Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of alumni profiles of former Daily Lobo contributors, created in an effort to connect current readers and contributors to the past and present. Continue to follow the Daily Lobo for more.
Dan McKay, a Roundhouse reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, said he doesn’t necessarily remember his “greatest hits.”
However, he said he is proud of shining a light on information people may otherwise have not known about, such as the treatment of inmates in the local jail system and the meaning behind everyday government and politics.
“I am proud of at least trying to get people as much of the truth or as close to the truth as I can get in my stories without having any (conflict of interest), just trying to go wherever the truth leads. I try to do that as well as I can,” McKay said.
But about 20 years ago, he was in the same position as some students today at the University of New Mexico.
In 1995, McKay began taking college courses and working at the Daily Lobo, where he held the positions of staff writer, news editor and editor-in-chief, he said. During his fourth year at UNM, he interned at the Albuquerque Journal and graduated from UNM in 1999 with a bachelor’s in university studies with a concentration in print journalism.
“I pretty much always wanted to be a journalist,” McKay said, adding that his mentor Hank Trewhitt suggested that he take classes in topics he was interested in.
McKay took core journalism classes, along with many political science, literature, economics and Honors courses, he said.
He and his wife also had a child at the end of his sophomore year of college.
McKay said he was grateful to be on a scholarship and have supportive family in town. He said he was also fortunate he and his wife were able to alter their schedules to allow at least one of them to be at home with the baby.
“It was a challenge, but it also worked out in a lot of ways, because we had much more flexible schedules than we do now…I was lucky in a lot of ways,” McKay said. “I would encourage young students who have kids to make it work and to know that other parents are going to recognize it’s not easy and hope they can hang in there.”
McKay landed a job in Texas at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal immediately after college and later began working at the Journal in 2000, he said. He almost always was on a government and politics beat but also covered crime and general assignments, he said.
Kate Nash Cunningham, a current instructor within the UNM Communication and Journalism Department and a former staff reporter, photo editor and news editor at the Daily Lobo, said she met McKay in college.
“I don’t think I know a harder working reporter,” she said. “He’s always really conscious about double checking everything is right, making sure all his stories are fair and just really doing the best job he can on a story he’s covering. I think that work ethic comes from being trained at UNM during a time when our journalism mentors were people who had been out there in journalism…You kind of have to see that ethic to repeat it.”
After graduating from UNM, Nash Cunningham worked at the Albuquerque Tribune, covering city hall, while McKay was one of the city hall reporters at the Journal.
“He was really great to compete against. It was really fun to see the scoops that he had on me and to compare coverage from day to day,” she said, adding that this was also a time when the two papers were very competitive.
McKay gained a lot of experience from the Lobo, he said.
“The best way that I learned how to do what I’m doing now was doing it every day at the Daily Lobo. Journalism classes are certainly important, but...learning it on the job was probably the most important part of helping me become a journalist,” McKay said.
He encourages anyone aspiring to have a career in journalism to pursue what they are interested in, understand that they can learn new skills if they work hard enough (on the job or by going back to school) and to write as much as they can.
McKay is grateful for the wonderful professors he had at UNM and for the flexibility of the university studies program, he said.
“Dan (McKay) is such a fun guy to work with, compete against and to watch in action,” Nash Cunningham said. “As an editor, he always had time to hear about your day and talk about how you were doing as well as what you were working on...The Journal is lucky to have him working the legislative beat.”
Elizabeth Sanchez is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.