UC Journalism Alumnus Profile: Keith Rutowski, ’09
By Holly Yurchison, ’13
Two weeks after UC Journalism alum Keith Rutowski moved to Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2013, violence erupted in protests in Gezi Park—just blocks from the apartment where Rutowski and his new bride, Allison (Clarridge, ’11), were living. Rutowski, who had been working as a fact-checker for National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines back in the States, suddenly found himself in the midst of an international news story. “Here I was, primarily a fact-checker/editor with a camera and a construction helmet and little to no knowledge of the language, and I was surrounded by local photogs and well-known shooters from the U.S. with press credentials and full gas masks,” he says. He ventured out into the chaos, day and night, to try to document the history that was unfolding around him, and his resulting photos eventually were published on Crosscut.com and the World Policy Journal online.
Trying to remain safe in the midst of the violence in the park, Rutowski witnessed police using water cannon assaults and arresting protestors; he saw protesters hurling ignited gas canisters back at police to protect others from the noxious fumes. His images captured the intense emotion of the uprising. “It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn and to grow as a photographer and one I feel very fortunate to have received,” he says.
It wasn’t fate so much as fancy that brought the Rutowskis to Istanbul that spring. After their marriage in Cincinnati in June 2012, the Rutowskis considered moving abroad but couldn’t decide where to go. “I had been reading about [Istanbul] at the time,” Keith recalls. “I suppose I had always been intrigued by that cliché attributed to Istanbul as the city where East meets the West.” Keith’s freelance fact-checking gigs enabled him to be mobile, and Allison had friends in Turkey, so they decided to go for it.
“They were itching for an adventure like this,” says UC Journalism Director of Undergraduate Studies Jenny Wohlfarth, whom Rutowski visited in her UC office just days before he left the country. “I applauded their incredible zeal for travel—to go somewhere, and tell great stories. They are both so passionate about seeing the world, and Keith’s desire to tell meaningful stories about under-privileged people facing great challenges was obvious from the get-go—when he wrote compelling stories in a Magazine Writing class. One of those stories from that class won him the Coons/Lafcadio Hearn Journalism Prize here at UC.”
While at UC, Rutowski also wrote for The News Record, covering arts/entertainment, news and spotlight sections, and interned at Cincinnati Magazine, CityBeat and National Geographic Adventure in New York City. At Cincinnati Magazine, he learned the fine art of fact-checking—a skill he credits with landing the internship at National Geographic Adventure and subsequent freelance work. At CityBeat, he added photography, audio collection and multimedia storytelling to his journalistic skill set. In his final year at UC, he was selected as the Outstanding Graduating Senior in the Magazine Track.
“You always know when you meet young journalists who are destined for great things, and Keith is definitely one of those students,” Wohlfarth says. “I’ve met very few students who have the keen sense of detail that Keith demonstrated in his work at UC, and as a former magazine editor myself, I love his passion for fact-checking, which is such an overlooked, under-appreciated chore that is a part of many young editors’ early careers.”
Rutowski’s keen sense of detail paid off in fact-checking assignments, which he continued to land after graduation. “I'd like to think that the reason I continued doing it after graduation is a combination of an insatiable curiosity about a number of different topics and the fact I ended up being good enough at this type of editing that I was offered the chance to be paid to do it,” Rutowski says, adding that he loves the flexibility and mobility that this kind of freelance work affords him.
“In my eyes, fact-checkers help maintain the necessary trust formed between a publication and its readers.” Rutowski continues. “I am an editor whose primary concern is accuracy—as opposed to story editors whose primary concerns are story structure and style.”
His editors have appreciated his passion for accuracy. After working with Rutowski when he was an intern at National Geographic Adventure, senior producer Mary Anne Potts kept hiring him for additional fact-checking gigs. “Keith was the first person I contacted to see if he could continue fact checking feature stories,” she says. “Not only does he take the accuracy of the text very seriously, but he brings an editor’s eye to note omissions or errors.”
Rutowski's advice to journalism students is to shoot high when it comes to applying for internships. He believes his passionate cover letter was what landed him the internship with National Geographic Adventure. “Concentrate on the places that make your heart sing,” he advises. “National Geographic Magazine and Smithsonian are truly my ‘dream’ publications and I was, and still am, honored to have any role at all—even my small one—with those magazines.”
While the fact-checking gigs pay the bills, Rutowski—who returned to the States in December 2013—is contemplating grad school and hopes to pursue photo-essay assignments that will help him build up his photojournalism credentials. “I feel most alive whenever a camera is in my hands,” he says. “In photography, I am not as concerned with what is known and defensible as what is felt. At heart, I view myself as a photographer and visual storyteller.” He hopes his photographs from Istanbul bear testimony to that passionate pursuit.
Photo Credit: Allison Rutowski