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Journalism Graduate Says Experience Beyond the Classroom is Critical

 

By Alex Winfree, (BS ’13)

 

Peter Mason just graduated from Radford University in 2012, yet he has already interviewed Logan Thomas, one of the biggest names in college football.

He didn’t get the opportunity to interview Thomas by being lazy.  He worked hard as an undergraduate to succeed in the classroom, but he also took advantage of student media.  “If you are a graduating senior and you don’t have experience outside the classroom, you’re going to have a really hard time getting anyone interested in you.”

Mason, 22, discovered his love for writing while he was in elementary school.  It was then that he received recognition for a science fiction essay he wrote.

“When I was in fourth grade, I entered a writing contest and won second place.  For a while I wanted to pursue a career as an author or movie writer; however, I eventually realized that being a news writer would be a much easier and much more suitable career path for me, so I chose journalism.”

Upon graduation from Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, Mason decided to attend Radford University. “I chose Radford because of the fact I lived in Roanoke.  I wanted to go away from home, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be too far away. I wanted to be able to go home and see my family whenever I wanted.”

Mason majored in media studies with a concentration in print journalism.  He spoke very highly of his experience in the program.  “Radford has a great journalism program and a great school newspaper. I really enjoyed being a part of it.”

Mason also picked up a minor in art.  He took a lot of photography and graphic design classes. “It’s definitely great to be a good writer, but I figured it would give me an advantage, pursuing a career in media, if I had photography and graphic design skills as well.  That way I could do more for a newspaper than just write.”

While at Radford, Mason was heavily involved in student media. He covered sports for The Tartan throughout most of his time at Radford. “I really wanted to be a sports writer, but there weren’t any specific classes on being a sports journalist, so it was the best way to teach myself how to do good interviews with players and coaches and what to look for at games.”

He also worked with Whim, Radford University’s student-run online magazine.  At first, he worked as editor of the “Ritz” section, which reviews movies and music.  Eventually he was promoted to the “Life” section, the Whim’s main news section.  “I was in charge of writing, editing, and basically putting together the content that went into the articles in that section, and each section needed five articles per week.”

Radford journalism instructor, Leigh Kelley, praised Mason’s creativeness with the sports beat while he was in her reporting class. The semester he took her class, cold weather affected many sports schedules. “Instead of reporting on cancelled events, he came up with the idea of writing about how athletic teams manage practices when fields are covered with snow and ice,” Kelley said.

During his senior year, Mason worked for Radford Athletics.  “That was quite possibly the best experience I had while I was at R.U.  I worked with athletic communications under Patrick Reed, the athletics media director. We did filming and broadcasting of Radford’s home games, we put highlights up on the website, and I got to do on-camera interviews with coaches and players after games.”

He was grateful for the opportunity.  “Athletic communications was one of the most fun and best jobs I could have asked for. I did not want to give it up when I graduated.”

Mason’s involvement with student media helped him prepare for life after graduation. “Radford’s journalism classes will do as much as they can to give you experience, but if you really want to know what it’s like to be a reporter in the real world and have a good portfolio, you have to go out and do things for yourself, and being in student media really helped me do that.”

He worked as a paid intern his senior year with the Southwest Times in Pulaski. Since graduating from Radford, Mason has been involved with several media outlets.  He has worked as a freelance writer for NRV Magazine. He did an editing and customer service job with Montgomery Publishing for about a month and he still remains on staff as a writer.

Montgomery Publishing owns seven small newspapers.  He worked for the office in Christiansburg with the Radford News Journal and the Christiansburg News Messenger.

The highlight of Mason’s time there was his interview with Logan Thomas.  Thomas, Virginia Tech’s starting quarterback, was talked about as a possible first-round NFL draft pick in 2013. He instead chose to return for his senior year at Virginia Tech.

“Tech’s football program is one of the hardest to get near at all, and the fact that I got to stand face-to-face with their lead football star and interview him was a privilege, and an honor.”  He added, “I have so many friends who are Tech fans; two of my best friends from childhood go to Tech and are die- hard football fans. You can only imagine how jealous they were when they found out I got to meet Tech’s quarterback.”

He loves journalism because every day brings a new story. “Journalism is a career where you get to go out and get involved with all kinds of different things, and since I love writing, I knew it was the right career for me.”

Mason would like to write for the sports section of a Boston-based newspaper in the near future. “I’m a huge Boston fan – Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins. I want to move to Boston. It’s a goal I want to reach soon, but right now that kind of move with the money I have is definitely not possible. I’ve applied to jobs there, I have not, however, gotten any responses yet.”

He continually spoke of the importance of experience outside the classroom.  “When you’re looking for a job, they won’t care what your GPA was. They want to know how much experience you’ve had. They want to know how good you are at being able to go out and get the story.”

He has advice for other Radford journalism students: “Do as much as you can before you graduate, so your resume and portfolio will be something that an employer won’t just look at for two seconds and move on to the next.  Make yourself stand out among the rest of the people in your class.”

Bryan Moore, '88

Bryan Moore, '88

Bryan Moore, a 1988 Radford University graduate who majored in media studies with a concentration in production, has lent his radio worthy voice to commercials and business phone recordings. However, his real passion is for radio and television. While some students may struggle to decide where to go to make their dreams a reality, Moore said he knew right away that Radford University was right for him. Moore saw that the communication program was “more advanced and hands-on than most communication departments at other schools.” “RU gave me the chance to get a head start in the radio and television business by offering me opportunities at the campus radio and TV station,” he said. His work in special events has allowed him to meet some exciting people, such as former President George H.W. Bush, as well first lady Michelle Obama. “Radford helped me grow up. As a smaller school, it helped me develop relationships with friends and professors that allowed me to get the experience that has gotten me where I am today,” he said.

Justin Ward, '10

Justin Ward, '10

Justin Ward ('10) always knew he would be a reporter. His interest in journalism grew during his years at Christiansburg High School. While at Radford University he majored in media studies and political science. He didn’t limit his work to just the classroom. He participated in the student-published paper, The Tartan and was an announcer on the school radio station, WVRU 88.9. During his college years, he took on many interning opportunities, giving up student breaks to get experience. While on a trip to Washington, D.C., Ward found a network that would allow him to do job shadowing for a few days instead of interning. Ward now reports for WDBJ Channel 7. His advice to students, “Never give up, that’s one thing I was often told...Set some goals for yourself and look out to accomplish them. It’s always one phone call away or one email away,” Ward says.