By Emily Wunderlich
USFSP Mass Communications Student
Recent mass communication graduates of USF St. Petersburg paid a visit to Janet Keeler’s Writing for the Mass Media class recently. Tara McCarty, news design director for the Tampa Bay Times, Chelsea Tatham, reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and tbt*, and Ryan Callihan, retail reporter for the Bradenton Herald, offered their advice on how to make the most of the college journalismexperience. Here are five things to keep in mind so you are ready to enter the industry fresh after graduation (or before, if you’re lucky).
1. Building your portfolio
The clips you write are just as valuable as the classes you take in college. As Tatham put it: “If you want to be a journalist and you’re not on your school’s paper, what are you doing?” Each of the speakers recommended The Crow’s Nest as a launching pad into the field, as they had all worked on the staff during their time in college. Other publications on campus include USFSP Connect, HerCampus and the class Neighborhood News Bureau, which aims to get stories in various publications. Becoming a published writer will improve your standing among competitors when it comes to applying for jobs and internships.
2. Getting your foot in the door
Even with a kick-ass portfolio, internships are not easy to come by. McCarty, who started off by working at the printing plant for the Tampa Bay Times when she was 19, said that the key to moving up in the company was “elbowing (her) way into writing things (she) wanted to write.” Like McCarty, Tatham also started out at the bottom of the Tampa Bay Times, handling the answering phones in the newsroom and doing other administrative duties until the editors entrusted her with a story.
For Callihan, opportunity came through networking. His connection to Rob Hooker, adviser to The Crow’s Nest and former Tampa Bay Times editor, helped land him a job as the breaking news reporter for the Bradenton Herald in September 2017. From there, he moved up to retail reporter, where he is glad to be working a regular schedule again.
3. Outside experience
It can be difficult to keep up with the constantly evolving state of technology. The panel agreed that branching outside of the journalism major was essential to their success. Taking classes in graphic design and web design helped both Tatham and McCarty lay the foundation for their careers. Tatham also suggested taking a class in local government, as it helped her become fluent in the language of politics while working on assignments around the city.
4. Working under pressure
If there is one word to describe journalism, it’s deadlines. Tatham says this is the most thrilling part about working in the field. For McCarty, however, the pressure of breaking news can force her to throw out entire page designs hours before they are due. For this reason, journalists must be accommodating. “The most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done are the ones I signed up for,” McCarty said.
5. The future of print journalism
When asked if print journalism was dying, the panel almost let out a collective sigh. Tatham argued for sprint as a product and explained its significance during natural disasters. When the power went out across Florida following Hurricane Irma in September, the Tampa Bay Times still had plans in place to produce and distribute the daily paper to keep people informed.
Recent tariffs on Canadian newsprint is causing papers to shrink the product and reduce the workforce to make up the revenue. According to Tatham, newspaper reporting is a thankless (but still fun) job; the reporters often do the groundwork and find that broadcast journalists sometimes rework it and make it their own.