Taking I-95 to the #DeathRace

What’s an Orlando student journalist have to do to get some innovation and inspiration in her writing life?

Drive three and a half hours to Fort Lauderdale (thanks for sucking, Mid Florida SPJ. But more on that later).


This weekend I was able to be a part of Death Race, an event held by SPJ’s South Florida Pro Chapter. I first became associated with them through the Will Write For Food 2012 program that I was a part of this past Labor Day weekend (and I urge everyone to sign up for).

Death Race was a kind of hands-on training on writing obituaries. It’s rare the case when a j-school professor goes in depth about writing obituaries, since it’s not such a popular beat for reporters to want to cover.

Miami Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher, talked to us about her career writing obituaries and advised us on how to write them. The prize? An urn with the newspaper ashes.

Oh, and three journalists died.

Well, not really.

But these three South Florida SPJ board members volunteered to die for the day, you know, for authenticity: Gideon Grudo (managing editor at South Florida Gay News), Mariam Aldhahi (an art director with Forum Publishing Group) and Cassie Morien (web editor at Boca Raton Magazine).

And if that wasn’t eerie enough, their family, friends and colleagues were invited to speak about them in a creepy chapel, in front of a coffin, two urns, floral arrangements and pictures of the young journalists.


Here are some of the obit writing tips that I wrote down when Elinor spoke:

1. Be sensitive to the nuance of people grieving. Be patient and compassionate.

2. Know your audience. What may fly with one family, might not fly with the next.

3. Writing obituaries IS journalism–get the right facts (research).

4. Figure out why the person you’re writing about is obit worthy? The 5W’s aren’t enough.

5. Watch out for cliches (“He was so nice. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”).

6. Listen carefully for nuggets of info. The person sharing their story might not think its important, but that could potentially be your lede.

I decided to write my obit on Mariam, but the problem was that her family lives in freakin’ Dubai. Just yesterday (I’m not even kidding) I was telling my friend that I don’t know anyone that has even lived or been in Dubai. I called her uncle in Cali and we spoke for a bit and he gave me enough information about her that I could use.

Long story short: I didn’t win the obituary contest, but I realized that writing them isn’t easy. I was originally going to approach it like a feature story (which I should have done), but I doubted myself and wrote a basic boring skeleton of an obit. Its really hard to approach a story about someone dying and make it into a nice piece that people can reflect on. So much pressure!

I am interested in continuing to practice writing them (weird) so friends: Beware. You’re all my next targets.

On another topic, I quickly want to touch on the SPJ Mid Florida Chapter run by interim  president, Bobbi O’Brien. That’s the chapter that Orlando falls under and unfortunately that includes me.

Whenever I am interested in expanding my career as a journalist or simply just learning something new, I don’t have the luxury of having a good pro chapter. Our student chapter at UCF, run by journo professor Rick Brunson, is great. We get a lot of guest speakers and internship fairs, which I’ve benefitted from. But our pro chapter is ridiculous.

I decided to look up our pro chapter on Facebook and this is what I got.

That is probably the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The 23 member open group (so that means I can see their SPJ chapter plans) lacks creativity and innovation. It doesn’t pull and attract potential journalists.

The last post was on January 9th about the “revival” of the chapter in which O’Brien invited everyone for appetizers and drinks. If I had the option of going to this or driving three hours for free food and actually learning stuff, I’d do the latter (oh wait, that’s exactly what I did this weekend).

One of O’Briens’ posts from November 28, 2012 reads:

“Looking Long range: A workshop on social media bringing journalists up to speed on Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Pinerest, Tumblr, etc […]. Boots camps… on computer assisted reporting [and] social media […]. Create a local public records event to incorporate Tampa Bay media and SPJ college chapter students.”

I could probably give O’Brien a lesson on social media so that we could do something about that terrible group, lack of Facebok fan page, lack of website, lack of Twitter, etc. It’s ironic that these are all her ideas for journalism workshops but our chapter doesn’t implement any of these things.

