College Media Geeks: Emily Bloch, Florida Atlantic University
Not only is Emily Bloch one of the few students who regularly presents sessions on a national stage, she hosts some of the most popular events at state, regional and national conventions. From Zombie Stories to Midnight Snack to the First Amendment Free Food Festival, the events this soon-to-be college graduate coordinates are some of the most innovative and popular programs for student attendees (and often advisers, too).
But that’s just the start of the big resume that comes with this tiny package. Emily has served as the editor in chief of the Florida Atlantic University newspaper, the University Press. Before she had even settled into the role, she battled Fred Hamilton of The Boca Raton Tribune after discovering he’d plagiarized numerous paragraphs from her story on an alleged gang rape. She won that battle.
While still in college she has developed freelancing gigs for herself, tried some strange things and won some even stranger awards. She currently serves as the student affairs committee chair for the SPJ Florida Professional Chapter and is president of her school’s chapter. Somehow with all those responsibilities, she still found some time to answer our questions.
When you discovered Fred Hamilton had plagiarized you, how did you decide to attack the situation? What steps did you take and what support did you have?
My managing editor was the first one to notice the article and its similarities. He sent it my way and I knew right away that it was a cut and paste job. The first thing I did was highlight all of the paragraphs that came from my story — there were multiple. I had amazing support from my staff and our advisers (we have three). From there, we devised a game plan where I’d attempt to make contact first. It didn’t work out. My adviser even tried stepping in. That only made it worse. It was so frustrating to see a working reporter (almost) get away with something I’d get expelled for. Ultimately, what turned things around was when other local news outlets caught wind of the story. When they started giving it attention and asking the publisher for interviews, that’s when he did a complete about face. They ended up praising me for my skill and ethics and suspending the reporter. It was my within my first week as editor, by the way. I don’t think my title had even changed yet under my byline.
How did you get involved in SPJ and why did you think it was important to do that?
I got involved with SPJ because of the outreach the Florida pro chapter did with student media. My school didn’t even have an SPJ chapter until fairly recently. SPJ Florida encouraged students to get involved with wacky programming like the Death Race — an obituary writing contest at a very elaborate fake funeral. I won a ‘students only’ edition where we eulogized a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. The massive urn I received as a trophy still sits on my bedroom dresser — it’s always a fun conversation starter. The events SPJ was endorsing were so fun and also educational, (still haven’t seen obituary writing in my curriculum and I graduate in a week) I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. In hindsight, I’m so glad I did get involved and I think it’s so important — whether you have a student chapter or not — because it’s an instant boat full of people who are either where you want to be in five years or headed there with you. These are people who will help you accomplish things.
You are one of only a few students who present at conventions, why do you think it’s important for you to teach your peers?
I think students need to know that there’s not going to be a red carpet and velvet rope inviting them to do things out of the classroom. They have to want it and take it on. I learned so much outside of lecture halls, through SPJ programming and I really try to convey that when I talk to other students. Every program or event I host at college media conventions is one that a student could take home and do on their campus. And I want to help them make it happen. As far as solo sessions go, you don’t have to have a degree to be working in the field. I really just try and share shortcuts I’ve learned along the way so other students can get that much further without any hiccups.
You run some pretty big programs at national conventions, what challenges do you face as a student programmer?
At first, getting taken seriously was something that I thought would be an issue. As a fairly young female who gets carded everywhere I go, I figured there was going to be some ‘mansplaining’ or even just aegism that was unavoidable. It might have happened subtly the first time around (I may have had to bite my lip a couple of times), but I ignored it. I did what I wanted to do and knew people were watching. Now, I’m able to let my track record speak for itself.
You have written for numerous publications during your time in college. How did you seek those opportunities and what advice would you give to other students for pursuing journalism outside of the campus media?
Working for my college newspaper was the best experience I could have ever asked for. I walked into the newsroom before I even signed up for a class and I frankly just never left. I took on beats as I started out — first vaguely, with features. Then more specifically, with music. I built my University Press clips up and strove to be the campus concert aficionado. From there, the features editor at New Times (the Village Voice’s South Florida sister publication) took a chance on me. I started covering concerts that were too far from campus to make the school paper for New Times. It really just blossomed from there. The most valuable advice I could ever give a student for pursuing journalism outside of campus media is that one doesn’t happen easily without the other. Become an expert at something within and branch out from there.
With your graduation coming up, what’s the one thing you wish you’d done in college that you haven’t?
Honestly, I just wish I tried even weirder stuff than what I put out there. I tried my hand at infographics, covered stories for multiple sections, heck, I even did a listicle on the Eight Things We Learned Watching the RNC Condiment Table with a news editor at another university (we ran it on both newspapers’ websites). But the beauty of student media is there’s no limit. You can try the craziest stuff that your next job very likely won’t go for. I wish I had more time to do the crazy stuff now that I have the guts to do it.
What do you tell people who wonder why anyone would study or pursue a career in journalism nowadays?
If accountants are able to be accountants without having to explain their occupational choices, then so should I. I’m one of those writers who falls into the ‘please keep me away from math’ cliche. But realistically, when the bug bites you, it just does. As a high schooler, I was submitting horrible show reviews to a teenage-geared local music rag. It was awful, but at the time, I felt validated. That feeling never went away and as I took on more, the reward got bigger. Even though I was already set in my career choice, a turning point for me was when I covered an alleged gang rape off campus. My story proved that there were fraternity ties and months later, I got a letter from the victim’s lawyer saying she was pursuing a case. You by no means need a ‘glory moment’ to know you love what you do. But that letter helped me realize that this field truly does give voices to the voiceless. We tell stories that need to be told and that’s more important to me than a salary.
Dan Reimold, the founder of CMM, loved to ask people to write their memoirs in six words. What would yours be?
Try. Weird. Stuff. All. The. Time.
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