UT Alum Embraces Small-Town Journalism

From military veterans to current prison inmates, Ashley Depew never knows who she’ll be interviewing from one day to the next. As a reporter for the Maryville Daily Times, her job has taken her to jails, courtrooms and local government to hear the stories that make news.

Depew, originally from Elizabethtown, Tennessee, attended UT for one semester in 2017 before transferring to East Tennessee State University for three semesters. She returned to UT at the start of her junior year and graduated in May 2021 with a Bachelor’s in journalism and electronic media.

Depew’s first stories can be found here on TNJN; her artistic and creative passion pushed her toward the diversity and flexibility found in the communications industry.
During her junior year, Depew visited The Golden Age 1942, a graphic novel store in Maryville. There she found an artist painting a mural for the store, inspiring her to write a profile that she submitted to the Daily Times for publication. In her senior year, Depew went back to the Daily Times for her practicum and later returned for a job.

Her first beat was crime and court reporting. Now she covers city government in Maryville, Alcoa and Townsend.

“It’s been a learning curve to understand the language, the people and how they operate because I’m reporting on things people have become professionals on for the past 20 years. It’s intimidating, but I enjoy it,” Depew said.

Mike Sisco, the executive editor at the Daily Times, affirms that Depew is a highly adaptable self-starter who does not need to be guided to stories – an invaluable quality in a reporter.

Depew says her day began with a meeting with Maryville’s city manager. She returned to the newsroom before going back out to a parks and recreation meeting followed by a meeting with the proprietors of Black Horse Brewery. From there, she went home to submit her pieces for the day.

“I have supervision, but I decide when and what I do outside of meetings,” Depew said.
The variations in her day are reflected in her stories. She has written a profile piece on a military veteran whose guard tower was blown up in Afghanistan. Currently, she is interviewing prison inmates for a long form story.

With the interesting subjects also comes tragedy. Depew recently worked on a story about a terminally ill woman who spent her remaining months in prison on an unsubstantiated charge.

“That was one of her last few months to live. The charge is likely going to get dropped from the DEA because they had no evidence to back it up and didn’t post bond. She was stuck in there and everything got worse. It’s sad going to their home and experiencing that. You see that a lot as a journalist,” Depew said.

Last year, she covered a trial about an infant murder. While under the influence of drugs, the father had smothered his three-month-old baby to make her stop crying.
“On the first day of the trial, the mom went up on stand and it was horrible. I started crying, and that’s one thing you can’t do. You have to keep a straight face. You can’t cry,” Depew said.

The hardest part of Depew’s job has been striking a balancing between 12-to-20-inch stories for the daily while also focusing on long-form projects that have been months in the making. Like most local newspapers, The Daily Times is short staffed, which has been a strain on Depew as well.

The most rewarding experience of Depew’s career occurred when the public information officer for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office shared Depew’s story on BCSO’s Facebook page.

“She posted my article on the BCSO Facebook page and coming from her it was nice. It’s the biggest compliment that she could give me on that story,” Depew said.

Depew has advice for budding journalists. For a while after she started reporting, Depew was concerned about being a good gateway of information for the public. She said that because journalists receive a lot of information, it’s an important responsibility to know what should and should not be released to the public. She cautions students to remember that people featured in assignments are more than just a story.

“Just because it’s an assignment to you, it is not an assignment to them. It’s more than a job and you have to treat everyone you interview and do a story on from their perspective,” Depew said.

She explains knowing how to talk and listen to people will help students who pursue journalism. Depew said having a background in retail and working as a leasing consultant helped her hone the necessary talking and listening skills. She noted that fast writing is also an essential skill, especially when working at a daily.

Haley Burleson, Depew’s best friend since high school said, “She’s the most ‘real’ person I’ve ever met with a genuine, honest heart, and that’s hard to find. She has a drive to be the best in whatever it is she is pursuing at any given time, and we have that in common. We seem to push each other to always do our best. She’s always quick to listen and never judge.”

Burleson has read every piece of Depew’s writing from TNJN articles to current stories for The Daily Times. Burleson has witnessed the growth of Depew’s writing throughout the years and into her career. According to Burleson, Depew penned one of the most raw and honest writings about what she was going through in her life.

“I could feel everything she felt, and that was the moment I knew she was an artist. As an investigative journalist she has managed to integrate her writing style into unbiased story coverage which is tricky. She tells two stories at once; a news story and the story about who piece is about. The most important way she has grown is staying true to herself, even when writing pieces that have nothing to do with her opinion or emotions,” Burleson said.

During her time at the Daily Times, Sisco has also recognized Depew’s extraordinary care and attention to the subjects she works with.

“Caring about your subject matter is important to any journalist, but Ashley tends to make it her personal responsibility to be an advocate for her subject,” he said.

Depew shares that the experiences and opportunities UT offered were most valuable to her as well as instructors helping guide her writing. She specifically remembers a time when professor Gerald Witt imparted advice that has since stuck with her.

“He sat down beside me and was looking at the article I did on the mural artist. He told me my ending was drawn out and that I needed to stop when I was done talking. I think about that all the time,” Depew said.

Depew’s said that she has notes and pages worth of ideas for a book she has always wanted to write. She is also interested in getting a Master’s degree in English. Eventually, she’s like to be her own boss.

While she has considered what her life would have been like if she chose other paths, Depew says she is content with how her college and career paths have played out.

“Everything’s played out the way it was supposed to. I had to try some other school in some other field to know this is what I wanted to do.”

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