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  • Sincerely, Southern

How working at student media prepares students for life after college

By McClain Baxley

From left to right: Blakeley Bartee, Jozsef Papp, Tandra Smith, Matthew Enfinger. Photo courtesy of Tandra Smith.

Tandra Smith wasn’t so much worried about getting a job as she was anxious about where that new job would be located.

Smith, who had just spent four years working with Georgia Southern University’s student newspaper, The George-Anne, and a summer as an intern with the Savannah Morning News, was looking for reporting jobs at newspapers across the southeast. In the meantime while she job searched, she worked at a pasta restaurant back home in metro Atlanta beginning in August 2019.

While Smith was working at the restaurant, solely just to make some side money while she looked for a full-time position, she was in connection with one of her former bosses at The George-Anne, Lauren Gorla, about a position with Gorla’s paper — The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

“By late August, I had been applying to lots of other jobs, but wasn’t really hearing anything back,” Smith said, while noting that she also had a job offer with the Augusta Chronicle for a position covering the military beat. “I chose (Columbus) because I didn’t really want to live in Augusta and Columbus was the only part of Georgia that I had never been to. I applied in August and then by the end of September I had the job.”

Smith’s experience applying for jobs and using her connections with The George-Anne isn’t unique. Many other former student media employees used their time with the student paper when looking for jobs and furthering their career, whether in the journalism industry or not.

Ian Leonard, though having served as Editor-in-Chief of The George-Anne and winning several awards, actually didn’t graduate with a degree in journalism. Working in the industry never really even crossed his mind.

Instead, Leonard got a job with Penguin Publishing, where he is still able to apply some of the skills he used in student media to his work today.

“I think one of the big advantages that I took from student media with me was just that writing ability,” Leonard said. “Like today we’re going through and looking at some really old web pages and seeing how we can update this. My coworkers are sitting there for a while trying to think of something concise to say and I’m able to do that because I was working on headlines and captions for four years.”

Another former editor in student media isn’t in the journalism field, but uses her time at student media to her advantage everyday whether recreationally or professionally.

“I’ve always been that type of person to doodle or just always thinking about different designs,” said Becca Hooper, who served as Design Editor at The George-Anne for two years. “I can look at a billboard on the side of the road and critique its font choice. It’s a blessing and a curse. Everyone has a passion like that where you can’t get enough of it and it makes me happy.” Hooper graduated in May 2020 with a marketing degree and now works as a digital marketing specialist with a real estate agency in Savannah. In this role, Hooper designs graphics, films fun videos and sells her employer’s name using unique strategies that she learned in school, but mostly using skills she learned with student media.

“Student media helped me see the best in people and it allowed me to help others get to where they wanted to be,” Hooper said. “Seeing other people succeed and being that person people could look up to and ask for help was probably my favorite part of working in student media.”

‘I wouldn’t be where I am today’

Jozsef Papp knew immediately that he wanted to write for The George-Anne. He worked at his high school paper, watched the news and read newspapers before stepping foot on Georgia Southern’s campus.

At the first SOAR orientation session, Papp attended a student media breakout session and signed up for the paper. Four years later, Papp was Editor-in-Chief of The George-Anne and had several job offers for post-grad.

In June 2018, a month after graduation, Papp took an offer with the Augusta Chronicle where he still works.

“I’m being challenged at this job and that’s important,” Papp said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without those four years working with The George-Anne, especially that last year as Editor-in-Chief where I understood how journalism works. I learned what it takes to write a story, to do investigations and all of that.” Papp had several opportunities to work on investigations, especially during his year as EIC, highlighted by stories working on a sexual harassment case in the university’s foreign language department and the school’s Title IX department.

Papp wasn’t alone in his uncovering of the foreign language department investigation, being joined by Leonard and Blakeley Bartee, who served as Editor-in-Chief of The George-Anne and the Reflector magazine during her five years in college.

“We got an anonymous tip from a faculty member and we had to go through a lot of different documents,” Bartee said of that investigation. “It was a lot of learning on the go.”

Another former editor-in-chief that is still in the journalism field is Matthew Enfinger, whose first job came several months after graduation. After less than two years at the Aiken Standard, Enfinger is now working as a senior digital content producer at WRDW/WAGT in Augusta.

Like Hooper and Leonard, Enfinger wasn’t a journalism major. He was a writing and linguistics major.

But the opportunity to write and get published was something that really intrigued Enfinger. He signed up for student media his sophomore year, and the “journalism bug” never left.

“After I got the taste for journalism and being inspired by other editors that came before me, I became ambitious working at the student newspaper and I always wanted to challenge myself more by moving up in ranks,” Enfinger said. “The second I got bit by the journalism bug, I knew I wanted to be Editor-in-Chief one day. I knew that was my end goal before I graduated.”

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