February 24, 2024

From CEU editor to Deseret News editor . . . Todd Curtis given SPJ’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Todd Curtis, Deseret News Copy Editor for past 35 years

The Deseret News copy editor for the past 35 year received The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Lifetime Achievement Award in Salt Lake City.  His achievements in the JCOM world are numerous, but what is unique about him is his love for the field started as a journalist at the College of Eastern Utah.

A 1984 graduate of Bingham High School in South Jordan, Todd Curtis’ experience in the JCOM field began as a member of the yearbook staff laying out pages and editing copy.  

Upon graduation, he started exploring college options and CEU, now Utah State University Eastern, offered JCOM scholarships. He checked the school out and liked the fact that it was small and offered a personalized education opportunity.

He secured the scholarship and moved to Price to attend college and work on The Eagle staff.  “I met so many people and learned so much about the newspaper industry — everything from writing to editing to layout and design. I also was named editor my sophomore year.”

As if I did not have enough to do with classes and deadlines, I was roped into trying out for the debate team. “I’d never done anything like that in my life, but Neil Warren, debate coach, apparently saw some potential and put me on the team. It was a blast to travel from state to state for competitions.

“At the time, CEU had one of the top debate programs in the nation — not just among junior colleges but four-year institutions as well. The two programs instilled in me a sense of commitment and hard work, two attributes that I think have been essential in my life.” He also keeps in regular contact with coach Warren who will be 93 in November. 

“I loved my time in Price, although it became much more fun when my parents relented and allowed me to drive their Chevy Chevette to college,” he said.

After living in my dorms the first year, Curtis and a friend on the debate squad — David Tanner — rented the apartment in Mrs. Hillas’ basement across the street from campus on 400 north. Hillas’ daughter, Kathy, was also on the debate squad in 1985.

He liked living off campus, albeit just across the street, but his favorite part was the Hillas family owned the Mecca — a tasty restaurant on Main Street. His apartment was next to the Latter-day Saint Institute and around the corner from the Milky Way, another little restaurant/café and college hangout where he ate several times a week.

“I remember spending long nights with Emily Wilson and Julie Atwood (Tanner and Wilson were dating and eventually married) at the Greenwell Inn, where they were the night clerks.

“As far as other classes I enjoyed, you couldn’t beat anything taught by Don Burge, curator of the prehistoric museum and geology professor.”  His son, Steve, was also on the debate team, eventually earned his Juris Doctorate, started Eastern’s criminal justice program and taught for Eastern.

It was at CEU where I met a lifelong friends — Wylie Gerrard and his future wife Terri Zook (who helped typeset The Eagle), and Nannette Turcasso. “Although Gerrards eventually divorced, I still see Wylie at least a couple of times a month and speak with Nannette, every week.” She lives in North Salt Lake and is assistant vice president at Intermountain Health Care.

He continues, “when Wylie and Terri got married, they bought a house a half of a block south of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. The next year, a house around the corner from them went up for sale and they said, ‘Gee, we’d sure love you as a neighbor,’ so I bought the house and I’m still live in it today.

“It was probably the wisest move I ever made. If I knew what real estate prices were going to do, I would have bought every stinking bungalow between 1300 South and 2100 South and 500 East and 700 East. I would be rolling in dough if I had.”

After the Gerrard’s divorced, Wylie reconnected with Cali, a friend from USU, where he had graduated in broadcast journalism. Ten years later, the two married and even though Curtis is single and admits knowing nothing about married life, the couple asked him to perform their wedding ceremony. “This is something I would have been ill-prepared to do if it wasn’t for my time on CEU’s debate team honing my public speaking skills,” Curtis said.

After graduating with my associate’s degree, he transferred to the University of Utah where he was awarded a presidential scholarship and finished his bachelor’s degree in communication.

“During my time there, I worked as a reporter for The Chronicle covering the U. administration, the U. Senate and the Utah Legislature.

“While at the U. I met professor Parry Sorensen, who asked if I wanted a job at the Deseret News. Of course I said yes, and he said, ‘Go down to the DN office and tell Lee Warnock that I told you to tell him to hire you.’”

Warnock worked on the sports desk and needed someone to work on the scoreboard (sports statistic page) and even though I didn’t know sports well, he hired me on a part-time basis in 1987.” Curtis continued his classwork and graduated from the U of U in May 1988 when he was hired full time as a copy editor in September and remains in that position over three decades later.

Curtis continues to labor quietly behind the scenes in his position, laying the foundation for quality journalism. That is why his years of excellent work, absent the thanks and prominence that those in front of the curtain can enjoy, he was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Utah Headliners Chapter of the SPJ.

He is well known and respected for his vigilance over style and grammar, and his willingness to raise questions of fairness and accuracy. He has also served in a mentoring in the organization including his faithful publishing of “Todd’s Two-Tip Tuesday,” a staff-wide email spotlighting two refresher points of AP style to improve copy in the newsroom.

Outside of work, Curtis and the Gerrards continued their social and travel lifes. They introduced Curtis to John Bowen, Joseph Crespo and Collin Van Kleek, all his age with good jobs and a yen for travel. “The three of us have traveled to Paris more times than I can count, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the south of France, London, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines (also more times than I can count), Japan, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia.” He says he still has more countries to check off his bucket list.

“If it hadn’t attended CEU, I never would have got to where I am today, nor would I have met so many people dear to me who encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and explore the world,” he said.

With age comes wisdom and if Curtis were to write a note to his younger self, he would write, “The hard work, late-night shifts and weekends worked will all pay off. And, don’t worry, everything works out of the best.”

His best journalism advice to students revolves around mistakes.  “We journalists aren’t shy about pointing out each other’s mistakes, and heaven knows, I’ve made plenty. Making a boo-boo always makes you remember not to do it again.”