New editor takes helm

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Brooks has covered high-profile stories

By The Staff

As the eyes of the nation turned toward Iowa and its outsized role in the 2016 presidential campaign, Jason W. Brooks found himself interviewing the likes of Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio, and covering a rally by the candidate who eventually emerged from it all — Donald Trump.

Brooks, whose life and journalism career have taken him across the country, from his native Washington, D.C., to southern California to New Mexico and the Midwest, is the new editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He officially started work this past Monday.

While his highest-profile subjects may have come from the Iowa caucuses while he was working for newspapers there, Brooks has covered a broad spectrum of news since he began his career.

Some of his favorite interviews have included George Lynch and Jack Russell of hair metal fame with the Lynch Mob and Great White, respectively; comedians Paula Poundstone and Gabriel Iglesias; and former New Mexico governor-turned-Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Of course, covering those seeking the most powerful political office on the planet was momentous.

“There’s something at stake in those interviews,” he said.

Aside from going one-on-one with A-list celebrities, Brooks has tested his mettle in other settings.

“I went from covering bomb threats at a courthouse in 15-below weather to spending hours at the Iowa State Fair.”

Brooks’ interest in journalism was germinated from a young age. When he was just 8, he became a regular reader of the Washington Post. Part of his attention was devoted to the sports section.

“The Redskins were pretty good then,” he recalled.

He remembers going to a Monday Night Football game between Washington and Dallas, seeing Darrell Green run down Tony Dorsett. And then there was the allure of baseball icon Cal Ripken Jr., who starred for the Baltimore Orioles. Once, an Eddie Murray home run landed 10 feet away from his seat at Camden Yards.

“I wanted to cover these things,” Brooks said.

He and his mom, Ellen, moved from D.C. when he was 13. Her job in civil services took them to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“We lived on bases, so we were pretty plugged in to the Iranian hostage situation,” he said. “We got to see when the hostages were bussed in. That kind of thing piqued my interest in news.”

“I was on my own a lot so I read a lot.”

Brooks’ first foray into writing for publication came when he was in junior high, reviewing the movie “Iron Eagle” for a school paper.

Later he spent time covering the Friday night lights of high school football season for the high school paper and as a stringer for the Orange County Register.

But while the journalism bug never quite went away, Brooks’ personal journey took some detours after he finished high school. He worked for a time in Arkansas and in a quality control position in the aerospace industry.

Then he developed an interest in American Sign Language, earning a certificate in that area.

Brooks first came to New Mexico in 2001, seeking out of L.A. and deciding to pursue a college degree at UNM. His sister had been a resident of the Land of Enchantment for a while at that point, so it wasn’t a tough transition.

While he worked toward his degree, Brooks worked as a stringer for the Albuquerque Journal, meeting the likes of Ken Sickenger, Eric Butler, Glen Rosales, Will Webber and the late Mike Hall.

After graduation, he continued to cover sports, first for two years at the El Defensor Chieftain in Socorro, then at the Valencia County News Bulletin from 2007 to 2013.

He and girlfriend Jacqui Martin decided to relocate to the Midwest in 2013.

“I decided I wanted to see some rain other than once a year, in July,” he quipped.

The change wasn’t limited to sheer location, either. After years of sports writing, he began to cover news, first with the Newton Daily News.

“I thought it was important to broaden my skill set and really be able to help the papers I was with ... It helped for me that I was in Iowa while the 2016 caucus season was formulating.”

Brooks worked for publications in Nebraska and then Iowa. This past December he became editor of the Boone News-Republican in Boone, Iowa, near Des Moines.

Then came an opportunity to return to New Mexico for the editor’s vacancy with the Optic.

“Coming here and meeting the staff was a big part of it,” he said. “I felt it was the right move. The geography I was somewhat familiar with. And it was a competitive, enthusiastic staff. There’s also the food and culture, the whole New Mexico experience. The mountains, the people, the festivals and food — all wrapped together.”

Brooks’ goals as Optic editor are lofty: “Winning a Pulitzer wouldn’t be a bad gig,” he said. “I would like to strengthen our role as a community watchdog. And I’d like to keep our newspaper hard to define (a mixture of news, information, entertainment, etc.)”

How does he stay motivated to pursue those goals and the journalistic ideal amid naysayers’ grim forecasts for the profession?

He acknowledges that the industry has transformed and will likely continue to transform, particularly in terms of what specific form readers get their content.

But he said journalism is alive and well, and that includes newspapers.

“No. 1, notice it  is the competitors of newspapers who say print is dying;,” Broks said. “And No. 2, I think there’s some nobility, some pride in doing something not everybody wants to do — in telling stories and getting out information.”

Brooks said his work and life experiences in several states and all four U.S. mainland time zones have given him “a wealth of different kinds of experiences” and “helps keep things in perspective.”

When not immersed in his job, Brooks enjoys karaoke, off-road biking and following Lobo sports. He is a classic rock and hair-metal fan.