Date: August 17, 2006
About: Carla Johnson - Class of 1976
News A Novel Choice
By Holly Wagner
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Carla K. Johnson's first articles were published in Quincy Junior High School's Junior Hi-Lites. Now her byline appears all over the world in her position as a writer for the Associated Press.
"I wanted to write since elementary school," but her dream was to write novels, not news, she wrote in an e-mail interview. When a QJHS adviser told her she could make writing her career by going into journalism, she decided to give it a try.
"I joined the staff and got hooked," she wrote.
Johnson was back in Quincy for her 30th high school reunion recently and got together with Ardath Potts, who was the Junior Hi-Lite's adviser at the time.
"Just about everything I learned from Ardath Potts in Junior High I still use every day," she wrote. "My journalism teacher in high school, Dwight Connelly, also taught me a lot."
Johnson, a daughter of Eugene and Marjorie Johnson, also was the first co-editor of Voice of I, the newspaper that was started with the opening of Senior High I, now Baldwin Intermediate School.
"We had to design and create ... an entire new paper," said Potts, who moved on to the new school with the ninth- and 10th-graders. "It was quite an undertaking."
Potts reconnected with Johnson when she saw her byline on the front page of The Quincy Herald-Whig in an Associated Press article Johnson wrote on the impending flu pandemic.
"I was really excited to hear from her," Potts said.
Johnson's name usually accompanies an article on a health issue. She started writing about health in 2001 when she worked for the Spokesman-Review, a daily newspaper in Spokane, Wash.
"The beat is fascinating because it incorporates business, science and politics," she wrote. While she's well aware of the potential dangers from the bird flu, Johnson wrote that she's more concerned about seasonal flu which kills 36,000 people a year in the United States.
"Bird flu killed 41 people last year worldwide," she wrote.
Johnson believes more Americans should make beneficial changes in their diet and exercise, and she tries to promote that in her articles.
"But it's much more fun to write about chocolate's health benefits," she wrote. "Everybody loves to read about that."
She's also covered stories about menopause in gorillas, Tylenol and liver damage and coffee and cirrhosis. "You name it," she wrote.
As a member of AP's Chicago bureau, she helps report on research printed in several medical journals that come out of Chicago.
"Most of my stories start as assignments from my supervisors," she wrote.
"I also generate my own story ideas and am trying to specialize in the health issues of aging."
Potts is proud of her former students and of what she was able to offer Johnson in terms of inspiration and skills. Peter McCleery, who was co-editor of Voice of I with Johnson, now writes for Golf Digest.
Potts was editor of the Quincy High School paper in 1953, and then went into education. When the QJHS paper needed a faculty adviser, she took on the role.
"I loved writing and I taught the basics," she said. "We did a lot more than just put out a little paper." Students sold their own advertising and worked long past the end of the school day. She taught them to strive for perfection.
"If you don't know what perfect is, you won't get close to it," she said.
"I'm glad I found journalism and found it young," Johnson wrote. "Every day is different, so it's never boring. I often don't know what the day ahead will bring."
Since starting with AP in 2005, she's covered speeches by former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Dick Cheney. She's questioned Mayor Richard Daley and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in press conferences. While in Spokane, she interviewed Gloria Steinem.
"But you know," she wrote, "back in Quincy, some of us interviewed Nancy Reagan when she came through town ... It gives you a sense of being part of history."
Looking back at the student she was in Senior High I, Johnson might offer this advice: "Write the stories that seem the most challenging, even if they scare you at first. Find out why you should defend the First Amendment by studying the role of the press in our nation's history.
"Never guess," she wrote. "Ask more questions until you understand your topic. And always ask people how to spell their name."
Contact Staff Writer Holly Wagner at (217) 221-3374 or firstname.lastname@example.org