Lappalainen knew already as a little girl that she wanted to become a professional writer. At the University of Jyväskylä she majored in journalism, aiming at becoming a reporter of cultural issues, but she ended up on the editorial staff of the financial newspaper Talouselämä. She is specialised in agriculture and the food industry, technology and growing enterprises. Lappalainen is also a successful author of non-fiction, and the youngest winner ever of the Tieto-Finlandia Award.
Originally from Siilinjärvi, Elina Lappalainen founded a school newspaper in her early teens and worked as an assistant in the newspaper Savon Sanomat. Unlike other young people, she had no problems with career choice: “I was an easy case for study counsellors,” Lappalainen says. “It was clear to me that after the upper secondary school I would apply for journalism studies at the University of Jyväskylä.”
Her mother is also a JYU graduate. Reading for the entrance examination remained fairly modest, but the two-stage model of the tests was favourable to Lappalainen. The second stage included a group discussion and a creative writing assignment:
“This kind of an aptitude test has been beneficial for the study subject, since mere memorising of exam books or achieving high grades on the matriculation examination are not a guaranteed sign of the qualities needed in journalism.”
Lappalainen began her journalism studies in Jyväskylä in 2003. The importance of minor subjects was soon highlighted. She noticed that, for the development of her academic thinking, extensive minor subject studies in political science, women’s studies and creative writing were at some points more significant than her courses in journalism: “The university’s task is to develop skills for analytical thinking and prepare students for a journalist’s social role and also for dealing with large sets of material,” Lappalainen says. “Beside formal education, the University of Jyväskylä offered more informal instruction in the form of Lööppi, the journalism school’s student association.”
“What I learned about journalism from my fellow students at Lööppi parties, bar discussions and on the ancient chat forum, is the equivalent of a few courses at least. Lööppi helped me grow into a journalist with a strong professional identity. I also found my closest friends from among my fellow students. Even when we were scattered across Finland for summer positions, we kept in touch and supported one another by virtual means.”
While she was pursuing her studies, it was also easy to find paid work in her field. She worked for the newspapers Savon Sanomat and Keskisuomalainen, and built a foundation for future employment. Her goal was to become a cultural affairs reporter, but her summer job contributing to the business section of Keskisuomalainen made her realise the societal impact and significance of the news items on the financial pages. She moved to Helsinki in 2008 and is now working on the staff of the financial newspaper Talouselämä. Lappalainen admits to being a social media addict, which is useful in a journalist’s work: “I live in the middle of a news stream. You have to be where your readers are.”
Lappalainen incorporates all the qualities of a good journalist: precision, an analytic mind and the ability to explain complex things in a clear and interesting manner. She is motivated by a desire for societal influence: “Journalism is a central pillar of an open and functioning democracy,” she says.
Lappalainen has authored several non-fiction books for adults as well as for children. Her first book, Syötäväksi kasvatetut, won the Kanava Non-Fiction Award as well as the Tieto-Finlandia Award. Her latest book deals with Minna Canth and other influential Finnish women. This nonfiction book for children encourages everybody to search for and find their own superpowers. Lappalainen works at her own career just the way she teaches:
“Approach new things with the attitude with that you can at least seek a Finnish championship in the issue at hand.”
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