All these ideas were suggested because on November 19, 2012 she posted:

“URGENT: All Mid-Florida SPJ members past, present and hopefully future!

Michael Koretzky, former president of the South Florida SPJ, current president of the Florida College Press and SPJ Region 3 director, has sent me several emails this morning demanding that I close the Mid-Florida Chapter account and mail him the check.

The Mid-Florida chapter received no prior notices of Mr. Koretzky’s intentions or this demand. The National SPJ membership officer and president have been copied on Mr. Kroetzky’s emails. But I have not heard from them yet.

I ask for input IMMEDIATELY and a meeting to review Mr. Kroetzky’s emails and demands.

Please share this information with all the journalists in the Mid-Florida Chapter region. So we can formulate a response and show that the Mid-Florida Chapter is still viable.”

First… see, Koretzky? I’m not the only idiot that misspells your name.

Second of all,  they SHOULD have taken the money because previous to that post, on October 3rd, 2012, someone posted: “Does this chapter hold meetings? Trying to find information but it looks outdated.”


Holy crap my brain just imploded! What does this chapter do all year? Where exactly does the money go to? Appetizers and drinks? It’s so outdated I almost heard a dial-up tone going off.

After I graduate and become and alumna, I’ll probably still be a part of UCF’s SPJ, but I can’t attend internship fairs forever, so that’s why I wish our chapter was more active. It’s important for someone like me, who just decided to become a journalist not so long ago, to have a chapter to keep me active and current with things I should know.

I’d rather have this Mid Florida Chapter be closed than continue in mediocrity.

It’s embarrassing.


Wedding Season is never over

As always, I begin my blog with an apology because I don’t blog often and a fake promise that I’ll try to keep up with the blog (by the way, I haven’t blogged since mid-December I believe, and the new WordPress layout looks awesome. I’m a little confused, but it’s awesome).

Anyway, I love the terms “wedding fever,” “wedding season,” and “Pinterest weddings.” A lot of people think that there is a specific time for weddings, but last year was definitively the Wedding Year. Wedding season never ceased for me.

1. January: I started off the year flying to Puerto Rico to my cousin Vivi’s wedding to Rafael. It was an elaborate Catholic service (which I had never been a part of, so that was interesting) followed by the reception, dinner and awesome party at La Concha Hotel. It seriously ended around 1 or 2 a.m. Best wedding, hands down.


That’s my sister, my niece, my sister, myself, my sister and some girl whose name escapes me. 


Myself, my stepmom and my two nieces. 

2. March: My boyfriend’s best friend Ben got married at the Windermere Town Hall. It was a nice, quiet family affair.


That’s our friend Ryan, myself and my boyfriend. I was having issues with my bangs… 

3. April: My boyfriend’s high school friend Kyle got married at Dub’s Dread Golf Club. It was a fun wedding, but I felt weird because a teacher I disliked in high school was sitting in our table and I couldn’t tell her how much I loathed her because my boyfriend is friends with her. If we ever get married, she’s not invited. Just saying.

My boyfriend and I. 
4. August: My former coworkers, Emily and James, tied the knot this past August, lakeside at a private home wedding. It was a morning wedding too, which was a new concept for me. It was so lovely. We’ve all known each other (there’s a little group of us) for a couple of years now because all of us got hired at a new Chick-Fil-A together back in 2007.
 Myself, Emily (the bride) and Carrie (another one of the Chick-Fil-A clan). 
5. December: My old high school friend got married at the Shades of Green Disney resort. It was such a cute but elegant wedding. From the rage faces to the Star Wars wedding march to the high-five after kissing: It really captured the essence of what Danika and Alex are. I reminisced with old high school friends and had a blast dancing to Gangnam Style with a bunch of Asians (Danika’s family is from the Philippines.)
 Young, myself and Tommy remembering the good ol’ days. 
 Now it’s 2013 and tomorrow I’m headed to my first wedding of the year, followed by the first bridal shower of the year on Saturday, followed by Carrie’s wedding in February… I hope none of my friends get engaged soon because I can’t afford to be buying any more bridal shower and wedding gifts.
Best part of weddings: Spending time with family and friends, dancing, eating, drinking and dancing some more!
Worst part of weddings: Being called out to catch the bouquet because since I’m not married, I’m technically single. Even worse, having to go up to the “Single Ladies” song.
Nightmare part of weddings: People asking me when I’ll be settling down and getting married. I feel like I have so much stuff to do including graduating at the end of the year, finding a job, saving money, that I don’t have time to think about marriage. Yes, I have a wedding pinboard on Pinterest but I only did it because “everyone else was doing it.” And yes, if all my friends were jumping off of a bridge, I’d do it too.
Hopefully “wedding season” will be over soon. Here’s to not catching the bouquet!

