Julie Serkosky ’91 spent 22 years as a reporter and editor at the Journal Inquirer newspaper in Manchester before becoming a UConn Journalism assistant professor-in-residence in 2014.
But in moving to the classroom, she hasn’t forgotten her roots in the newsroom. Each month, Serkosky devotes considerable time to judging the work of 15 JI reporters to select its Story of the Month.
She typically judges 10 to 20 entries, with an eye to choosing the story that she best resonated with readers in the JI’s 18-town circulation area. It might be the biggest story of the month, one written on a tight deadline or one that required a lot of research and use of the state Freedom of Information Act to secure public records.
Sometimes, it’s just a story that moves her.
“I try to find a story that a lot of people will read or a story that a lot of people should read,’’ Serkosky said during an interview at the JI. “And anything that moves me to tears or almost moves me to tears, I’m going to pick.”
Kimberly Phillips, the news editor, and Nancy Thompson, the associate editor, use the contest to motivate their reporters. The winner is revealed, along with Serkosky’s critique, at a monthly staff meeting, where the reporter describes how he or she reported or wrote the story.
The JI Story of the Month has other UConn Journalism department connections. For years, it was judged by Prof. John Breen before his death in 2014, and many JI reporters who are UConn Journalism alumni have won it, including Eric Bedner, Skyler Frazer, Tim Leininger, Jessica Lerner, Jackie Nappo and former reporter Joe O’Leary.
Serkosky recalled that in her days at the JI, winning the award boosted morale.
“You feel really good when you get Story of the Month,’’ she said.
Phillips and Thompson, who worked with Serkosky for years, said they trust her news instincts.
“She knows what makes a good news story, and she knows what matters to our readers,’’ Thompson said. Having an outsider and a journalism professor judging the award makes it prestigious, Phillips said.
“Having Julie as a judge gives the award a certain amount of weight,” Phillips said. “Her judgment is great.”
The editors said Serkosky has been known to make a quirky choice, such as a May feature by Nappo on home delivery of milk in Ellington, rather than a more hard-hitting story. They said she made another unconventional choice last November when she selected Alex Wood’s obituary of Barbara King, a longtime Manchester politician and part-time JI employee, as Story of the Month.
Serkosky said she was moved by a detail Wood included: that King put a yellow fabric butterfly on her desk on her first day on the job, and it is still there.
Serkosky said judging the best stories can be difficult because the quality of the journalism has remained at a high level even as the JI, like newspapers of every size, has faced financial challenges.
“I think the JI is stronger than ever,’’ she said. “I think it’s the best paper in the state for local news. It’s amazing to me how hard these people work and how dedicated they are to journalism.”
There are plenty of reasons why you should study journalism at the University of Connecticut. We asked a dozen of our alumni to tell us three reasons why earning a UConn Journalism degree was a great decision.
1. Journalism remains a critically important craft in our society and a crucial backstop to democracy. UConn’s veteran team of instructors offers students a wealth of hands-on experience and keen knowledge of today’s trends, tools and possibilities.
2. Journalists have the privilege of working a profession where they can truly make a difference in people’s lives. UConn produces solid reporters and gifted writers with the skills necessary to hold public officials accountable, expose wrongdoings and shed light on pressing issues that affect us all.
3. Are you a curious person? Journalism is a profession in which you get paid to talk to interesting people and learn something new every day. A UConn diploma in journalism is like a golden ticket, an international passport to pursue your craft wherever your interests might take you.
1. For the stories you’ll hear: From professors who’ve covered genocide in Sarajevo to those who’ve moonlighted as Sherlock Holmes novelists, the UConn Journalism department is led by a well-storied staff that spans time, mediums and expertise.
2. For the lessons you’ll carry through your career: Some of the advice you’ll glean in your classes, whether it be during an ethics discussion or an environmental journalism trip, may not make a deep impression in the moment. But as you put your skills to work in the real world, you’ll find yourself calling back the gems of wisdom that your UConn professors shared.
3. For the friends who’ll help you hit your ambitions: My journalism network still largely depends on the people I met at UConn. Between Daily Campus colleagues, classmates and retired and current professors, I have a solid web of contacts to talk shop and expand my knowledge of the industry with. I may have graduated six years ago, but I still continue to learn from UConn to this day.
Jackson Mitchell Digital Audio Editor, WBUR-FM, Boston’s National Public Radio station
Class of 2016
1. Journalism skills are life skills: talking to people, being understanding and empathetic, listening and presenting information in a clear and compelling way. You will never regret being good at these things.
2. Being in journalism is a thrilling way to observe the world around you. It has given me a life vantage point that I value immensely. I am never bored.
3. There are few careers where you can go to work every day and honestly feel like you are serving the public interest. That feels really good.
Kala Kachmar Investigative Reporter, Courier-Journal Louisville, KY Class of 2009
1. The faculty that make up UConn’s journalism department is incredible. Not only are they current or retired journalism professionals, but many will go out of their way to help students establish connections that often lead to internship and job opportunities. Classes are small, so it’s easy to feel connected to the professors, other students and resources, of which there are plenty.
2. The diverse curriculum helped me develop well-rounded skills that have contributed significantly my versatility as a reporter. As a student when news consumption shifted significantly, professors encouraged us to embrace technology and learn different journalism disciplines. Versatile is valuable. UConn taught me the importance of that.
3. The courses actually teach you how to be a reporter, and the program overall taught me what I needed to know to be successful in the field. We had to write stories on deadline. We couldn’t misspell names. We were held to professional standards.
Melanie Deziel Founder of StoryFuel
New York, NY
Class of 2012
1. The investigative skills I learned as a UConn Journalism student set me up for a lifetime of digging deeper, asking more pointed questions and telling better stories.
