Boy Wonder, Journalist
At the ripe old age of 19, August Skamenca has covered more big stories for the national media than most career journalists two or three times his age. A radio news broadcaster for Metro Networks Denver bureau, a company that provides news feeds to 10 Colorado Springs stations and is part of a massive national network, Skamenca started his journalism career when he was 12, right here at the offices of the Independent where he worked as an intern. When he and his family moved to Denver, Skamenca turned to radio and received national attention for being the youngest journalist to cover the Oklahoma City bombing trials. At 14, Skamenca sold freelance stories to a 24-hour news radio station in Detroit, thus launching his professional radio news career. Since then, Skamenca has covered the Jon Benet Ramsey police investigation in Boulder County, the Matthew Shepard murder and the trials of his killers in Laramie, Wyoming, the Columbine massacre, and, most recently, the surrender and capture of the Texas Seven. A home schooler, Skamenca believes he learned far more from the kind of life experiences he was able to participate in as a young journalist than he might have gained sitting in a desk. Still, he plans to attend college next year and hopes for an eventual career as a network television reporter.
How did you convince people to take you seriously at age 14, covering the Oklahoma City bombing trials? I think my age was an asset. Children died in the bombing. I learned during that experience that even though you try to be an impartial observer, this whole business is really based on relationships. Some people were skeptical about this little kid running around with a microphone, asking to interview the attorneys of the criminals who had committed the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. I just sat in the courtroom and talked to people. Eventually I developed a relationship with several key people, including Paul Heath, president of the victims' survivors support organization, and Janie Coverdale who lost her two grandsons who were in the day-care center when the bomb went off.
How does someone so young manage the emotional impact of these difficult stories? You try not to let your emotions get tied up in a story like that, but you have to. You have to have a shell and you can't let much penetrate you. On the other hand, you have to report with compassion. The best way to do that is to ask the question: What if this was my family member? What if this happened to someone I care about? You put yourself in their shoes.
What was Columbine like for you? I was out there two and a half hours after the first shot was fired. That story really hit me. I was 17 at the time. I was working alongside Fox news, sharing a lot of information with them. I spent seven straight days there, sleeping two days in the park next to the school. It was very emotional, because I was there watching as all these kids my own age come in groups to mourn the losses.
Why is journalism your passion? Because I want to learn about people and places. There's just so much to learn. What I'd like to do at some point is travel to forgotten places, places where atrocities are happening and no one knows about it. Like Sierra Leone, where children are dying right and left from stepping on land mines. I believe this is a nation of people who, if you can get their attention, they perk up and listen. So if you can present information in a manner that's compelling to people, then I believe they'll look beyond the sex and violence scandals that fill the airwaves.