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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Shawna Thomas

Class of 2006, Master's


What are the top three skills journalism students should learn in college?:

1.  Writing of all kinds.  Don’t forget that the Internet exists and every news program is going to have you writing stories, emails to listservs, copy for the website and blogs.  I recently got an email that everyone at all levels ( P.A. to Executive Producer) of the Today Show are going to be expected to blog about the show at any given time.
2.  Knowing different ways to research and find stories.  Pitching is a way to get noticed.  The Senior Producers know you exist when you’re sending them emails with well-thought out and well-written pitches.  I don’t even work for Nightly News but I’ve pitched multiple stories and while none of them have been done, I always get an email back saying they are impressed with how well-written the pitch was. 
3.  Not just sucking up, but knowing who to suck up to. 

What were your duties at ATVN? :

Executive Producer, Producer, Director, Technical Director, Reporter, Graduate Assistant

How did ATVN prepare you for your career?:

My knowledge of iNews and Avid has helped a lot.  Many people who have been entrenched in the system don’t really know how iNews works because no one ever sat them down and taught them.  Though I’m not allowed to edit here (because of union rules) the fact that I understand Avid and I can sit down with an editor and tell them exactly what I want makes them respect me more. 

Also interviewing skills that I honed at ATVN (and Impact) have been invaluable.  Even though I’m not a producer (yet), I’ve gotten sent out to other parts of the country to do interviews and knowing how to make someone comfortable and get the needed bites under a deadline has come in handy. (By the way, when you have a professional cameraman, making the interview look good is WAY easier.)

What is your advice to aspiring journalists?:

Don’t get discouraged, especially in the network world.  Everyone starts off with a job where you’re not doing what you feel you are capable of.  The key to it is to try to impress everyone with your enthusiasm and/or thoroughness.  While you are impressing everyone with your enthusiasm and/or thoroughness, make sure you get to know all those people’s names.  When a position opens up, you want people to think about you for it. 

Also have a plan.  I went into the News Associates program at NBC with a couple of clear goals.  One of them being, “do a rotation in DC.” From the first week everyone knew I liked politics and I wanted to be in DC and now I’m working for Meet the Press.  Now that I’m here I’m letting everyone know that I want to help cover the 2008 campaign.  I’m meeting people and I’m making quite the nuisance of myself.  In a good way I hope. 

What should graduates keep in mind when negotiating their first job?:

Read the contract carefully and make sure it’s situation you can deal with for the time frame they’re asking for. 

Any other comments?:

ATVN throws you into journalism.  A couple of weeks of training and then get out with a camera and a mic and get the interview.  Not being scared of just jumping into a situation was probably the best preparation for the multitude of tasks I’ve already been asked to do. 

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