JP Swenson: How his high school journalism class sparked a global career

JP Swenson’s first taste of journalism was in high school, when his media communications teacher at Wauwatosa East High School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin introduced him to Student Reporting Labs.

He remembers producing a story that focused on a fellow student, Trent Matheny, who participated in a Special Olympics basketball program. 

At first, Swenson says he wasn’t interested in journalism, but during his senior year of high school, his passion grew. He credits his teacher for assigning him different SRL resources that taught him the fundamentals of journalism. 

“She had a lot of assignments for us that revolved around journalism. She had us do readings about different reporters and their strategies,” he says, “I found it extremely fascinating.” 

Swenson went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he continued to pursue his newfound interest by working on a podcast with the Department of Surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic. He later pursued his M.S. in Journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School.

“Northwestern incubated that passion,” he says.  “It wasn’t long before I realized that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Swenson later landed a position with Chicago Public Media Radio Station (WBEZ) as a Luminary Podcast Fellow. He got to work with talented editors and journalists that he had admired in his childhood. One of his favorite projects at WBEZ was covering the history of Chicago’s disco scene where he spoke with local DJ, Lorie Branch. He says he enjoyed being able to amplify the voices of local Chicagoans.

“That conversation gave me a perspective again on what the impact of our storytelling can be,” Swenson recalls. 


He now works for Rotary International, where he covers issues ranging from natural disasters to suicide prevention. Swenson says he enjoys the job because he can discuss important issues with people who are focused on creating solutions.

“What I like about Rotary and what I do there is the…built-in network of sources and people who are just inherently very interested in these issues.” 

Swenson is now preparing to go to Turkey to report on the earthquake that occurred in 2023 and how it’s continuing to affect people.

Even though Swenson didn’t set out to become a journalist, his experiences have taken him on an exciting journey.

“I’m finding more and more every day that I have a big interest in traveling,” he says, “and spending my life telling stories from all over the world.’’