Letters Home: Francie Williamson

Francie Williamson is content editor at The Gazette in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She graduated from the Missouri
School of Journalism in 2000 with a degree in print
and digital news (formerly the news editorial sequence)
The following letter was submitted Feb. 28, 2012

Be a sponge. And don’t leave early.

That’s what I would tell my younger undergraduate self if I could go back in time to December 2000. That’s when I graduated from Mizzou a semester early in order to beat the recession that I had a feeling was coming.

I was right about the recession, but I would have been fine staying another semester. Newspapers didn’t really start on their current precipitous decline until the middle of the decade.

I’ve been back to campus twice since graduating. I’m in awe and quite envious of all the things that have popped up not only in the journalism school, but at Mizzou as a whole in the last 12 years. In that time I’ve worked at five newspapers in South Carolina, Maine, Georgia and Iowa. I’m lucky to still be employed at one now.

What strikes me most, both at Mizzou and at my current job at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is how flexible you need to be. You need to know SO much more to stay in the game. I used to consider myself “print.” I turned up my noses at “broadcast” and “advertising.” Now, I see them as allies. I want to know what they know. And don’t get me started on digital. I feel like everything I learned at Mizzou is completely outdated and I’ve been behind the curve for years.

My job is a lot like the Missourian and KOMU. A local company owns both my newspaper and the ABC affiliate. But there are differences. In Cedar Rapids, we share a newsroom. We share content. And there’s always food.

I find myself now not an editor, per say, but a “curator” of content. What I put in the newspaper or online may not have been written by a trained “print” reporter. I rewrite broadcast scripts. I take news releases and rewrite them into briefs or even stories. Sometimes a community member will send something in and I have to coax it into usable copy. I edit photos from professionals and amateurs.

It’s a different world, and it’s changing every day. So my advice is this:

Be a sponge.

Sign up for things, even things outside your comfort zone. Volunteer to cover any and all assignments because sooner or later you probably will have to deal with something similar in the real world. Take classes outside your chosen major. Learn a foreign language, and travel, because increasingly you will deal with cultures that you never thought you’d deal with (for example, in Eastern Iowa, we have a small but growing community from Burma. Who knew?)

And don’t leave early, even if you’re tempted. You will never again have the opportunity to be on such a vibrant and interesting campus. If you don’t want to be on campus, study abroad. Don’t be in a hurry to join the rat race.

And keep learning after you leave. I earned a masters degree in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University in 2010. I did the whole program online. I'm not working in the field per say, but a lot of the skills I learned have been helpful working at a newspaper. Plus I have something to fall back on if newspapers do, indeed, fall off the edge of the Earth.

That's my advice, from out here in the extended Mizzou Mafia. Be a sponge. Don't leave early. Keep learning.

Oh...and always keep your hatred for Kansas burning.

Francie Williamson
BJ ‘00 Print and Digital News
Content editor at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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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