By Greta Solsaa

A prolific journalist in his own right, John Tomasic works to support student journalists as an artist-in-residence and faculty leader of two experiential journalism programs at the University of Washington.

After graduating with a master's degree in modern European history from Marquette University, Tomasic began his career as a reporter for the United Nations War Crimes Commission, chronicling war crimes and human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia.

During the “Dot-Com boom” of the late 1990s, Tomasic landed in the San Francisco Bay area and worked for a business and tech magazines and helped devise the style manual for reporting on digital technology.

“That was a great experience because I was in the trenches of the digital revolution,” said Tomasic. “We made up the vocabulary in some ways, and it was just a really vibrant journalism scene at that time.”

After a stint teaching at the University of Paris IX - Dauphine, Tomasic moved to California and worked for the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Tomasic taught graduate-level digital journalism courses and relaunched a website, called “Pop+Politics,” which featured student perspectives on politics and culture in order to dispel myths about youth civic engagement.

“The whole site was built on the premise that youth politics was this other thing, and not what everybody thought it was,” said Tomasic. “It’s not really about candidates or parties candidates or parties for young people. If you get them interested in an issue, they're such good communicators and they have free time and they're totally energetic.”

Tomasic's next exploit was an innovative grassroots journalism initiative called “Off the Bus” at the Huffington Post and funded by New York University which relied on citizen reporting to provide coverage of the 2008 presidential election.

“It was a really experimental project where we just used citizens from across the country as reporters [and] used the internet in this new way so that we could get stories from the ground and from voters instead of just journalists talking to each other and then write stories [based on those conversations] about the candidates,” said Tomasic.

After reporting for various outlets in Colorado for close to a decade, the Atlantic Media Group’s “Route Fifty” initiative brought Tomasic to Seattle, where he wrote data-driven pieces on strategies that sought to fix state and local problems. He said engaging in solutions-based journalism was valuable because it builds community despite political differences.

“As our culture is becoming much more partisan, it was the kind of journalism about public policy that didn't have anything to do with red and blue politics,” said Tomasic.

Along with reporting, Tomasic pitched a series of courses focused on swing state coverage for the 2020 election at the University of Washington. While the pandemic halted travel to swing states for reporting, the courses continued to succeed and the university hired Tomasic as a professor and director of the longstanding statehouse reporting and international reporting programs.

Jadenne Radoc Cabahug—a recent graduate of the University of Washington who participated in both experiential programs—said Tomasic was a crucial guide and advocate for her in the reporting field.

“John is really the one who pushes students to the best of their abilities,” said Cabahug. “He is one of the most supportive people that I met along my journalism journey, and I really can't thank him enough for all the work that he's done for me and as well as everybody at the journalism program.”

Molly Harbarger, an editor at the Seattle Times, said that working on coordinating student internships with Tomasic has been positive because of his proactive and visionary spirit.

“In my experience, he has been a good partner to work with and is always willing to hear where we think things can improve and then try and make that happen,” said Harbarger. “He's super open to trying to make these programs better and smoother. Every time we've thrown a new idea at him, he has a ‘yes and’ approach to it.”

Along with the logistical challenges, such as funding, Tomasic said the main challenge with managing the internships has been figuring out how he can best adapt to be a resource for student journalists. However, Tomasic said the faculty leader meetings and training organized by the Center for Community News has been a benefit to him in his role.

“Just getting the leaders together and sharing ideas — that's been really helpful,” said Tomasic.

Tomasic said he is energized by working with the next generation of journalists and seeing the impact of their reporting efforts.

“Students who do this — it changes them forever,” said Tomasic. “The political system is no longer a riddle. They're just so much more politically engaged and engaged in their communities, and they will be for the rest of their lives.”