School of Communications
alumni play an active role in the life of current Elon University
students. Former students such as Allison Deiboldt, a research analyst
for ABC Kids in New York, and Samiha Khanna, the Durham police beat
reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, return to campus at regular
intervals to speak in classes. They also offer to serve as long-distance
advisers, answering e-mail queries and hosting student visits.
alums recently met with seven Elon student journalists in a special
session during the Spring National College Media Convention in New
York City. Jo Craven McGinty of Newsday, Suzanne George Duffy of
M Booth & Associates, and Emily Coons and Summur Shaikh of ABC's
"The View" discussed their lives in big-city communications
and offered students career tips during a visit at the Roosevelt
Hotel in Manhattan.
have to start somewhere, and communications is notorious for low
pay for starting jobs," said McGinty. "One of my co-workers
at my first job at the Times-News in Burlington figured out we qualified
for food stamps. But you do work your way up. Know the business
you're entering; study the publications and join the groups associated
with it so you can meet professionals. When you decide what you're
going to do and where you want to go, you need to study the place
and the people there in advance. Know it before going to any job
a member of the reporting team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize
for Public Service. The team's series for The Washington Post exposed
the use of deadly force by the D.C. Police Department, and it brought
about changes in the system that probably saved lives. She is a
former academic adviser to IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors)
and NICAR (National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting),
and she taught computer-assisted reporting at the University of
Missouri School of Journalism. She is also the author of the IRE
Beat Book "Home Mortgage Lending: How to Detect Disparities."
Her husband, Tom McGinty, is a staff writer for Newsday.
for the Times-News, then worked at both Durham newspapers,"
McGinty said. "When I quit to go earn my master's, I found
my niche - computer-assisted reporting. I earned the master's because
I wanted to move up to another level of reporting. It allowed me
to acquire an extra set of skills. My boss used to call me the poster
child of computer-assisted reporting because when I went to grad
school I didn't know how to use computers or e-mail and two years
later I was in a group that won a Pulitzer due to database reporting."
the student journalists to learn how to investigate documents and
databases. "The most basic level of reporting is talking to
people," she said. "The next level involves checking documents,
mining paper records to see if there is truth in what those people
you are interviewing say. The next level up is C-A-R - going through
databases to get information. You have to know how to use a spreadsheet,
how to read a budget. You have to know how to sift through information
to see how the numbers convert to useful facts. It pays to figure
out basic document reporting.
reporters get the paper records to back up the facts the report.
Computer-assisted reporting lets you sift through a million records
really quickly. You don't have to just look at a sampling and make
an estimate; you can look at all of them."
is an account executive for one of New York's major corporate communications
firms, M Booth & Associates. She recently helped open the $1.2 billion
Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa in Atlantic City.
communications, you need to understand media and clients; you put
them together," she said. "I'm working in New York, the
media capital of the world, but I live in New Jersey - I have to
have some grass and trees. You shouldn't think you can just move
to New York and have a great life, because the truth is you'll have
no money and everything is expensive. You'll say to yourself, 'At
least I have $5 for a beer,' and they'll say, 'That'll be $10.'"
being in the big city is an exciting challenge she's enjoying while
she's young. "You start off at the bottom no matter where you
go," she advised the students. "Accept the fact that you
have to establish yourself wherever you are. Build up from there,
and be sure to cultivate the people who can help you move up."
audience coordinator at the popular ABC-TV talk show, "The
View," said she's become accustomed to working around stars
like Barbara Walters, Star Jones and Meredith Viera. "Smaller
places give you more opportunities, but it's fun here," she
said. "I knew I wanted to work in Manhattan before I have a
family and settle down."
a production assistant with "The View," says Elon University
is a quality recruiting ground for the program. Both she and Coons
served high-quality internships with the program, and they were
hired by the show just prior to their graduation days in 2003 and
I have at age 22 is amazing," Shaikh said. "I am working
and striving to learn so I can produce my own show. One day when
I'm a producer I will really appreciate the way people below me
should be treated. There are days I get home at 1 o'clock in the
morning. I don't make enough money to save any, but I'm doing this
only for a while, and it will get better. I'm moving up."
her work can be so demanding that she forgets who she's rubbing
shoulders with each day. "The first time you walk into
Barbara Walters' dressing room, it's like 'Wow!'" she said.
"I'm not going to lie though, the job is so stressful, you
get so the stars are sort of routine because you have so much to
do. I have to admit that when Tom Cruise came on it was awesome,
and then we had a Christmas party where we were dancing with Barbara
Walters. I don't want to sound like my life is negative. It's wonderful
and high-energy, and there are so many perks."
The four women
offered the following tips for Elon students:
often turn into full-time job offers. Find a great internship
at a place at which you would like to work as a professional, then
work like crazy and prove they should hire you when you graduate.
"Get your foot in the door, and you never know where it will
take you," Coons said.
journalism degree can be useful for anyone in any line of work -
trained journalists know how to write well, speak well, ask good
questions and think critically. "In corporate communications,
you have to be able to write and you have to know media, and a journalism
degree is also important to be serious in television news,"
the market in your profession and pick the best company for which
to work. "Pick a place," said McGinty. "You'll
want a place with people who continue to help you grow, because
you'll be surprised how much you learn after you graduate and get
out there. Go to a place that helps develop your skills."
you are still in school, get good at a specialty within your area.
"Expertise in a niche can put you ahead of the rest of the
pack," Duffy said. "Realize a key area of interest and
cultivate it as a minor or an area of study."
you are still in school, take advantage of opportunities to develop
your leadership skills.
"They will be something you count on later as a professional,"
is key in communications, so it's a very good thing to practice.
"If you can't do teamwork, forget about it," said Duffy.
"You'll have to do it as a pro, so when you're in school you
should practice. Don't always group yourself with the people you
like. You'll have to work someday with people you don't like - start
with Elon alumni and School of Communications Advisory Board members
to give yourself an extra edge. "I don't know what
I would have done without the guidance and suggestions offered by
board member Jill Neff Watson," Coons said. "And we alumni
encourage current students to cultivate us as resources in their
preparation to get out and work in the industry."
panel also offered the following one-liners of advice-in-a-nutshell:
"Dive into your chosen line of work head-first; get as much
information and experience as you can while you are in school and
"Always have a positive attitude."
"Network, network, network!"
"Read anything and everything; it will lead you so many good
were in Manhattan, Elon students attended dozens of sessions conducted
by some of the nation's top media professionals. To read more about