By Michael Koretzky
Besides journalism, name a profession that respects college graduates who piss off their colleges.
I can’t think of one. But I know two recent grads who got jobs because administrators got mad at them.
Chelsea Boozer is a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and she was hired partly because she was a pain in the ass at the University of Memphis.
Just last semester, Boozer won the College Press Freedom Award for battling her Student Government and administration. After she wrote an award-winning investigation into SG’s questionable spending, she was publicly berated by SG leaders, whose insults earned a standing ovation from the audience – which included a college administrator.
But that didn’t bother Boozer as much as campus cops accusing her of criminal misconduct after she demanded public records of a campus rape. Cops actually filed two reports against her. But Boozer didn’t back down. Instead, she got the backing of journalism organizations like the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists.
“I wasn’t intimidated by those administrators,” Boozer says. “The more questionable comments they made, the more fueled up I was to expose their (in my opinion) corrupt actions.”
When intimidation didn’t work, “Several administrators attempted to hint to me that I was hurting my job prospects.” Of course, it was just the opposite.
“I can’t tell you how many journalists encouraged me – and told me that every newspaper would want to hire me after they heard my story.” And that was true.
“The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — being the statewide newspaper in my home state and No. 30-something in the nation’s Top 100 newspapers based on circulation — was my first choice of a job and the only place I applied to.”
She didn’t need a second choice. When she graduated last semester, the paper’s projects editor Sonny Albarado (coincidentally the national SPJ president) immediately hired her – even though “we rarely hire fresh college graduates.” While she certainly had the clips, Albarado says Boozer had something else…
I admired her tenacity in taking on college administrators and petty student government politicos because it showed me someone who wouldn’t be easily cowed by bureaucrats and petty local government honchos. Unlike a lot of recent graduates, she wasn’t intimidated by editors and senior reporters in the interview process. She wasn’t disrespectful or self-centered. She was self-assured, comfortable under questioning, and seemingly wise beyond her years.
Meet the other pain in the ass.
Karla Bowsher started last week as government reporter at the Chronicle-Tribune in tiny Grant County, Indiana. It’s the job she wanted, even though she had plenty of opportunities for more money in bustling South Florida – which is where I met her four years ago.
Bowsher was a Spanish studies major who rose to editor-in-chief of the Florida Atlantic University student newspaper. She was EIC when I was fired after 12 years as the paper’s adviser. Since we both believed I was canned for encouraging journalism that made FAU look bad – see the Sun Sentinel’s half-page story, complete with WAR ENDS-sized headline – we came up with the clever idea of me not leaving. I’d stick around and volunteer as adviser.
Administrators vaguely threatened Bowsher with student conduct charges if she persisted. They even banned her from meeting me in a bar off campus. Like Boozer, Bowsher enlisted the aid of an alphabet soup of journalism organizations. And because this is the United States and not Cuba, she won. She even won first place in SPJ’s Mark of Excellence contest for covering her own debacle. And she won work.
Since she was still in school after her term as EIC expired, Bowsher landed lots of freelance. Some came from the Broward Bulldog, one of those groovy new investigative journalism nonprofits. (Motto: “News you can sink your teeth into.”)
“I didn’t pursue the Broward Bulldog,” she says. “They came to me.”
She also landed an internship at the Sun Sentinel. “My Bulldog Broward references and clips were what secured my summer internship at a Top 50 newspaper – and my first post-graduation job.”
I was one of Bowsher’s references for the job she wanted. When I regaled the editor with her tale, the guy was impressed as hell. Bowsher was hired days later.
Here are the ABCs from Boozer and Bowsher.
1. Never fear. If you always fight, you’ll always win. “I knew for a fact that admin’s threats were bluffs,” Bowsher says. “And even if they tried to act on them, they’d invite a lawsuit or national bad press. Either way, I’d play the leading role of First Amendment underdog. And everyone loves an underdog – especially one fighting bullshit bureaucracy in the name of a constitutional right.”
