While at the the American Society of News Editors Reynolds High School Journalism Institute at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada in Reno, we produced several stories for our website, www.silverbulletin.org.
One group decided to do a story about me. At first, this was rather embarrassing, but by the end, I found it to be incredibly flattering. I am honored they saw me worthy of being the focus of a feature story.
So, below is the story for your enjoyment. Or, you can read it here.
By John McBlair and Justin Natalie
Todd Vogts’ commitment to journalism is written all over him. Literally. He has two tattoos.
“At first I was like ‘no,’” said Karen Vogts, Todd’s mother. “But they look pretty decent.”
“[The first one] is on my back and it’s a scroll that says ‘comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable’ which to me are the basic tenets of journalism,” Vogts said. “You’re supposed be a watchdog, and be watchful of those in power. The other one I have is an old school camera [which has written] ‘ad astra’, which is Latin for ‘two stars’ ‘to the stars,’ which is part of Kansas’ state motto. And then words that say ‘Congress shall make no law’ which is, of course, from the First Amendment.”
Vogts lives in a farmhouse. He shops for groceries at a small corner store that is actually named “Ma and Pa’s.” The only local bar is also the only family restaurant and when you walk down the street you know everyone. To many people, Ransom, Kan., is a different world.
You might think that life in the farming town of Ransom is slow-paced, an uncomplicated existence. However, after speaking with bus driver, DJ, teacher, journalist, firefighter and novelist Vogts, you’ll quickly abandon these assumptions. His day-to-day is simply dizzying.
For such an ambitious 24-year-old, speaking with Vogts is a surprisingly casual experience. He gives no hint of ego and speaks to you deliberately, with undivided attention.
“People are the most important thing,” Vogts said. “I really think that high school journalism is important because what it is, is community journalism.”
Above all, Vogts is a journalist. His love for journalism started at the weeklong Boys’ State camp between his junior and senior year where he was the reporter for a publication, and he went back to school his senior year in high school with a deeper interest. He approached his principal on the subject of creating a high school newspaper and was told there was not enough time.
Vogts created a paper anyway with some friends and ran a story covering the principal’s stance.
“We did have time because look, here it is,” Vogts told the principal.
His actions did not come without consequences, though. As he and his buddies were sticking the newspapers in lockers, his principal approached him.
“I handed him a newspaper with a big smile on my face,” Vogts said.
He spent the remainder of the day sitting in the office facing expulsion.
“They strong-armed me because I was a kid and didn’t know my rights,” Vogts said.
He killed the paper because he was afraid of the threat of expulsion and wanted to graduate with his friends.
At Hutchison State Community College, Vogts was finally able to participate in an organized journalism program. He worked as the sports editor his first year and became editor-in-chief his second year on staff. While he was editor-in-chief, he began coding a paper online while still printing a weekly paper of eight to 10 pages with a staff of 10 to 15.
After finishing two years at community college, Vogts transferred to Wichita State to complete his bachelor’s degree in communication. He joined the newspaper and became editor-in-chief again during his second year.
When asked why he kept becoming editor-in-chief, he said: “I don’t know. I just keep getting asked to do it.”
He also won the Print Journalist of the Year award his senior year when he again battled censorship. While reporting on a conference about the dangers of social networking at the university, Vogts found a picture of a conference speaker on his Facebook account in a hot tub with known minors.
“‘I just got my angle,’” Vogts said. “And it pissed him off and he threatened to sue.”
In the aftermath, the student council in charge of funding the newspaper planned on cutting it from their budget, which would have ultimately ended the paper.
“We suspected it had to do with what we were writing, but they were well within in their rights to cut our budget,” Vogts said.
Content was one of the reasons outlined in a student council PowerPoint explaining the cuts, which is a First Amendment issue.
“We called the SPLC and we had a lawyer on the phone ready to sue the [pants off] of them and they backed down so we didn’t have to,” Vogts said. “It was an amazing experience.”
Vogts refused to be bullied again. After college, he went on to work for three news publications, including a self-run magazine that covered the entire state of Kansas – yeah.
“It took a lot of guts to start his own paper,” said Troy, his younger brother.
Now Vogts has turned his energy to education, and he needs it because he does the jobs of five people. He wakes at 6 a.m. in order to drive the ‘bus’ for the school –it turns out the bus is a red suburban with five or six elementary students. Last year when done with his bus route, he worked as a paraeducator in a special education class. This year, he will still be a part time paraeducator, but he’ll also be creating a new journalism program at Western Plains High School. He approached his superintendent with the idea for the class.
“I know journalism,” explained Vogts. “This is my life. I can do something with you guys.”
His course load will consist of two sections of print and web journalism, respectively. The classes will have two to five students each, which is not uncommon for the school of fewer than 50. While these classes may seem like a dream come true to most teachers, he will struggle with having a small and divided staff. On the bright side, this man who is used to struggling with understaffed publications will finally have a staff that will not eat into his budget.
“I don’t have to pay the students,” Vogts said.
When not in the classroom, he is asked to perform a variety of odd jobs. From retiling and painting rooms, maintaining the athletic fields, or mopping the cafeteria, it seems like he is never allowed a moment of rest.
When the final bell rings, he is only halfway through his day. Throughout the year, he juggles coaching football, track and being an assistant coach for girls’ boys’ basketball. Again manpower is an issue. His football team technically has 21 students, but only 13 usually show up. Practices go until six, but Vogts gives the impression that he wishes they could go longer.
Luckily his journalism students will not have to go far to interview the coach.
In his spare time – yes, in his spare time – he will need to complete online assignments for his Master’s of Science in Education program.
Speaking of free time, Vogts is a mobile DJ on the weekends performing until the middle of the night at elegant wedding receptions, parties in fields or anywhere in between, typically with the help of his brother. However, this does not seem like much of a chore to him.
“I love it because I get paid to party,” Vogts said.
His weekends aren’t all fun and games though. He is also a volunteer firefighter where he said he is asked to do, as usual, “Whatever it takes, dude.” Typically, he helps with disconnecting electricity, setting up landing zones and assisting EMT personnel.
Fitting so many things into a day is surprising. But what is probably most surprising about Vogts is his reluctance to talk about what might be his greatest accomplishment: his novel. “Murder at St. Alfanus” is a murder mystery set in a private Catholic university where student journalists are on a mission to solve the case. It should be available at both Barnes and Noble and on Amazon later this year.
“I read a lot,” said his mother, “and it made me want to keep reading.”
An avid writer since he was nine, Vogts also runs a blog with a readership of 60-100 per day.
Vogts will not tell you all of this when you first meet him. He doesn’t let on that he is one of the most driven and multi-talented people you have met.
At home, “sometimes it’s hard to have him talk about what he does,” his mother said.
He is unassuming and that is what makes his accomplishments even more impressive. Vogts challenges all the stereotypes of being from a place so small, because he is anything but. Even with the limited opportunities of a town with no streetlights, Vogts embraces the freedom and defies what you usually think can be accomplished in 24 years.
When asked if he eventually wanted to be either a journalist or novelist, Vogts said, “Can’t I be both?”
Vogts surely can.
Again, many thanks to John and Justin for writing this story. It truly meant a lot to me to have others view me as important enough to write about. Thanks, fellas.