Letters Home: Erica Zucco

Erica Zucco is a researcher for the weekend "Today" show.
She graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in
2010 with a degree in convergence journalism.
The following letter was submitted March 22, 2012

Hey ONA Mizzou! I’m a relatively recent alum -- I’ve only been out of school since May 2010 -- so my hindsight might not be quite 20/20 yet... but I can share what I've learned so far:

You’re gonna miss this. Everyone says this and I used to roll my eyes, but now I get it. During college you have time, energy and freedom and you’re in an environment driven by possibility and excitement. You can learn what you want to learn, work on what you want to work on and spend as little time sleeping and as much time with friends as you want.
So in terms of journalism, use this time to take chances... and in terms of “life,” enjoy Mizzou, and semi-adulthood, as much as you can. If someone asks you to take a road trip, just say yes (no matter where you’re going). If you’re tired on a Friday night, get over it and go out anyway. Go to games even if you don’t think you have the most school spirit (you will once you graduate). The bottom line is just... say yes. Do it all. Because even though the next few years of life will also be packed with amazing memories and experiences, they’ll be of a different nature, and you want to take advantage of everything you can while at Mizzou.

There are places I remember...
Mid-Missouri is a pretty good cross-section of the larger Midwest. If you take the time to explore all of the towns that surround Columbia and make an effort to tell stories about each of them, you’ll learn a lot about different types of people and ways of life and it’s a good idea to start while you have time and relative freedom as a journalist. If you take a job at a national publication it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble and not think about all of your readers/viewers/users... so start expanding your worldview earlier rather than later.

You can’t always get what you want... Accept that your first job might not be your dream job in your dream city. I had a lot of friends who let this drive them crazy. Don’t rush just to take anything you can get, but acknowledge that part of being a responsible adult is that at some point, you need to take what’s available to support yourself and that each position is an opportunity to learn and grow. So do your best, throw it all at the wall, see what sticks -- and let yourself enjoy it, no matter what it is.

...but if you try sometimes you get what you need. I spent my last two years at Mizzou planning and working towards a TV reporting job in the Midwest. I was positive that it was what I wanted and my plan was to do a summer fellowship in NYC where I’d never been before and, when I was done, to go get that job. Though my fellowship was in producing, a route I didn’t plan to take, I still worked as hard and learned as much as I could and I ended up loving the work and the company and the city more than I ever thought I would. So when the stars aligned and I was offered a job during the last week of my fellowship, I took it without thinking. And I couldn’t be more happy that I derailed my full-speed train toward one career path and took a chance on another. I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences I’ve had, lessons I’ve learned and people I’ve met so far.

Everybody’s working for the weekend... Except for us, right? Wrong. We’ve heard time and time again that we’re setting ourselves up for long hours, low pay and little sleep. That the field is competitive. That it’s hard to have a family. That we’re expected to work nights and weekends and holidays and that you’ll rarely be able to leave town. That the work we do is “hard,” emotionally and mentally and in some cases physically. All of this is true. But the truth is that all work is “hard,” and that every person in every job makes sacrifices and compromises and has ups and downs. Appreciate the fact that this field is dynamic and challenging and exciting -- that we experience more special places and faces and moments in a couple of years than some people do in their entire lives. You have a front row seat to history which sounds corny but is true. Anyway, nobody likes a complainer.

Get by with a little help from my friends... and family... and co-workers... and community. In journalism and in life, it’s all about people. “News” is about how circumstances affect people, “stories” are moments of life people choose to share, and “work” is an opportunity to learn and grow thanks to the people mentoring us and working alongside us. So don’t craft a story without thinking about how it affects the people involved. Don’t compete with your co-workers -- build relationships instead. And remember that at the end of the day, your family and friends are most important. Dedicate yourself to them and know that even though you have a responsibility to your career, you also have responsibilities to the people around you and sometimes it means compromise, even when it doesn’t mean extra points for you professionally. Those relationships and experiences outside work are a huge part of who you are as a person and who you will be as a journalist. ...And will give you people to drink with after a long day at work.

Erica Zucco
BJ '10 Convergence
Researcher for weekend "Today" show

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.

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