Letters Home: Juana Summers

Juana's Twitter picture
Written Dec. 2, 2011

Dear ONA Mizzou,

If I could entrust you with one piece of advice during your time at what I consider the best journalism school in the country, I would tell you this: fail.

No, not your classes, because  -- let's face it -- your professors won't appreciate that and neither will your parents. But I want you to experiment with what you do, try different forms of storytelling, take a class in something completely foreign, get in front of the camera if you're more comfortable behind it -- all with the knowledge that you might not succeed.  You might trip over your words anchoring cut-ins at KOMU, or turn in a story for convergence reporting that sends Karen Mitchell into a "what were you thinking" tailspin.  But it's all worth it because you'll be learning what works and what doesn't.

When I spoke at the Online News Association conference on a panel about top jobs for early-career journalists, someone asked me whether going to Mizzou was worth it, and what my favorite thing was about going there. Paraphrased, I said this:

I could have gone to any college or university to learn how to write a great news story, but Mizzou was different and special because it offered me this great safety net and incubator where I could literally try anything without the fear of major repercussions, and with the support of great faculty members who have done it all and are truly there to help.

For me, failing came in a lot of forms. The first week of my senior year, I ditched my assigned capstone project and pitched my own. The staff at KBIA let me rip apart their politics page and replace it with my own blog and podcast. It was a project that dovetailed perfectly with my interest in political journalism, but had a lot of flaws. But it's also a project that taught me a handful of lessons that I'm now using every day in my job at POLITICO. I learned how to work better with other people, when my inclination is to go at it alone, and how to look at politics through different lenses and report for a variety of audiences. I learned how to be aggressive in my own way, whether it's in a contentious one-on-one interview or fighting to have my voice heard in a scrum of reporters.

I'm writing you this letter from Columbus, Ohio, where I'm just wrapping up a two-day trip covering Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, whose campaign is ensconced in controversy. In a few short weeks, I'll be relocating to Iowa ahead of the Republican caucuses, then moving on to New Hampshire and the other primary states. I can say with complete honesty that I wouldn't be doing what I do now if it wasn't for everything I learned at Mizzou and all the mistakes I made along the way.

No matter if you're just starting your college journey or you're taking a victory lap, you can still take advantage of this great opportunity you have. Don't be scared to screw things up -- as long as you're learning something in the process.

Take it from someone who knows, you'll come out okay on the other side.

All the best,

Juana Summers
BJ '09 Convergence
National Political Reporter, POLITICO
Online News Association Board of Directors


Check out the rest of the Letters Home series

Editor's note: If you're a Mizzou journalism alum who would like to contribute to the Letters Home series, send us an email at onamizzou@gmail.com with your letter, your name, your sequence and graduation year, your current job and contact information.

No comments:

Post a Comment