‘All-Star’ alumni tell students how to make it in journalism

By Saárah Murphy

(Collegian File Photo)

Seven University of Massachusetts alumni—with resumes that included a national columnist for Yahoo and an editor of WBUR’s opinion page—shared communication-based career advice to UMass students and faculty.

One piece of advice the alumni gave at the Old Chapel Thursday night related to what courses students should enroll in to help them in their careers.

Enroll “in anything that creates diversity,” suggested Frannie Carr Toth, editor of WBUR’s opinion page “Cognoscenti.” Toth also recommended—as well as Dan Wetzel, national columnist for Yahoo and Yahoo Sports—to take finance and business courses.

Both Aviva Luttrell, news reporter for the Greenfield Recorder, and Daniel Rodriguez, production associate at NBC News Digital, encouraged students to enroll in data journalism courses. Rodriguez said data journalism skills will make you “stand out and put you at the top of recruiters list.”

Kori Chambers, anchor at PIX11, a television station in New York City, urged students to specifically take “journalism ethics” and “journalism and law” courses. A journalism ethics course will help students “understand right versus wrong,” Chambers said.

Chambers also noted that understanding journalism and law will help students discover potential journalistic repercussions and help them develop “a sense [of] what the law means and how to be a decent human.”

A common theme of the panel’s discussion was how the experiences the alumni had at UMass helped shape their careers today.

Wetzel himself was an editor at The Massachusetts Daily Collegian and “learned how to manage people,” while working there. He advised students to “take chances,” adding that “the more things [they] can do hands-on is key.”

“Doing more than just being an intern” makes a difference, Chambers said. He mentioned he primarily got experiences in the field of journalism through internships. “I not only watched…I would take raw tapes and put my own stories together.”

Chambers would then ask his superiors, “How can I make it better?”

“Interning is crucial, make yourself invaluable, and be willing to sacrifice,” Rodriguez added.

Luttrell’s advice: “Follow your own curiosity” and “learn how to write on deadline.” She also noted that writing for a student publication is one of the best ways to gain experience.

Another common piece of advice from the panel was that social media plays a key role in news  consumption today. For instance, many of the alumni use Facebook to share their stories and to drive traffic to their platforms. They also use Twitter for news gathering purposes.

“Social media is the new reality. We have to think within this concept,” Toth said. She said she thinks about questions such as, “What’s going to bring people in? What’s going to prompt people to share it?”

Rodriguez continued Toth’s emphasis of the importance of social media, saying, “Ninety percent of the news I consume is through social media.”

“Social media is a good way to take a pulse on the community” and helps “find stories in your area,” Luttrell added.

“I love social media,” chimed in Maria Sacchetti, immigration reporter for the Washington Post. “I went live on Facebook at the airport during the Muslim travel ban.” She urges students to “cut out the middleman” and learn how to take their own photos and videos.

To contrast the speakers’ praises of social media, Chambers and Stacey Shackford, senior consultant for Bioscribe PR and Communications, both considered the negatives social media poses.

Chambers said he is still trying to figure out how best to use social media in the television industry, while Shackford warned journalists to not let social media “become too much” and to not forget about the basics.

The alumni also advised students to slow down in a fast-paced world. When it comes to covering a serious event, “you need to use your ethic judgment…and know what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Rodriguez advised.

Luttrell talked about how she faced an ethical dilemma on whether or not to accept Facebook friend requests from the people she covers. She discovered being their Facebook friends helped her find stories. But she continues to remain objective on Facebook and warns students “to know when to draw the line.”

Although social media plays a key role in news today, the foundation of good journalism has not changed, according to Sacchetti.

“Investigate, ask questions…Pursue the facts and the truth of the story,” Sacchetti said.

Wetzel added, “No matter how much technology changes…at the end of the day, the basic standards of journalism are going to stand out.”

Saárah Murphy can be reached at [email protected]