Three Questions for Nora Hertel ’13

Nora Hertel interviewing a sourceName: Nora G. Hertel

Title and Organization: Journalist and Founder of The Optimist

Graduation year and degree: 2013, Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication

From news about the pandemic to growing political polarization, today’s news landscape can feel overwhelmingly negative for many people. Enter Nora Hertel (MA’13), a self-described “optimist by choice”. Nora is a 2022-2023 Initiator Fellow through the Initiative Foundation in central Minnesota and the founder of the forthcoming media outlet The Optimist. According to its website, The Optimist “strives to rebuild trust in news by connecting directly with readers and featuring evidence-based reporting on responses to problems — not just problems alone.” We caught up with Nora to hear more about this new venture and what she hopes to achieve.

When it comes to this project, what are you most proud of?

I am very proud to be part of a movement of journalists who are taking on industry problems with creativity and collaboration.

The Optimist is a digital news outlet that features solution-focused stories on the environment, business and social problems in greater Minnesota – the part of the state outside the Twin Cities. I will formally launch the news side of The Optimist in early 2022 and quickly follow that with media literacy outreach and community journalism training.

I hope to rebuild trust by providing useful and inspiring news and by helping people understand the state of the news media.

I have been inspired by Madison Commons and the Wisconsin Center of Investigative Journalism, where I worked while at UW-Madison and after graduation. Those two organizations forged new ground in the transition to digital news. I am honored to be part of their legacies and forge ahead with independent, online news and solution-focused news in Minnesota.

What’s the best advice you have for a J-School student who wants to do what you do?

Take care of your physical and mental health. That means setting boundaries. That means taking time for exercise, sleep, visits to the doctor and other important self-care practices.

I have seen a lot of reporters burn out. I have seen several reporters develop serious health conditions. And I’ve been there too, as recently as January when I developed severe tension headaches.

Journalists must hustle, work within deadlines, face criticism and keep up with fast-paced change. But you deserve to be supported. You deserve time to recover and reset.

If you start to feel that your job is sucking the life out of you, it’s time to make a change. Perhaps that is the time to strike out on your own.

What is your favorite J-School memory? 

I had the most fun talking shop over homemade brunches with my grad school cohort and brilliant friends: Erin Hinrichs, Kate Prengaman and Emily Toner. We would often bike to campus together after sharing a meal.