2. Never doubt. “You have the power of the press on your side, and the power of truth,” Boozer says. “As long as you know that you’re handling those powers responsibly and you’re telling the truth ethically, what do you have to be scared of?”
3. Never shut up. When you’re getting screwed, Boozer urges, “Don’t be quiet about it.” Both Bowsher and Boozer launched their own websites. Boozer’s team had FreeTheHelmsman.com while Bowsher blogged at Owl Management. Local and even national media mentioned those sites.
4. Never go it alone. “Without Frank LoMonte at the Student Press Law Center, we could not have fought as hard as we did,” Boozer says. “He stayed countless hours on the phone and just reassuring us that we were doing what was right.” Bowsher adds that in her case, both SPJ and SPLC sent letters to FAU’s president – which helped defuse the crisis. (The president told her administrators to get this story out of the headlines so she could return to raising money.)
5. Never stop. “Remember what you stand for,” Boozer says. “Hold your administrators accountable. Give your readers important, valuable and interesting information that they wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for you. You can make a difference, and not many people can say that about their jobs.”
Here’s why you should hire these two.
Now we come to this year’s no-fear pair of college journalists. They graduated this month, and they’re looking for work.
Karl Etters has been all over this blog. Type his name into the search box at the top of the page to see what I mean. But here’s the bullet…
Etters was the duly elected editor of the Famuan, the student newspaper at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. But the j-school dean forced Etters to run for his job again. She insisted it had nothing to do with Etters’ investigative stories that embarrassed the university.
Meanwhile, the dean fired the adviser and hired a new one with no journalism experience – but lots of PR experience. In fact, the new adviser had written a glowing story about the dean for a school-related website.
The new adviser replaced Etters with a student who had almost no journalism experience. So he and a few of his pals started their own news site, InkandFangs. But Etters told me some of those students dropped out because the dean and other administrators warned them, “It’ll cost you.”
In the end, it cost Etters nothing. He was already freelancing for his local paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, and while he was getting insulted by the j-school dean, the paper sent him on assignment to the Everglades with a U.S. Senator, for a story that ran in USA Today. Now he’s looking for a full-time reporting job.
So is Emily Beatty.
As editor of the Racquette, the student newspaper at SUNY Potsdam in northern New York near the Canadian border, Beatty spent most of the spring semester fighting her Student Government. But unlike Etters, she wasn’t removed from office.
She just stopped getting paid.
The SUNY Potsdam SG insisted that, if Beatty and her staff wanted to keep earning a pittance, they had to rotate jobs every issue – out of “fairness” to all the staffers. So one week, you’d be the copydesk chief. The next, the sports editor.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. I’ve spoken with Beatty several times over the past few months, and I still don’t quite understand it myself.
“I guess the main issue is they think that we are playing favorites and people are getting money that they don’t deserve,” Beatty told the Student Press Law Center, which gallantly tried explaining the complicated stupidity. “I asked them what the purpose of that rule was and they said fairness…but they themselves are exempt.”
That’s right, this rule doesn’t apply to the people who wrote it.
Alas, the Recquette stopped publishing before the end of the semester, and who knows if it’ll return in the fall. Beatty says many on her staff needed the little bit they earned so they could pay their bills.
I hope the staff Beatty leaves behind will continue to fight, and I hope the staff Etters leaves behind will do the same. Because if they fight, they’ll win.
Facing a righteous fight? Who do you call?
Email me, and I’ll put you on the proper path. You’ll get more help than you’ll know what to do with.
Seriously. I offered Etters free copyediting for his rebellious website – by recruiting college journalists from around the country to pitch in an hour a week. I offered Beatty free printing should she desire to publish an unofficial issue of the Racquette. But both graduated before those plans could happen.
If you’re facing a righteous fight next semester, you have weapons. I know it might look like you’re outgunned. But you’re not. Listen to sixth century Chinese writer Lao Tzu…
There is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong, nothing can surpass it.
…be like water. And make your censors sweat.