally to her.
Originally an environmental activist, she was pursuing a degree in creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when she realized that being a journalist might be her calling. In her work with environmental groups, she was often called on to write press releases and serve as a media spokesperson. But she never felt that the coverage properly explained the issues, focusing instead on the people or protests.
After writing for the Hellbender Press, a non-profit environmental newspaper in East Tennessee, she knew that journalism was her place. The next step was going to graduate school at the University of Tennessee for science journalism, where she also joined SPJ.
For Womac, writing about the science behind issues like logging and mountaintop removal to educate the public is critical because it’s hard to get it right. When interviewing scientists who are passionate about their work, she always wants to ensure that audiences get the “so what” point, which can be challenging when they may not be educated on the scientific concepts or the process of hypothesis-testing that scientists follow.
Her interest in these issues led her to continue writing for Hellbender Press while pursuing her graduate degree, until she eventually became the managing editor and publisher. Now she writes freelance, covering science and environmental issues while serving as the director of communications for the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Tennessee Knoxville.
Freelancing comes naturally, thanks to the contacts she’s built up throughout the years and an editor who heard of her through SPJ.
“I have been extremely lucky as a freelance writer,” Womac said. “The jobs found me because of my contacts and previous work in East Tennessee.”
She’s written for a variety of publications, sometimes about topics requested by the editor and other times about a topic she pitched.
Womac is the SPJ Region 12 director, a role she picked up after previous involvement in non-profit management. The reason she volunteers for SPJ nationally and locally is simple: the importance of SPJ’s mission.
“I think our job as journalists is to provide a platform for discourse in order to support a functional democracy,” she said. “Without free speech and a free, independent press, we cannot fulfill that mission. On every level of my SPJ involvement — from the national board to local membership — I gain the satisfaction of knowing I am part of a strong, committed group of people who want to ensure the Fourth Estate maintains its role in an active democracy.”
Her advice for those seeking to advance their career or be a part of SPJ is simple: Volunteer for a local board of directors or on a committee. It never hurts to get connected with other journalists through the SPJ network.
Womac hopes she can look back and have made an impact on others, as well as her community and the planet, through her work. She plans to write a book or two and keep writing even on her deathbed. In the meantime, she’s hoping to continue traveling — hopefully to Africa one day — and keep on loving life.
With her involvement in so many things, it’s not hard to see why her favorite quote is “Get involved! The world is run by those who show up.”
To Womac, showing up is being a good journalist and taking each and every story seriously as an opportunity to educate the public.
Tagged under: Freelancing