Working Together for Something Better

June 10, 2021

Today I'd like to start off by introducing you to another fellow joining our second cohort of NewStart students. As you will see below, Jan Risher has worn a lot of hats both inside the journalism industry and adjacent to it. But rather than hearing it from me, let's just have her tell you in her own words.

The floor is yours, Jan!

Why am I joining NewStart?


In short, I am joining the NewStart program because I’m a fan of democracy — and I don’t believe it will survive without a healthy free press.

My goal is for the program to provide the opportunity, time and place to be thoughtful while working with a diverse and smart group of folks developing a better way to do journalism and media. I am not under the allusion that a one-size-fits-all proposition will work. I relish the chance to wrangle the many and varied ideas I’ve been chasing and learn from and alongside others as we work toward something better.

The trajectory of my career has been more Jeremy Bearimy than a straight line, but the one piece that has been a constant throughout is storytelling.


I’ve been an English teacher, a public relations executive, a special events planner, a columnist, a reporter, an editor, a radio host, a television host, a ghostwriter and a business owner.


I continue to write a weekly newspaper column for The Acadiana Advocate, based in Lafayette, La. I was an investigative reporter, features writer, business reporter and columnist for The Daily Advertiser and managing editor of The Times of Acadiana — all in Lafayette, La.

As a reporter, I covered Louisiana politics, the Iraq war, Katrina and its long-term effects on the state and our community. In 2006, I won an International Fellowship for Journalism to travel to Thailand to report on their recovery from the tsunami compared to Louisiana's recovery from Katrina.

My column writing goes way back (to high school actually), but in 1993, I wrote a weekly column for my hometown paper in Mississippi (the Scott County Times — a weekly) while I was teaching English in Slovakia. Upon my return to the States, I ended up in Washington, D.C., and worked for USA Today on the business side of the paper, as a special events planner. (The juxtaposition of the austerity of post-Communist Slovakia, piggybacked by the excess of the mid-1990s USA Today still makes me shake my head.)

Since 2014, I have owned Shift Key, a business-to-business public relations and content development company. At Shift Key, I’ve employed 37 out-of-work or under-employed reporters to write for newspaper special sections, magazines and various corporate America projects my company has managed. Additionally, we handle public relations for a number of clients and specialize in working with nonprofits and mid-sized companies to help them identify and recognize their stories and then find the best avenues to tell and share those stories.

In 2020, I started teaching virtual writing classes and developed a program to help students develop and write college or grad school entrance exams. In January, I launched a series of online memoir workshops. Having the opportunity to work business-to-customer has been a blast and I’ve loved an opportunity to teach again.

I also manage the Ex-Gannett Employee Facebook Group, which my husband (a long-time Gannett employee) started the week after he was laid off in 2008. The group now has 4,577 members. It is an interesting cross-section of memory lane, anger management, where-are-they-now, memorials and Monday-morning-quarterbacking (albeit years later).

Thanks Jan, and welcome aboard! 

If you'd like to join Jan in our second year of the program and earn a master's degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from WVU's Reed College of Media, there's still time to apply. Our next cohort will start learning virtually at the end of this month, so if you want in, check out the program details here, and then follow the instructions here to apply.