journalism

One Year Of Feeding Children

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It amazes me how 2013 came and went in the blink of an eye and how things change. A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was because I was offered a job as a communications coordinator at a local nonprofit. I was also in my senior year of college, living with my parents and with big plans ahead of me.

Right now, I sit in my room at my house listening to my roommate talk to her friend on the phone. My other roommate is in her room, screaming because she can’t sleep over the loud phone conversation.

To my left, on a pile of gold glitter I should’ve cleaned a while ago, sits my graduation cap. To my left sits a document titled “How To Do Everything by Veronica Figueroa.” This document holds every procedure that a communications coordinator at Feeding Children Everywhere could ever need. It was my holy book and I am now revising it and polishing it up for my new coworker who will be replacing me in March.

I never would’ve thought that a month after graduation I would be revising my resume and heading into the post graduation job search, but I guess everything I do is backwards.

Looking back on 2013, I can say I have been blessed to have been a part of the Feeding Children Everywhere team and I have experienced many wonderful things, as well as some scary ones that have now become life lessons. I loved that behind my job was a mission to raise awareness of the hunger epidemic around the world. I am proud that what I did for a living mobilized thousands of volunteers to package 7 million meals that were distributed to numerous food pantries across the nation as well as the Philippines, Africa and Haiti. And as proud and happy as I am of my accomplishments, I do not feel fulfilled and passionate about these things but I do believe that I was there for the season that I need to be. All the social media, press, marketing and campaigns, communications, fundraising and stepping into an intern manager role definitely helped shape me for my future career, whatever it may be.

It is now that I ask myself the question, “So, now what?”

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in such a place of uncertainty in my life so this is new to me. Next month begins the job search and whether it may be marketing, social media or writing that I end up doing, I hope that it is something that I feel passionate about. I hope that I find something that if it were taken away, would break me.

I’ve been praying about this for a few days now and I have left this on God’s hands.

Until then.

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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).

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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.

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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.”

AND PREVIOUS TO THAT POST, THE LAST POST HAD BEEN MADE IN JANUARY 2012. 

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.

Craig, Booper, Bernie and the mansion.


It really IS a Society of “Professional” Journalists (Photo cred: Chris Whitten).

Chris Whitten and I just finished writing our joint Outreach article.

The only hints I’m giving you are:

1) There’s a man named Craig,

2) There’s a cat named Booper,

3) There’s a man named Bernie,

4) There’s a $15 million mansion built by the state of Florida

I’ll link the actual article when it comes out.

Outreach basically consists of going out into the town, talking to the homeless and telling them about the shelter so that maybe they’ll decide to come back to the shelter.

We rode in an ambulance, a cop car and vans and went with the COSAC staff.

Whenever we met people, we’d offer them water and/or cigarettes.

It was pretty crazy to be walking around in the middle of the night, by the railroad tracks with our phone “flashlight” apps lighting the way.

At the beginning, I was super overwhelmed. I walked away from the first interview, because the state of the homeless was sad. The two guys had this toy chest, similar to one that my sister and I had when we were little. I remember complaining that things never fit in that toy chest, but everything that they owned fit into the chest.

Their beds were an old dirty mattress and a sleeping bag in front of a mural with a giant heart. I wish I had taken a decent picture of it but it was too dark and the picture came out like crap.

(Photo Cred: Either a WWFF12 staffer or COSAC employee, not sure). 

After talking to most of the homeless people, during outreach and throughout the day, I noticed that divorce was a big trend. Someone would get cheated on, keep the money and kick the other to the curb. It’s pretty sad. Disabilities, whether they be mental or physical, were a big trend as well.

We were riding the ambulance to our next spot, when the ambulance broke down on the highway. We had to pull over and wait for the rest of our crew to come and pick us up.

My crappy view from the back of the ambulance. 

(Photo Cred: Mark Targett).

While we were waiting for our ride back to the shelter, I was talking to one of the security guards, Patrick Russell. He is 19 years old and the youngest member of the shelter. He’s been living at the shelter for a few weeks. I scolded him for smoking (which by the way, I feel like everyone and their mother smoke’s here). He’s too young to be cutting his life short this early, I think.

His parents kicked him out of the house because he wasn’t contributing anything. He ended up at the shelter that he now calls home as well as his job. He is currently finishing school and plans to go to college for his A.A. and then enroll in the Army or Coast Guard.