Not blogging enough #Journoprobs

Dear loyal followers,

Just kidding.

I can’t believe that I haven’t written anything in over three weeks, but I’ve just been so busy! Between school, work and my internship, I’ve barely had time to breathe. I am currently sitting at Panera Bread, working on a Driver Education online module (because I am an idiot)* so I figured, “What the hey. Let’s write something.”

*Kids, always pay attention to STOP signs.

(1) So my internship at the Orlando Business Journal is close to ending. I am sad because I loved being downtown and feeling like Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City” (for the record, I’ve never seen that show so I’m just speaking out of my butt). It was fun dressing up in business attire and learning business terminology. I am very thankful that I got this opportunity because it gave me the chance to explore a new territory.


(2) I applied for an internship at the Orlando Sentinel and didn’t get it (the same day I found out I didn’t get it, I got the traffic ticket. Probably one of the worst days of my life). I’m not sure why, since I am the best thing since sliced bread. I was really bummed because I had previously spoken to the intern coordinator and he said that if I got an internship at the Orlando Business Journal, the probability of me being chosen for the Sentinel would be higher. But alas, I didn’t get it. Thankfully I have friends and family who shared words of encouragement and I decided not to let this bother me.


(3) Today, I met with Christina Tineo of Feeding Children Everywhere and I am excited to announce that I got an internship with FCE for the spring semester as a social media/communications intern. FCE is an Orlando-based non-profit organization that… feeds children everywhere. Basically. They host events in which companies, schools, churches and other groups come together to package meals and those meals get sent around the world. I’ve always been drawn to non-profits so this is a great opportunity for me. Now, I can not only influence and inform people with my writing, but I will also be able to influence people with my actions.

(4) I applied for a summer 2013 internship at the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a paid internship, which is unheard of in journalism, from May until August. I’m crossing my fingers and praying that I get it. I applied last year but I had no experience. My resume is looking a little bit more professional these days so hopefully I get it. If not, they can expect another portfolio and cover letter from me next fall for a summer 2014 internship.

I promise I’ll get back in the swing of things and begin blogging again. I know my life isn’t the most exciting but I’m sure someone somewhere is probably itching to read another update of my “crazy” life. Now I have to get back to learning about my BAC and terrible driving habits.


Update: 4 hours later and I can proudly say I got a 97% on my test. #safedriver #justkidding

Interdisciplinary Studies and A Llama

When I came to UCF last year, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to concentrate on.

Journalism alone seemed too simple and I wanted to try my hand at something different so I decided to major in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS). A lot of people don’t know what this is, so let me briefly explain it.

In IDS, a student has to choose two concentrations within the major and one minor.

Concentrations in Major: Letters & Languages and Communications (15 credits each)

Minor: Digital Media (18 credits)

Core IDS Cornerstone and Capstone (6 credits)

Foreign Language (8 credits)

I’m sure I’m missing something but who cares. Anyway, for my minor, I have a set track of classes that I have to take-four mandatory prerequisites and two electives. But for my concentrations I can take whatever classes I want that fall within Communications and Letters & Languages concentrations.

