by Adrienne Brown
This interview is with Samantha J. Gross, a journalism major expecting to graduate from Boston University in 2018. We recently spoke with her about her experience within her program and what she's planning to do with her professional future.
What has your experience in the journalism program been like at Boston University?
From my first semester at Boston University to my most recent, I have been given countless opportunities to not only get involved in journalism classes, but put my skills to use in outside publications. Most schools I was considering didn't have chances for freshmen to take major-related classes at first, but at BU I was able to get into both Introduction to journalism (mostly freshmen) and the late David Carr's Media Criticism seminar (mostly grad students and seniors). That first impression has lasted throughout my experience, and I constantly find myself taking advantage of programs I didn't even know were available to me. The school also places a heavy focus on helping students gain the skills necessary for internships and jobs, and that element is a common thread that weaves through the whole College of Communication curriculum, not just the upper level courses.
Were there other schools you were considering?
When I was applying for schools, I really only knew two things: I wanted to be in a city far enough from home, and I wanted to be in a program that lends itself to lots of hands-on experience. I'm from a town near Chicago, so Midwest schools were pretty much ruled out. For me, living away from home pushed me outside my comfort zone and allowed for lots of personal growth, which was something I really wanted out of my time in college. The hands-on experience part led me to consider Emerson College and BU. When I toured Emerson, I found that the school had lots of great opportunities for communications students, but not much else in terms of academics. BU actually requires all students to take courses in math, science, language and humanities, and the academic (i.e. nerdy) side of me was really attracted to that. I toured the school, fell in love, and the rest is history! My standardized test scores fell into a range BU expects, and my GPA was high enough that I felt comfortable applying early decision.
What influenced you to pursue a degree in journalism?
In high school, I joined our publications staff as an outlet for my creative side. I've always been a curious person and a strong writer, but as a high schooler, I was dead set on going to medical school. As time went on, I climbed the ranks and ended up as the editor-in-chief of the yearbook. I was very lucky to be part of a program that took students to statewide and national journalism conferences, which helped me really discover the world of professional journalism. At these conferences, we competed in writing competitions, networked with other high school journalists and heard keynote speeches from the best in the business. It was during these events that my mind was opened to the idea of journalism beyond yearbook. I fondly remember talking to one of my advisers about how I would love to do this type of work for the rest of my life. "Well, you can," she said. "It's called journalism school." From there, I kind of just ran with it.
What is your favorite class so far, and why?
My favorite class so far was the Media Criticism class I took as a freshman. After the unfortunate passing of our professor, New York Times columnist David Carr, Ta-Nehisi Coates took his place as our instructor. Coates, along with former New York Times online president Martin Nisenholtz, brought in lots of guest speakers to discuss the media landscape and where we stand in today's changing world of journalism. While my other classes have taught me tons of valuable skills in writing, reporting and editing, this class made me think deeply about the crazy circus of a career I am about to enter. We thought critically about lots of different mediums, read hand-picked pieces Carr had planned on his syllabus and delved into deep discussions about journalism in today's era. That class was more of a media literacy intensive than anything else, and the round table-style discussion made for an experience I never would have expected out of my freshman year.
What is unique about the nature of journalism classes?
As much as I've truly enjoyed the other classes I've taken outside of the department, I found that my journalism professors are often much more willing and excited to speak to students one on one. Without the individual attention and mentorship I've gained from my journalism professors, I would not have known about some of the amazing opportunities I've taken advantage of. The professors in my program are all current reporters or long-time journalism vets, so the wisdom they pass on to students is truly second to none. The majority of the journalism classes are also very hands on, and force students out of the classroom and into the field. It is in these classes that students are writing, reporting and filming television newscasts, writing breaking news stories from the field and covering political campaigns in places like New Hampshire and Maine. BU professors don't hold back on making sure students are as prepared as can be, which takes the journalism curriculum to a level beyond any other general education classes.
What have you found to be the best and most effective ways to network with your peers within this major?
