Journalism alumnus lands fellowship, works to keep government officials accountable

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Mercer University graduate Nick Wooten grew up around newspapers.

“My dad worked at The Augusta Chronicle in the press room, and he printed newspapers for, gosh, I want to say 30 years,” Wooten said. “I would go to his work as a kid and run around with all the loud machines and the ink and the papers everywhere.”

So, when he started his freshman year at Mercer, one of the first things he did was start writing for the University’s student newspaper, The Cluster. There, he discovered not only did he enjoy writing, but he was good at it. He took internships in New Orleans and Chicago, “and I just haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Today, Wooten, who graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2017 with a double-major in journalism and Southern studies, is the accountability/investigative reporter at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. In that role, he focuses on covering local government and writing in-depth investigations. He also leads Georgia politics coverage for the Ledger-Enquirer and its sister paper, The Telegraph, in Macon.

In 2021, he was named Emerging Journalist of the Year by the Georgia Press Association. And earlier this year, he was among 20 journalists chosen by the National Press Foundation for a fellowship on data and accountability journalism. The fellowship, held virtually, included sessions on tips and best practices for holding all levels of government accountable for how taxpayer money is spent.

Wooten has covered several topics throughout his career, including education, Southern trends and culture, the pandemic, and, currently, politics. At one point, he also wrote a food column.

“I’ve really enjoyed covering politics as Georgia becomes this huge battleground state,” he said.

His 2020 election coverage included Joe Biden’s visit to Warm Springs as a presidential candidate, Georgia’s audit and recount, the governor’s certification of the vote, and the state’s runoff races in the U.S. Senate.

“That just seems like a blur now,” he said. “It was just a lot of coffee and waiting and writing.”

Dealing with a 24-hour news cycle and writing every day can be challenging, Wooten said. But he loves his job.

“I get to meet really interesting people constantly and just talk to them about what excites them. I love hearing what people are passionate about,” he said. “And I get paid to write, and I love writing.”

Wooten’s Mercer education helped him get to where he is today.

“Working at The Cluster really was my first introduction to journalism, and the lessons that I learned there sort of helped shape the rest of my career path,” he said. “I also met a lot of really great professors who were able to open doors for me and get me in places that I might not have gotten to without their help.”

He credits Debbie Blankenship, director of the Center for Collaborative Journalism, and Dr. Jay Black, professor and chair of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, with helping him through his undergraduate career.

Wooten said he has been able to use his Southern studies major to examine the 2020 election through a historical lens, and classes in Southern history and literature also have been useful throughout his journalism career.

“It’s interesting to see how my time at Mercer shaped where I am now,” he said.

 

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