It sounds easy but sometimes it’s more complicated that necessary. For example, sometimes a COM course will be available but because I am not part of the Nicholson School of Communication at UCF, I can’t register for those classes and I miss out. I feel like a little rebel because I am not part of the “Brunsonite” journo clan at UCF. That’s what I call all the students of journalism professor, Brunson. He’s a cool guy who watches out for his students, but since I’m not part of the communication school, I’m an outsider to their world. Sad face.

Back to my original point of this post…

I just finished my assignment for my Digital Video Fundamentals course. The assignment was to create a 30-60 second video with at least 5 pictures, using the Ken Burns effect and include our name.

Of course, I had to make up for my crappy first project because I wasn’t satisfied with it. I was also inspired by The Fu Music’s Coming Home video that won a challenge on Internet Icon.

After a labor intensive day, in which I even had to get in the pool to take stop-motion pictures of a doll floating (with the aid of my boyfriend, thanks!), I can finally upload my assignment.

Check out my video here! 

Digital Media is not really my passion, but I guess I’ll stick with it because I’m in too deep. I’m learning some skills with Final Cut Pro and Photoshop as I go, so I hope that I can use these in the future.


These are the things they don’t tell you when you’re an intern

By Veronica Figueroa

My asthma never allowed me to enjoy sweet cyanide and formaldehyde, slowly filling up my lungs with hopes and dreams…

By this, I mean that I couldn’t partake in the numerous smoke breaks my editors and fellow interns indulged in throughout the day. While everyone was outside in their cancer cloud, discussing ideas for next week’s paper, I was in my cubicle, considering buying candy cigarettes in order to fit in. Next thing I knew, a week has flown by and a new issue was out. The other intern had a cover story and all I had was a 150 word blurb about a Beerlympics bar crawl and shoes covered in sorority sister vomit.

Do you remember that episode from FRIENDS that Rachel picked up smoking to fit in with her boss? I lived that.

These are the things they don’t tell you when you’re a journalism intern.

1. You are going to be losing money:

Most beginner internships are unpaid. You can’t really complain about it either, because the way that the editors who picked you see it, you have no previous experience and not worthy of monetary compensation (that is why they cater food once a week, to make you feel like life is still worth it). You will spend close to 25 hours a week at that internship. The constant driving back and forth, spending gas and running tolls will definitively take a toll on you, no pun intended. Your wallet will hate you.

2. You will become an expert on pasta:

Since you’ll be spending over $70 on transportation costs a week, eating out every day is out of the question. Ramen noodles are the epitome of broke college student nutrition, but it gets old… fast. But, hey, pasta is 2-for-1, right? You can make pasta salad, plain macaroni, mac n’ cheese, etc. For added fun, weigh yourself at the public bathroom scale on your lunch break and hate yourself even more.

3. You may have to pick up drinking:

If you happen to be interning at an alt-weekly news publication, they’re always going to want to keep up with the latest “what’s new” crap in town and hey, you’re a good-looking young intern who would love covering events in the middle of the night, at loud clubs, full of drunk college freshmen, right? Wrong! But, if they ask if you’re interested in covering a club opening in downtown, or write a short about a new drink at that trendy new bar, you say yes. Say yes like your life depends on it. Why? Because that’s probably the only byline you’re going to get that month.

4. You will have to do all the grunt work:

When you first walk in to your internship as an editorial intern, you’re all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Flitting images of Lois Lane reporting for the Daily Planet rush through your head as you’re being directed to your cubicle and given your first task; acquiring Carpal Tunnel as you self address and stamp over 100 envelopes to send out as advertising because the advertising staff needs help. Maybe they wouldn’t be so far behind if they didn’t spend every free moment arguing about whose Pandora playlist is the best (They all suck. If I have to listen to Pitbull one more time, I’m probably going to set this place on fire).

Fact-checking articles is always fun too. The only requirement is to highlight proper nouns and facts, then go online and make sure that they’re all correct. “Wikipedia is not a reliable source,” they said. Yeah right, where else would I have found out that Plato was an ancient Hawaiian weather man as well as a philosopher?