In my Introduction to Journalism class at the University of Tampa, each student is required to find and contact a local journalist, spend time with him or her on the job, and create a presentation for the class on the details of the position.
Students get to go behind the scenes with journalists and out on assignment, and they come back to class with stories, talking points, pictures, videos and anecdotes that range from professional sporting events to a radio DJ’s booth to a movie theater full of film critics.
The presentations spur class discussions about interviewing skills, story ideas, journalism law and ethics, and the business of media.
A few students told me this was their favorite project they had ever done for any class, and one student told me my class was his favorite at UT so far because of this project, which he called a “life-changing experience.”
At the end of the semester students wrote a response to their experiences with the project, including their reactions to other students’ presentations. Among the comments:
Student comments on specific Tampa Bay area journalists they learned about
Note: The comments about the journalists are not necessarily by the students who shadowed those journalists.
My journalist, Eric Smithers from South Tampa Magazine, really proved how versatile a journalist of today has to be. Mr. Smithers did almost everything when I shadowed him. Obviously, he didn’t do it all by himself, but the staff at the magazine definitely had to work as a team to make the deadline and keep their publisher happy. Mr. Smithers pitched in where he was needed, whether it was design editing for pages or writing copy or going on-site to interview someone. The main thing I learned was that being a journalist isn’t just about writing copy or searching for a quote, at least for magazine writers; the journalists today have to be versatile in a number of different things.
Eric Smithers has a very progressive and “hip” job. Working for a magazine has been a personal endeavor of mine, and seeing how he gets to create projects and ideas for the magazine (such as his top 10 under 40 and successful people under 40) allows him to use his creativity and visual drives to unfold in the magazine format as a career. It allows for creativity to be nourished and flow on a constant basis, and I really appreciate doing that for a living.
One specific goal that I strive for is to make my work matter, and that tops all other possible facets of the career. Lane DeGregory’s career struck me the most, as I was intrigued and emotionally connected to her story, The Girl In The Window. There are many types of journalists who like to write about and publish things they like, and while that can be superficially attractive, knowing at the end of the day that you made a difference in someone’s life can be eternally rewarding, and would definitely outlast writing about sports or entertainment.
Cynthia Smoot from Fox 13 has to be my favorite journalist of all the presentations, not because she was my journalist but because she embodies a great journalist. Her personal beliefs and views on issues dealing with wildlife and global issues are commendable. She stated to me she wanted to help me as she remembers the days when she was an intern and how hard it was to get anyone to respond to you. … It is also inspiring to hear her talk and to see what she has achieved in her carrier. In shadowing Cynthia I definitely learned that journalism is a career in which you have to be multi-talented, determined and thick-skinned: all things we learned in class. She shared with me that when she started out it was a male-dominated field and still is to this day but she did not let that stop her and kept working to where she is today.
Rod Carter from WFLA-News Channel 8 seems to be such a well-spoken and hard-working journalist. I liked the idea that he stated the importance of teamwork, especially in a career where it would seem as though everyone would go against each other for job opportunities. I also liked Carter’s advice about not staying in your town for job opportunities.
Steve Persall from The Tampa Bay Times seemed like he had the most exciting job. I love movies and would love to be able to be paid for watching movies. It also seems like a very rewarding job, in that you get to advise people on movies, so they will know whether or not it is worth watching.
(Laura Reiley from Tampa Bay Times) This was definitely the most interesting journalist to me! Her job seemed to be so much fun. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to get to eat food? It seems really great to be able to eat some of the best food around at the expense of others. Even though there will be times when you have to eat things that you don’t find tasty but I am sure the good outweighs the bad
The report centered around food critiquing with Laura Reiley was very intriguing. Mariah shared many comedic stories that her journalist had faced as a critic. This job sounded great because one must simply try different restaurants and rate them. The only downside, as Mariah pointed out, would be the hyper-critical attitude critics inadvertently gain.
I was very interested in the food critic, Laura Reiley as well. I would think that being a food critic would be pretty cool, and her presentation confirmed that. It is cool to me that Laura goes out 2-3 times a week. She gets to travel and taste food on the company’s credit card. Free food is really the dream.
Matt Sammon, manager of radio programming, has one of the most intriguing jobs because he is a lifetime Tampa Bay Lightning fan and he gets to be with the team almost every day. His relationship with the players and coaches is unmatched because he has been with the team for a long period time and has earned their trust.
The most interesting of the sports journalists that were shadowed to me was Matt Sammon. I found his attitude and personality highly entertaining.
What intrigues me most is Matt’s job. He does a lot of different things like control the radio, is part of the pre and post game show for the lightning and get information to write about developments from all over the league.
The first presentation that seemed really interesting to me was the presentation on Matthew Sammon, who also came and talked to our class. Cierra explained how she got to talk to some of the players and sit in on press conferences; Matt even sees all the games! This is particularly interesting to me because it is so many sports enthusiast’s dream to meet a player, much less do what Matt does everyday.
Another journalist that caught my attention was Greg Auman, the Tampa Bay Times Buccaneers beat writer. Originally, I was going to shadow a Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer for the Tampa Tribune, but it fell through. So watching Zach and Kyle’s presentation was extremely insightful. The Buccaneers have been a part of my life since coming to Tampa and I have only missed one home game since attending the University of Tampa. Learning more about the Buccaneers’ day-to-day activities was of huge interest to me.
