Alumni spotlight

Data editor learned journalism basics at UWRF

Posted March 28, 2021

The journalism program at UW-River Falls is shining a light on MaryJo Webster (née Sylwester), a 1994 graduate. For the last five years, Webster has been working as a data editor for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and has held this position at other organizations since 2001.

MaryJo Webster

MaryJo Webster is a 1994 graduate of UW-River Falls.

Q: What are your primary duties as a data editor?

MW: My role is to help the Star Tribune produce better news stories by analyzing data obtained through government public records requests or through other means. Sometimes this involves me doing the analysis and writing a story myself. More often, though, I pair up with other reporters to produce either a single story or sometimes large-scale projects. I also spend a considerable amount of time teaching reporters (and sometimes even editors) how to do their own analyses.

Q: How has your education from UWRF impacted where you are in your career today?

MW: I learned the basics of journalism at UWRF and got the opportunity to practice my new skills — and build my confidence — by working at the Student Voice. Professors helped me land much-needed internships, as well.

I often tell people that I’m very glad I went to a smaller school because I got to be the “big fish in the little sea,” where I could get the opportunity to edit the school paper and try lots of different things. I had supportive faculty and alumni to help me move ahead in my career, but I also learned that I had to work for whatever I wanted. Alumni helped me get a key internship. Then the people I met there helped me land my next two jobs. Those connections were crucial to getting my career off the ground.

Q: What is your favorite memory you have of UWRF?

MW: There are too many to be able to pick just one! I made wonderful friends during my time there, including several who are still among my closest friends.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your work environment? What changes did you have to make or adjust to?

MW: The entire Star Tribune newsroom has been working remotely since the middle of March 2020 and we’ve been told we won’t be going back until sometime in 2021. This was a dramatic shift for many of my colleagues; it wasn’t quite as hard for me because I had worked from home for a year right before joining the Star Tribune.

It was easier for me to slide back into that routine and I also still had a nice home office setup – while many of my colleagues were hunched over laptops at their kitchen tables. I had also started working from home once a week a few months earlier simply to ease up on the stress in my life. The switch to all remote meant that the newsroom had to completely change its communication patterns. Previously, so much was conducted during in-person meetings or via email. Now we are using Slack and video conferencing. We’ve also had to schedule more meetings than we’ve had before simply because of the lack of regular contact.

The biggest change for me, though, is that my 11-year-old children are also home with me pretty much all the time. That has made my work more challenging due to regular interruptions!

Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned after college that helped you become successful?

MW: Teaching other people has made me better at my own job. It helped me see where I had gaps in my knowledge. The people I taught would ask me questions that made me realize I hadn’t thought about something in quite the same way. Also, being able to teach others in my company made me even more valuable to my bosses.

Q: What advice do you have for soon-to-be graduates entering the workplace?

MW: When you graduate, you will not be done learning. Constantly improving your skills is a crucial way to not only get better at your job but to be able to move up the ladder. I think this is true in just about any field you want to enter. Be prepared to take classes, attend conferences and make connections with others in your industry so you can lean on them when you need to learn something new or make a job change. I’m more than 25 years into my career and I’m still learning new things – and every new skill I add makes me better.

Q: Quick bio about your family, things you like to do, or anything unique you would want to share with us.

MW: I have twins — a boy and girl — who are 11 years old and just starting middle school. In January, we got a puppy named Luna (ahead of the pandemic puppy rush!) and boy does she love life during a pandemic with the family home all the time. I like to spend my free time at my family cabin near Spooner, Wisconsin. That has been an especially valuable retreat from this crazy year.

You can find out more about MaryJo Webster at

This series features alumni from UW-River Falls who graduated with a journalism major.