THE JOURNALIST Zach Dundas, 42, Portland Monthly Magazine

When he’s not out running, trying to better his soccer skills, or playing with his two children, you can catch Zach Dundas writing about something fascinating, from climate change to Tokyo hotels to beer. With 21 years of journalistic experience on his resume, from being the “calendar boy” at Montana’s Missoula Independent to reporting for Willamette Week, you can bet he has covered it all. He has also published two books.

As told to Rachel Wilson

How did you decide to become a journalist, and eventually, an editor?

Well it’s strange in that I come from a weird little family of writers. My grandmother was a librarian. My aunt ran the creative writing program at the University of Montana for a long while. My uncle was a journalist. My other uncle was an English teacher. My mom just retired from a 20-year job with the court system in Montana where she wrote a ton. My brother is a novelist. It was just something everyone in my family was into. I was always really interested in journalism, because my uncle was a long-time newspaper reporter and it’s just what I started out doing as my main pursuit. I studied journalism at the University of Montana—which I don’t know if I would totally recommend. I learned a lot of specific, good things. But I think you can also become a journalist if you have any other major.

How did you get to where you are now?

That’s a long and meandering story but I’ll give you the short version. In college I got a job as a reporter for the weekly newspaper in Missoula, covering all kinds of stuff, it was a small place, so everyone covered basically everything. I covered everything from music to politics. Then I ended up getting a job here in Portland with Willamette Week, first as their music editor, and then I transitioned after a few years to be a news reporter there. I got a bunch more experience doing various kinds of reporting. Then I left that job and became a freelancer for a while, for whoever would hire me basically. I started writing for Portland Monthly, and then there was a job opening here. I got the job as an associate editor. I’ve been here for seven years now. I was a co-editor for three years before I became the editor in chief. I just stuck around. Not really based on merit, just sitting here. I’ve been at the magazine for a while, and in the course of 21 years, I’ve done lots of different kinds of assignments. I was a half-decent choice.

As an editor, what is your favorite and least favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job, by far, is putting the magazine together. It’s kind of like an intriguing puzzle every month. It’s always very satisfying when it starts going up on the wall. When stories finally—things that were just figments in our imagination three or six months ago—start to become real. I’m really into that. Least favorite . . . I mean I don’t dislike it, but I’m relatively new to being a manager of people. Before I was a co-editor, I had never managed anybody. It’s still something I’m learning how to do. So I don’t dislike it but it’s just challenging. I actually like it, but it’s hard.

Is there anything that might surprise someone about being a journalist or an editor?   

I guess, like specific to Portland Monthly, it’s a little odd just how long the planning cycle for things is. I’m working on the 2018 calendar proposal right now, like today. There’s stuff that won’t be published for a year and a half. There’s at least like the seed of it is being planted, which isn’t unusual for a monthly magazine, but it is strange by the standards of normal journalism. For Willamette Week and as a freelance writer, it was a quicker turnaround. It’s not uncommon for stories to be in development for a year here. You have to remember they exist and keep them on track.

What is the best piece of advice for someone looking to get into journalism?

Don’t think about money or you will never do it. Okay, but for real, I guess read and write and watch a lot of good and interesting stuff. There’s lots of cool stuff being done in the world of journalism: cool books, great podcasts, amazing magazines. Find something you like but also cast a broad net because that’s where you get inspiration. For journalism, I think it’s good to both have a really broad general knowledge, and also have weird niches that you know more than the average person about. Those can be areas you end up writing about. It can be almost anything.

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