From essentially my first week of college, I became heavily involved with The Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper at BU. I started out as a very eager staff writer, and worked my up through several editor positions until I became the editor-in-chief this past spring. Because I got involved so early, I was able to grow very close to the upperclassmen I was working with, which has helped me so much in my career path. My friends at the paper primed me on the best classes to take, the best internships to apply to and even how to write my first cover letter. My friends from the FreeP (as we lovingly call it) are my family, and have had my back since day one. Those student journalists are the cream of the crop, and have gone on to jobs at the AP, Politico, The Los Angeles Times and beyond. Having a FreeP background has also helped me connect with alum, who have great memories working at the paper. This summer, I even had dinner with the founding editor, who created the paper in 1970! In editing the paper, I was also in a position that allowed for me to network with other college editors in the Boston area, which expanded my connections beyond the BU bubble.
Have you participated in any internships?
Yes! The summer after my freshman year, I interned at the Chicago Sun-Times' lifestyle magazine, which is called Splash. I found out about it though a friend, but the College of Communication Career Services office was very helpful with writing a cover letter, sending my resume, etc. This summer (and through December!) I'm actually taking time off school to work as a city desk reporter at The Boston Globe. I knew about the program through friends at the newspaper who had experience at the Globe, but one my professors was a huge help. He was an investigative reporter and writing coach at the Globe for a many years, and played a big role in coordinating the interviews with the main recruiter there.
Did it give you a helpful picture of what your job will be like upon completing the program?
Yes! Working at the Globe has been the most rewarding and challenging experience. I'm totally addicted to the rush of reporting and writing breaking news, and learning from the editors here has improved my writing and news judgment by a landslide. I work at night when most of the reporters have gone home, so I am able to go out to cover events and take on challenging crime stories without the competition of full-time staffers. Since my job is pretty much identical to that of my colleagues, I'm treated with the utmost respect, which comes with lots of responsibility. That in itself has helped me mature into a true reporter, which makes me confident that wherever I go in my career, I'll be able to hold my own.
What are your future career plans and aspirations?
Right now, I really love reporting and writing breaking news, so I can definitely see myself doing some sort of crime reporting in the future. That being said, my experience shooting video and writing features could lead me down a totally different road! The media landscape is always shifting and morphing, so I just plan on going with the trends and hopefully falling into a position that suits my skills best. As long as I get to practice ethical and balanced journalism (and get paid for it), I'll be happy as can be.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
The most challenging aspect of studying journalism is, in my opinion, the pressure to constantly be gaining experience. When I entered journalism school, my impression was that taking classes and joining a club or two would be enough to have a great a college experience. In my major specifically, I felt like if I wasn't doing something journalism-related I was falling behind my peers. It's a competitive field, but working alongside such motivated and talented people really gave me the push I needed to focus on my writing and experience. I had to give up my book club and community service involvement freshman year, but found a launch pad in my college newspaper that really took me from J-school newbie to professional journalist.
What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
I'm still making mistakes and learning new things each day, but if I had to give advice, it would be this: Stay curious. Stay focused. Never think a story idea is too big or that you're too inexperienced to try something new. Take risks, jump in and give it your all. Learn by doing -- it's really the only way to break into journalism! It's not something you can learn from a book.
Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path?
I wish I knew that I wanted to do it in the first place! Journalism fuels an inherent curiosity I've had since childhood. If I'd been exposed to the power of journalism as a kid, I think my work would come much more naturally.
What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
I've received hundreds of amazing tips from downright inspiring BU professors, guest lecturers and alum, but the best tip of all comes from my late grandfather. He used to tell us, "There's always room for a good one." Sometimes when the career path looks rocky and all I see around me are layoffs, buyouts and cutbacks, I just remember that simple piece of advice. It really makes me push even harder to be a better student journalist.
Finally, with schooling at Boston University, do you feel confident and prepared to begin your career?
Absolutely. Everything about BU's College of Communication has helped me along the way. From cover letter editing sessions to meetings with advisers, COM makes it very easy for students to navigate each major's respective career path. If students take advantage of all COM has to offer, there's really no way to graduated feeling weary or unprepared. The unique, vocational nature of the school and the support of my BU community makes me not just confident, but excited to get started in my career as a professional journalist.