Love of journalism brings together special couple


Rob and Kristie Rathbun spoke at the 2013 Journalism Education Association/ National Scholastic Press Association Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco on April 25. They both feel like parents to Kristi’s students at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo. and greatly invest in their lives and future. Photo by Nikki Dabney.

By Nikki Dabney

Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO – Rob and Kristi Rathbun are the dynamic duo of journalism. When students and advisors attend their session “Take it from the top: headlines and ledes” or “Borrowing from the best to be the best” at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco, they are entertained and inspired by this unique team.

Although they joke that they are siblings, the Rathbuns are husband and wife and have been speaking at the biannual convention for eight years now.

The couple first met at a mutual friend’s party. Their eyes locked. Rob, who at the time was a mechanical engineer, heard that Kristi worked for yearbook publisher and class ring distributor Jostens and emailed her to see if she could get some champion rings sized.

Oh, and ask her on a date.

“We both knew on our first date that we were going to get married,” Rob said. “It took some pursuing on my part, but we both knew.”

It took some drastic circumstances to get Rob and Kristie to their current careers and where they feel they are supposed to be.

In 1998, when Rob was attending college at the University of Wyoming, there was a big game against their rival school and he and his friends had been drinking all night. On the ride home, he was aware enough to know that he had been drinking more than one of his friends had, so he asked her to drive. He put on his seatbelt, leaned his seat back, and on they went.

The driver fell asleep at the wheel. They were on a highway that was split by a gulley when she woke up, overcorrected and caused the car to roll over two and a half times. Because Rob was leaned back in his seat, the seatbelt was just at the right angle to split his spleen. He also ruptured his large intestine, broke his left femur, dislocated both his knees, and collapsed one of his lungs.

He woke up five days later and didn’t know where he was. It took him nine months to learn how to walk again. He hasn’t had a drink since.

“As a 25-year-old, that changes your life,” Rob said. “You realize what’s important. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk.”

Rob met Kristie three years later. He is now a rep for Balfour Yearbooks and she is an English and journalism teacher at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

“After working for Jostens for 10 years, I really had to woo her as a customer to make Balfour her rep,” Rob said. “It turned out to be a perfect fit and we are able to see each other in a new light.”

Rob and Kristie’s relationship is really beneficial to the yearbook staff at Rock Canyon High School and they are able to form a tight-knit group.

“Since Rob is our rep we always know what is going on behind the scenes,” Rock Canyon High School yearbook editor-in-chief Lauren Payne said. “Around deadlines, he is there once or twice a week and he’s really good at [Adobe] InDesign and Photoshop, so we always go to him with questions. Their relationship adds to the vibe of the classroom. They are like our parents.”

Rob feels fraternal toward Kristi’s students as well.

“I love working with her kids,” Rob said. “They’re my oldest customers. I’ve seen them grow up.”

Rob and Kristie are not all talk when they present during these sessions. They make what they teach a part of their daily lives at home and implement it in the classroom. This year the Rathbuns spoke about the importance of using intriguing and effective headlines and ledes and how to use professional publications and adapt them to be relative in a high school setting.

“Mrs. Rathbun is all about hooking the reader,” Rock Canyon High School newspaper editor-in-chief Sydney Chavat said. “Even in her AP Literature class she stresses that the first word or sentence guarantees your reader. Before we do anything she tells us to find a professional model from another source.”

Ironically, Kristi’s first JEA/NSPA convention as an adviser was in San Francisco in 1996. She is now the JEA State Director for Colorado and has come full circle and been able to see herself and her staff grow over the years.

“The first year I worked at a urban and diverse school.” Kristi said. “Many of my students had never ridden on a plane or ordered room service and now they are professionals. I love to think about what potential my students have in journalism after they come here.”

The journalism duo’s teaching style, skills and hard work seem to pay off. This year Rock Canyon High School won a “Best of Show in” both yearbook and newspaper in San Francisco.

“[Kristi] is always encouraging, but pushes us to be better,” Chavat said. “She says the moment she stops pushing us we should be worried because that means she has stopped caring.”

Rob and Kristie firmly believe in the life lessons journalism can teach. They feel the skills of communication, branding and thinking creatively set the students apart and make them happy and successful.

“I tell my kids to always look up,” Kristie said. “Figuratively, by being positive, and literally.  For example, the West Gate Mall [in San Francisco] has a beautiful domed ceiling that most people don’t even notice. They should appreciate everything they see because it is someone else’s project. I tell them to not just be a journalist in the classroom, but to look at the whole world with journalist eyes.”

Four members of The Sidekick staff and adviser Chase Wofford and KCBY adviser Irma Kennedy traveled to the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco on April 25-28.