“Every night I text my parents ‘Goodnight,” he said. “They never really text me back.”

I really hope they take him back. He’s such a sweet kid.

I didn’t really think about whether I was going to see everyone again, so I forgot to bid the shelter staff farewell and thank Sean Cononie & Mark Targett for allowing us to be super intrusive for a whole weekend. It’s been a pleasure working with everyone.

And of course, I’d like to thank everyone that put this event together, all the talented journalists I got to meet and lastly, Michael Koretzky, for only being scary via email, but not in real life.

Georgia conned the cake off of me

This weekend I am part SPJ’s Will Write For Food 2012 team.

That’s me in the white tank top, looking confused. (photo cred: Mike Rice)

Will Write For Food is a program in which 20 student journalists from around the nation get to take over the Homeless Voice (the second-largest homeless newspaper in the country) for the weekend.

Honestly, I can’t believe that it’s already Labor Day weekend. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I remember reading a blog post about this program Labor Day 2011, being pissed off that I wasn’t a part of it and then reminding myself every day/week/month to update my resume and clips so that I would be able to apply this year.

On March 8th, the day that the time period to apply opened, I applied. On March 26th Michael Koretzky, the program’s advisor, e-mailed me back.

Damn, that was fast. Sorry for taking a week to get back with you. But
truly, no one’s ever applied for Will Write for Food this quickly.
(It’s still not a very popular program, for obvious reasons.) […]

But either way it goes, this is damned impressive.

I really wanted to be a part of this.

Yesterday, my classmate Sarah Aslam and I drove down to Miami from Orlando and got to the Ramada on Hollywood Blvd. We met our advisors, previous WWFF participants, the national president of SPJ John Ensslin and Michael Koretzky.

Then we went to the COSAC homeless shelter and met its founder and director, Sean Cononie.

It was small, it smelled weird, there were way too many people, people were coughing, there was hand sanitizer everywhere and there sat Georgia.

Georgia is a tiny elderly woman who lives at the shelter. One of the WWFF girls, Cayla Nimmo went to help her stand up from a bench. When Georgia shuffled her way into the shelter’s tiny cafeteria, Cayla and I sat on the floor and talked to her. It was very hard to understand her because she spoke so low and she was losing her hearing.

At first, Cayla and I thought Georgia was deaf because she signed “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to us. I attempted to sign our names to Georgia but she said that she didn’t know sign language–she reads lips.

“This is a sign that everybody knows,” she said and proceeded to flick off both Cayla and I. My grin was probably wider than anything in the world. This lady is awesome.

I wandered off to get food after talking to Georgia for a little bit. Lunch consisted of pasta with some sort of pale, tasteless meat. I thought it was chicken. Chase Cook thought it was turkey. Eleanor Roy thought it was tuna. Whatever.

I decided to eat my cake, the only thing that didn’t look questionable on my plate. Georgia eyed me picking at the cake and asked me if I was going to finish it. I looked down, sighed and said she could have it.

I looked at her tray as I plopped my cake onto it. She had three other pieces of cake.

A staff member from the shelter came up to Georgia and said, “Georgia! You’re not supposed to be eating cake!” He shook his head and walked away. I looked down, embarrassed, since I didn’t mean to get her in trouble.

Georgia winked at me, smiled and whispered, “It’s okay.”

Then she ate her cake.

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom”

First step in solving any problem, is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?

Eight minutes in, and I’m already hooked.

Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network, The West Wing, Moneyball) “The Newroom” debuted this past Sunday, June 24th at 10pm on HBO.

After losing his patience during a college appearance, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), anchor and managing editor of News Night, has to deal with losing his staff due to his co-anchor landing a new show and taking the staff with him. The president of the Atlantis Cable News (ACN), Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) hires Will a new executive producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) who turns out to be his ex-girlfriend. The staff is faced with new challenges when there is breaking news about an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The first episode is available, free of charge on Youtube, iTunes and HBO.com.

It was watched by 2.1 million viewers it’s premier night and it scored a 57/100 on Metacritic.

Watch it here: The Newsroom and catch it every Sunday night at 10p.m.

My thought after watching this show? “I want to become an actress who plays a journalist.”

Honestly though, I’m just excited that there’s a show that has something to do with my field of study. I’m tired of doctor and lawyer shows.

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?