College Media Geeks: Brandi Broxson, editor & University of Central Florida j-school grad
“I started college in 2007 when the recession began to unfold and a lot of newspapers began going through layoffs,” she explained. “I was warned that it was a tough road to start down and that by the time I graduated the future of print would be unclear. I was definitely nervous, but those doubtful conversations pushed me to work harder during my time in college. I took on extra — unpaid — internships and writing opportunities because I knew when I graduated there would be few available jobs and it would be a résumé showdown.”
As it stands, Broxson’s résumé is sparkling. Along with a bachelor’s degree, she acquired a slew of professional experiences while still in school — including internships at N Magazine, Naples Illustrated and Orlando Magazine and stints as news editor and variety editor of the top-notch student newspaper the Central Florida Future.
Now 25, the native of Naples, Fla., is editor of The Journal, the monthly philanthropic magazine published by Naples Daily News. She is also an assistant editor of NDN’s weekly community sister publications the Collier Citizen, The Banner and the Marco Eagle. In addition, she assists the outlet’s digital team and community team on the social media front and continues to regularly write, report and capture video.
In the exclusive Q&A below — part of CMM’s esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Broxson shares a few UCF memories and some valuable advice for aspiring and active j-students worldwide.
How did you work to make the most of your time and opportunities as a journalism student?
It’s what happened before I was a journalism student at UCF that really made the difference. I contacted a local magazine the summer before my senior year of high school in search of an internship and the editor-in-chief brought me on for the summer. The experience solidified my interest in journalism and was a great addition to my résumé when I applied for j-school in my sophomore year of college. I took two more magazine internships during my freshman year of college. Even though both were unpaid and not for credit, I learned a ton and used the experiences to my advantage when applying to the limited-access journalism program. I also worked in various editor roles at UCF’s college paper, Central Florida Future, which taught me skills I could have never learned in the classroom.
These out-of-the-classroom experiences strengthened my skills and allowed me to be a better journalism student and a better hire down the road. You have to put yourself out there and seek out hands-on opportunities to supplement your time in the classroom. Don’t expect your classroom experience to suffice and don’t wait until your senior year of college to get involved.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a j-student in a city like Orlando and at a school like UCF?
Orlando is a primo place to get your feet wet in the industry. There’s an extensive amount of local publications ranging from quick-paced dailies to monthly lifestyle magazines and many are niche-focused — which means you can get involved with a publication you really feel passionate about. Another advantage of working in a big Florida city like Orlando is that there’s a steady flow of interesting and bizarre story ideas to pitch. Clips are ripe for the picking around here!
The state is brimming with characters itching to tell their story, which makes it a prime location for a journalist who’s passionate about feature-writing. The limited-access nature of the journalism program also served as an advantage. Possible students had to get top marks in English I and II and submit an application and a résumé to apply. This vetting process kept the program strong. When it comes to disadvantages, UCF is one of the largest schools in the country, so if you’re looking for a small-town college experience this probably isn’t the spot for you.
“You have to put yourself out there and seek out hands-on opportunities to supplement your time in the classroom. Don’t expect your classroom experience to suffice and don’t wait until your senior year of college to get involved.”
What are a few secrets to succeeding as a j-student?
Do not brush social media under the rug! Social media accounts are a live-stream of what you are accomplishing as a journalism student — and potential employers are watching. Make a personal portfolio website early and keep it updated with what you are working on and how you are growing as a student. Once-a-week posts are great and when you graduate you will not only have a great workbook of tips and tricks, but also an extensive portfolio site for employers to check out. Another important reason to be on social media is to network with fellow classmates, instructors and internship coordinators. A familiar name or social media handle in a pile of internship or job applications will take you far. Social media is also vital for researching sources and news-gathering during breaking news. Don’t discount it.
Don’t isolate yourself in journalism school because you see your classmates as competition and nothing else. We all have so much to learn from each other and I’ve seen fellow graduates get a job simply because they had developed a professional relationship with a former classmate who then put in a good word for them. I actually got my first job out of college after connecting with a former classmate who knew of an opening in Naples (shout out to Woody Wommack). Use the competitiveness of the industry to your advantage and let it motivate you rather than hinder you.
Use your tools and use them well. Last year, at an SPJ/NAHJ conference, social media guru Sree Sreenivasan urged journalists to use their smartphones as their digital notebooks. This is such solid advice. When you’re out as a new reporter, there’s a lot to think about. Rather than trying to get it all down on paper, take a video of the interview and photos of the surroundings so you can reference them in your writing later. Good reporting is all about getting the details. What better way is there to capture those than with your smartphone?
Lastly, soak up every opportunity possible. Try your hand at all avenues of journalism, including radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. If you want to be successful, you have to be well-rounded and this means taking extra photo, video and editing courses in your off-time. Want a job in the industry? You have to stand out and a solid résumé and having an arsenal of multimedia skills will get you there.
What do you tell people who wonder why anyone would study or pursue a career in journalism nowadays?
I’d tell prospective students to really consider the path they’re taking. If they’re doing it because they think it will bring them notoriety, a sky-high salary or power I would urge them to take another route. If you’re unsure, take a newsroom tour at your hometown paper or ask a journalist if you can shadow them for a few days. If those experiences don’t make you feel something in your core and if the pulse of the newsroom doesn’t leave you wanting more then you know what to do.
I’d highly recommend prospective students and their parents read this article I saw on Vox that discusses how a journalism major prepares you to be successful in many different career paths (should you decide after graduation that you want to pursue a new career). I’ve seen so many passionate j-school grads who go on to be successful PR agents, communication directors, professors and even lawyers.
What was your most memorable journalism class assignment during your time at UCF?
I took a multimedia course during my senior year of college that stands out. During the class, I learned how to put together packages with audio, video and photos. Until then, I had dabbled in photography, but I never really knew how to use photos as a medium along with audio and video for storytelling. I worked on one multimedia project in particular about a young girl in Orlando who had a rare disease called Sanfilippo Syndrome. Telling her story through video had this unbelievable emotion and weight. Hearing her laugh and seeing her supportive family around her were experiences that truly came to life on video. I had known how to tell a story with text, but learning how to combine text with photos, video and audio really took my craft to the next level. Those skills made me a much better hire when I graduated and I continue to use those skills in my current role as an editor.
Separately, what is an especially tough journalism ethics challenge you faced as an undergrad?
As an editor at my college newspaper, I often had a front-row seat to difficult decisions. Many of the writers were still getting their bearings and I learned how to be a strong editor and keep an eye out for those learning curves. There were times when stories were submitted moments before deadline and I would find out through some quick searching that sources were close friends with the writer or that information or quotes hadn’t been cited correctly. In those instances I maintained that it was more important to be a bit late on deadline or to hold a story rather than release sub-par or unethical reporting.
As a young journalist your reputation and your byline are fragile and you must demonstrate an ability to make tough calls in order to maintain accuracy and credibility. Embrace and welcome these uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing little lessons while you’re in j-school. You’ll be ahead of the game when you get your first job.