(Jayde Donovan from 101.5) This was the most surprising presentation to me. I always thought that when I was listening to the radio and people called in, it was live. However after this presentation I learned they call in before and whatever is said is edited. It was also funny to me that they do not put makeup on unless they have to meet with other people. I liked this presentation based on the fact that it was about a radio host, which I think is an awesome job to have. They are able to meet a lot of cool people such as rappers, singers and actresses. If I could, I would definitely be a radio host.
There were two radio personalities that really caught my interest: Jayde Donovan and DJ Bootleg Kev. I found both of these presentations highly captivating because I have a love for music. I thought the presentation of a female host’s job was interesting because it showed the more literal side of the business, while the interview with DJ Kev unintentionally became focused on the “fame” aspect of the business.
I have a passion for music, specifically for hip-hop, which makes Trustin’s journalist appealing to me. Also, in high school I had a brief job on the school radio show so I was semi-familiar with the topic. Before Trustin’s presentation, I had heard the name “Dj Bootleg Kev” a few times while listening to the radio. As Trustin explained, Dj Bootleg Kev is a radio host who gets to meet celebrities, so this job sounded almost unbelievable. I was definitely surprised to hear how DJ Bootleg Kev is in contact with famous artists regularly.
Tampa is not a large city compared to more metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C. or New York City, so sometimes it can feel as if we are disconnected to what happens in the rest of the world because it might not seem prevalent to us. Bootleg Kev’s unique job allows him to constantly meet and talk to new people as a career, discuss issues and gain perspectives from the artists themselves, something that might not be as possible in the print or broadcast world (excluding interviews).
Student comments on the overall Shadow a Journalist project
During the shadow a journalist project and the journalism class itself I have learned a lot about the profession. Before both the project and the class I had known very little about what a journalist does on a day to day basis. From the class I learned how involved the profession was, that every day there was something else to search for and look for in preparation for your next article. From the project I got to see firsthand what journalist’s do on a day to day basis including how they do their job and what responsibilities that have.
A lot of what my journalist talked about I could recognize from our class lectures. Some of the terms he used when referring the making of the magazine I knew because I had heard them in class. Quite a bit of what he said related back to some portion of the class, which, honestly, I was really pleased about. It was reassuring to know that what I learned from our class could be applied to everyday journalism situations.
One reason I liked certain presentations was the tidbits of personal stories the journalists related to the students. It is one thing to learn about journalists and think of them as constantly working, but it gives journalists a very human quality to hear about the blunders or awkward situations they are put in.
The main thing I learned about my journalist and his career is that even though he enjoys sports and football, that doesn’t make the job any easier. You always rely on someone else; for example when interviewing player you always hope that they give you a good quote that you could actually use in the article. Also sometimes if you’re hoping for a quote from one player they will decline to speak which means that you would have to change the plans for your article.
I found many things surprising from the presentations, but the one subject that kept arising was how important social media has become. Every journalist uses social media in some way and it has become a major outlet for news. Secondly, I was very surprised to learn how laid-back most of the workplaces are. I always thought news stations were uptight professional workplaces, but I learned that it is a much more laid-back atmosphere with foul language being used casually.
I was surprised how calm and collected many of the journalists are during some of the crazy events that they have to cover, as many of the events can be of high stress, and I don’t know if I could handle that.
After the presentations I was definitely exposed to all the different careers involved in journalism. It was definitely a shocker to me, as I knew those careers existed but never really considered them journalism. It was also surprising but nice to see how many journalists responded to the class; it definitely shows that there are people out there who are supportive of the dreams of others.
Overall, the most surprising part of the collection of “Shadow a Journalist” projects was their vast diversity. I was thoroughly astonished at the variety of types of journalists that we, as students, were able to find and contact. When the project was first assigned, I had assumed that we would be attending meetings with the journalists in their offices and carrying out short interviews. Admittedly, some of the “shadowings” were like that, but the majority consisted of way more exciting experiences than any of us thought. For example, James being able to attend a crime scene! Another aspect of the presentations that surprised me were the number of students who were almost adapted into the journalists’ worlds during their interviews. For example, Cierra, Kyle, and Zach were all able to actually meet players and coaches from the local sports teams that their journalists reported on. Mariah was able to actually get to go to lunch with a food critic who gave her informed tips on how to judge the quality of service and food. Also, I was able to actually attend a theatre premiere and act as a photographer for Tampa elite! Finally, one last thing that surprised me was the general enthusiasm everyone had for their individual journalists. Overall, the majority of the students seemed to have genuinely enjoyed their experiences and had fun; the project became more than just schoolwork.
The “Shadow a Journalist” project was a fun and innovative assignment that I will remember for years to come. I have never had any hands-on projects quite like this one in my previous years as a student. This assignment was specifically important to me because I was able to have an inside look at an NHL team. Prior to this project, I had never been to an NHL practice, been in an NHL locker room, or interacted with team officials (which have all been dreams of mine). … All in all, I found this project to be very fun and it made this class one of my favorites at the University of Tampa. Who knows if/when I will have another chance to watch an NHL practice in a huge arena. Its experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I learned a great deal from my “shadow” experience. I learned many camera techniques that I had never had a chance to see in action before. As well as build upon my current artistic skills with Julie’s advice on color, shadow, and lighting. Besides the creative qualities I was able to gather, I also learned a good deal of interviewing/photographing techniques. I learned how to unobtrusively photograph candid photos of my surroundings. I also learned how to politely gain access to people that normally I would not have been able to interview or photograph. These secondary skills relate back to our Introduction to Journalism class because as a journalist, there are many social skills that need to be developed to be effective in obtaining answers and conferences. Overall, this experience is one I would not trade for the world. It was a definite highlight to my initial college year!