JAMM Alumna Yvonne Wingett Sanchez Honored with Silver & Gold Award
Fifteen years after graduating, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez returned to campus to be recognized for her distinguished record of achievement in the field of journalism, receiving the Silver and Gold award on Thursday, April 7, 2016.
But her first steps on to campus as a student in 1996 were with a violin in hand, not a reporter’s notebook. Despite her parents wanting her to attend Boise State University, Wingett Sanchez wanted to be a violin performer and saw UI as the best place to do that. She received a music scholarship and dived right in, only to realize midway through it was not the right fit for a career. She also loved to read and write, so an advisor suggested she look into journalism. She took an introductory class and was hooked.
Wingett Sanchez switched her major and started writing for The Argonaut, then snagging an internship with the Lewiston Morning Tribune doing spot news and general assignment work. She graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communications with a Spanish minor in 2001.
Tension and Tenacity
Wingett Sanchez didn’t have a preferred area of focus as she worked on her degree in UI’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All she knew was that tension was where the good stuff was.
While working as a prestigious Chips Quinn Scholar at the Detroit News, Wingett Sanchez met a recruiter for The Arizona Republic. She was able to transfer to Arizona to finish her scholarship and they kept her on once it ended. It was in Phoenix that she discovered the types of stories she really liked to cover.
“I liked conflict,” Wingett Sanchez said, “But I didn’t realize I liked politics until I actually got to the newspaper.”
She started out in general assignments, covering a lot of disputes over zoning issues and permits, then moving on to cover Phoenix City Hall from the neighborhood perspective. That was her ah-ha moment. Seeing the developers pitted against the neighborhoods and the special interests of the city and campaign finance, that is what piqued her interest and passion to report.
“I would ask, what is really motivating these decisions,” Wingett Sanchez said. “And at that point I realized it was money and power and all that.”
Being able to tell people’s stories and explain to readers what is motivating these decisions from the city hall side is what drives Wingett Sanchez. Being on the ground with the people in the neighborhoods helped her write in a way that allowed readers to better understand the impact of decisions being made.
When Wingett Sanchez took over the Maricopa County beat in 2007 she had no way of knowing what lay ahead for her. In 2008, Joe Arpaio, “America’s Toughest Sheriff” who is known for his controversial enforcement of immigration laws and making inmates wear pink underwear, joined forces with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in pursuing investigations of government corruption in Maricopa County. That took Wingett Sanchez and her team on a roughly five-year journey they call the Maricopa County civil war.
The coverage was heavy and research rigorous, the investigations by Arpaio and Thomas even extending to the press.
“I think we underestimated what an important story that was and in some ways maybe we should have been more aggressive with how we handled it,” Wingett Sanchez said, “But we told the stories and it is probably the body of work I am most proud of.”
Leading the Legacy
While studying at UI, Wingett Sanchez especially enjoyed her media ethics class, which, along with media law, laid a strong foundation for what her career would bring, she said.
During her visit to UI in April, Wingett Sanchez presented to the media law class on her experiences, sharing tidbits of wisdom learned over the years, such as the importance of knowing enough about the law (or having friends who do) to prevent people from blocking you from information; the value of attribution and public records; upholding a tradition of transparency and avoiding defensiveness; and being smart about what you put on social media.
But most of all she said to be passionate.
“A lot of people are competent and have the skills to do the same job as you,” Wingett Sanchez said, “Set yourself apart as someone passionate who will work hard without complaining, love what you do.”
Article by Whitney Schroeder, Office of Alumni Relations