How college newswriting prepped Scott Yunker for nationwide writing

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” These are the words former editor-in-chief of The Ramapo News Scott Yunker Jr. lives by as he navigates his life as a professional journalist. 

Yunker, class of 2019, entered the newsroom for the first time his freshman year in 2015, starting off as a copy editor and writing his way up from there. He became the arts and entertainment section editor his sophomore year, and from 2017-2019, he served as editor-in-chief (EIC).

“The Ramapo News was really my defining college experience,” he said during an interview. “It was really shocking to me how similar working at The Ramapo News is to working at a ‘real job.’”

Soon after graduation, Yunker started as a reporter for The Coast Star and The Ocean Star, two weekly New Jersey newspapers from Star News Group. He held his position for almost two years, and he received the 2020 Wilson Barto Rookie Journalist of the Year award from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.

“Going into the industry, you’re just far less overwhelmed than you might otherwise be because you just have all the fundamentals laid out,” Yunker said.

As EIC, he gained an insight into how news-related decisions are made and the overall operations of the news. The student staff who were older than him when he entered were “invested in sharing their knowledge with other students around them,” and that was something he always tried to carry on as he became an upperclassman.

Week after week, Yunker always looked forward to spending long Wednesday nights in the newsroom, where it would be filled with laughter and a good time amongst the small, tight-knit staff that also considered one another close friends.

“The finished product on the newsstand every Thursday morning was only part of the equation. The other part was just fostering an environment within the newsroom that is productive and turning out high quality content every day, but not losing sight of the fact that it’s also a place about fellowship,” Yunker added.

Yunker admitted that even as EIC, there was always plenty more for him to learn. As he advances in his post-graduate career, he is still learning on the job, as well as learning more about the cultures and communities his work features and benefits.

In the summer of 2021, Yunker, a traveler at heart, packed up his life in Jersey and headed to Kaua’i, Hawai’i where he would begin his new job as a daily reporter for The Garden Island Newspaper. He files anywhere from five to seven articles per week, sometimes even eight or nine.

His journalism, which he treats as an act of community service, now focuses much more on issues centric to the community around him: agriculture, the environment and science.

“I want to write about things that interest me, and in addition to interesting, they are just core components of the community I am writing for out here. So I get a lot of fulfillment out of covering these subjects.”

He does, however, recognize he is a guest on this island and always will be, despite his work for the disenfranchised communities around him.

“Part of respectful and responsible journalism, especially in a place where past and present issues of colonialism, class and race are always top of mind, is the amplification of local voices,” he wrote in an email. “I do my best to cover those voices and issues in a way that imparts dignity, without being obnoxious about it, because obviously, the community does not want or need a white savior.”

There are compelling opportunities for powerful stories in Kaua’i, and it is the intersection of science and culture that gives Yunker excitement with each article he writes. Despite his roots in arts writing and local news reporting, he is happy to be working on content that is both exciting and challenging to him and the community at large.

“I’m pretty omnivorous when it comes to what I like writing about,” he said. “I like it all. So for me, the agricultural and environmental stuff is just the latest discovery I’ve had.”

Photo courtesy of Scott Yunker Jr.