CPA Rising Star: ‘My work has to be pushed to another level’
This issue, “10 Questions” checked in with Zant Reyez, reporter since 2013 for The Johnstown Breeze, and the 2016 recipient of the Rising Star award at the Colorado Press Association annual convention this May.
Named for Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer and founder Ronnie Van Zant (“Mom is a huge fan”), here’s this Rising Star's take on things, past and present:
Where did you grow up, and how did you decide on Colorado to pursue your career?
I was born in good old Greeley, Colorado. I spent the first few years of my life growing up in Fort Morgan before moving back to Greeley.
With Greeley being home and the University of Northern Colorado being in my backyard, starting my career in the state was the natural thing to do. Fun facts: I share my birthday, Feb, 20, with Kurt Cobain, Charles Barkley, Cindy Crawford and Rihanna.
You majored in journalism with a minor in writing at the University of Northern Colorado. What experiences turned you toward journalism?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve just been able to write pretty well – at least that’s what all my teachers and professors told me. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, and as I got older people kept saying I should find a way to make a career out of writing.
After I graduated from Northridge High School, I enrolled at Aims Community College and that’s when I really started to take an interest in journalism. I did a story on my professor, Jim Crandall, for my magazine writing class and it was selected to run in the Aims Magazine.
So that was a good indicator that journalism was right for me.
How does it feel to be a Rising Star? Did you feel differently about yourself, your work, the day after you received the award?
When I got the award and got to take a picture with Governor John Hickenlooper, I thought that would be the highlight of my day. But when everyone at the CPA convention came up to me throughout the day to congratulate me and speakers at workshops pointed me out, I was kinda taken aback by all the attention I got.
I’m just now starting to grasp how big of an achievement the award is. I’m honored to have received it, and view it as a marker in my young career that I’m doing something right.
As the Rising Star, I feel now that my work has to be pushed to another level. I feel that I’ve done good work the last three years here at the Breeze, but now with my name being tied to this award, I feel now I have to go from doing good work to doing great work, which I fully embrace.
What's it like working for Johnstown Breeze co-owner and executive editor Matt Lubich (who nominated you for the award) and how has he encouraged your career?
Working for Matt “Dude” Lubich (I call him Dude or Grandpa) has been an experience I cannot put into words. From him taking me under his wing when I first showed up to showing me how to better my writing … it is something I’m truly grateful for.
He and his wife Lesli Bangert have let me take risks and have creative control on my stories. But working here has and will benefit me and my career more than I can explain or ever tell them. Working for a small-town paper has its ups and downs, but I’ve enjoyed it.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know residents in the Johnstown-Milliken communities. Like I said, I can’t even begin to write what working for Matt is like. I just know he has helped me improve as a writer and has had a profound influence on my career and life.
And when I get to read his writing, whether it’s in the paper or away from it, it gives me motivation to keep improving my work so one day I can say, “I think I’m almost as good as you, dude.”
How and when did you start work at The Johnstown Breeze, and what was your first duty or assignment?
I started as an intern at the Breeze in January 2013. Matt and his friend, who happened to be my UNC professor Lynn Klyde-Silverstein, met for dinner in the winter and she told him about me.
As Matt’s story goes, she told him I was this great writer who was questioning if journalism was the right path for me and asked him if he could possibly keep me in the field. My first story at the Breeze was on a student at Roosevelt High School who had a band that was selected to play in Nashville for a big-time blues festival. The student went on to win another contest a year later and got to open up for Kid Rock and Joan Jett at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
You seem to cover a variety of beats, including news, features and local sports, via writing, tweeting and talk radio. What do you enjoy about each of those beats, and if you could do just one, what would it be and why?
If I could do just one, it would be sports. Covering the Roosevelt High School Rough Riders in Johnstown for the last two years has been a tremendous ride. From seeing the football team make it to the state title game in December to getting to cover the state wrestling tournament at the Pepsi Center. Just seeing the pure joy the students get out of playing their sport in front of their parents and peers is great.
A Facebook post on The Johnstown Breeze site last October said "The Hell With Al Gore. Zant Reyez … The Man Who Brought The Internet (live-streaming football) to Johnstown." What does that mean and how is it connected to all the live tweeting mentions of local sports we also see?
As we say here at the Breeze, we’re living like the Jetsons. Last year, I made a connection with Mike Rey, owner of Radioactive247, who live-streams events.
After talks among us, Mike and officials at Roosevelt High, Radioactive came out for the first time in late October for a Rough Riders football game. To my and Matt’s knowledge, it was the first time something like this had been done in the area, so as Matt said, “we’re living like the Jetsons,” and I brought the Internet to Johnstown, or at least live-streaming.
The live-streaming and tweeting of the RHS games is the new way sports are covered in today’s society. People want scores and updates in an instant, and it was time for us as a paper to start doing so. Matt always says when he covered RHS sports years ago, he would cover a game, write his story, and it would wait to go into the paper the following Thursday. Now the games (when I can get to them) are tweeted out and a story is up on our website the same day.
When you were in college, you had a Google+ blog titled "Lean With It." Are you still working on it or anything similar outside of your reporting duties?
Oh man … talk about a blast from the past. I’m betting this was for Professor Lynn’s class. I think that blog was for Greeley City Council meetings we covered for her class.
As far as work outside of the office, I’m trying to get at least one of my short stories from my creative writing class at UNC submitted to a publication. When I have free time I pull up the stories to edit and tinker with. Hopefully I’ll get one submitted here soon.
When you're not on the clock, what do you like to do?
During the summer and fall, I play softball. I like to go to concerts. I try to read as much as possible, although I’ve hit a slump in the last few months. I watch the Broncos, The University of Arizona Wildcats, Nuggets (even though they make me sad most of the time), and whatever good game is on.
Other days when I’m feeling lazy, I turn on Netflix and try to find something good.
Neat desk or not, and what would we see there?
Most days my desk is kept in order. Right now it’s semi-clean. On my desk you’ll find an AP Stylebook, a Webster’s College Dictionary, a phone, a stack of miscellaneous papers, my water jug, and sometimes wrappers from my lunch.