2. Studying journalism at UConn taught me the importance of deadlines and being open to feedback, skills I use daily in my work as a content marketer.
3. I can trace my entire career back to a UConn Journalism professor who first helped me discover my love of storytelling, and another who encouraged me to write for the Daily Campus.
1. UConn’s journalism professors and advisors are always willing to help and they always make sure students understand the topic of discussion.
2. The journalism facilities at UConn have top-of-the-line equipment and classrooms that are set up for easy interaction between students and teachers.
3. Journalism at UConn is learned by doing and not just by sitting and listening. Students are often given assignments that reflect the same assignments one would be given when working as a journalist.
1. If you do go into journalism, no matter what type (print, TV, radio, online etc.), the skills you learn will translate.
2. Even if you don’t go into journalism, the skills you learn will be invaluable in other fields.
3. Because good journalism is important. And we need more good journalists now more than ever.
Hannah Dickison Investigative Producer, WPRI-TV
Class of 2018
1. Great education with an even better price tag. When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted a high-quality education, but didn’t want to be overloaded with debt like I would have if I had gone to a school like Syracuse or Emerson. Fortunately I’m from Connecticut, so I was able to get in-state tuition and graduated with substantially less debt than my friends at other colleges. Even if you’re out-of-state, the cost truly doesn’t compare.
2. Accomplished professors. All of your professors will be award-winning journalists who are highly respected in their field. If you work hard and invest in your education, some will even become your mentors during and after college. All of my professors took me under their wings and were there for me not just academically, but professionally. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them and am grateful for my education every day.
3. Big university, small program. There’s no denying that UConn is a big school, but that’s not the case for the journalism program. The size of my classes were always small and close-knit. Everyone in the program knows each other, whether you take classes together or not. I think that’s something that’s very rare and special about such a high quality journalism program.
1. You get hands-on experience in class. UConn Journalism classes aren’t just theory; you actually write in-depth stories on deadline and get edits from your professors.
2. It’s fairly easy to double major with journalism and another subject. While demanding, the UConn Journalism program is flexible enough in the requirements that you can major in something else to flesh out your degree and give you valuable skills. For me, that meant double majoring in English, which helped my writing and research skills.
3. You learn from veteran journalists who are not only experts in the craft, but who know the Connecticut journalism world like the back of their hand.
1. The first-rate faculty have excellent academic and professional credentials. They are engaged with their students and provide the tools for success.
2. The program has strong connections with industry professionals and media outlets throughout the country.
3. The coursework allows students to think critically and it provides practical experience.
Sylvia Cunningham Reporter/Associate Editor at KCRW Berlin
Class of 2015
1. You’ll learn about journalism from professors who are journalists themselves. So whether it’s an ethical quandary, a confusing public record or a difficult source you’re facing, chances are your professor has been there and has some good advice.
2. You’ll be introduced to platforms and tools that make you a more dynamic storyteller. In one job interview post-graduation, I was presented with a published web story and asked how I would a) make it more interactive and visually appealing and b) push it out on social media. I incorporated what I learned from Online Journalism into my answer, and I landed the assignment.
3. You’ll be taught the fundamentals of good reporting, like getting a second (and third…and fourth) source, considering all sides, and writing a strong lede. Often when approaching a story, I think back to my all-time favorites from Literary Journalism for inspiration (see Jimmy Breslin’s “It’s an Honor”). And because fact-checking and copy editing comprises at least half of my current job, the foundation built from UConn journalism courses is critical. Plus, the trusted adviser you meet in Newswriting I – your AP Stylebook – will never be far away.
Special thanks to Kate Farrish ’83 for collecting these interviews.
Growing up, WNPR’s Frankie Graziano always dreamed of covering sports and never wavered in his determination to become a reporter.
Along the way, Graziano realized that his passion for covering sporting events was rooted in the personal stories he got to share and the relationships forged with sources and listeners alike. He was telling human interest stories that just happened to take place in the world of sports.
Graziano said he enrolled at UConn looking to be exposed to marquee events at a Division I university. After gaining valuable experience through internships and covering on-campus news, Graziano graduated in 2011 with degrees in journalism and history.
Graziano said he understood early in his career the importance for journalists to always be flexible and willing to cover any story, taking on whatever role is necessary for their editor or producers. Now, he’s assigned to breaking news forWNPR.
“I like to say yes to any job,’’ he said. “You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get a story…I’m kind of super competitive in that way.”
While it may be easy for aspiring reporters to get discouraged by the current state of the industry, it’s important to keep up that same determination and tenacity. Graziano said too many reporters nowadays are turned off by the idea of failure. His biggest advice to young journalists: don’t be afraid to be embarrassed.
“A good way to approach it is you treat every day like a brand-new opportunity,” he said. “It’s a good way to forget about mistakes and shake off that humility that so many of us have.”
Graziano has covered everything from the state’s high school tournaments to doing play-by-play commentary and producing content forTV.
No matter the story, Graziano said he tries to treat each one with the same level of energy and professionalism: whether it requires wearing a full black suit to a baseball diamond on a 90-degree day or having to restrain his fandom while covering the UConn men’s basketball run in the 2011NCAAtournament.
“I do love being in front of the camera,” Graziano admitted when asked about his favorite role.
Graziano said he enjoys getting his personality out there for people to recognize, allowing his audience to establish trust once they see the enthusiasm he brings to their story.
In his reporting for Connecticut Public Radio, Graziano is always looking to tell human stories. He considers himself an “everyman,” one he hopes people will not only relate with and trust, but also actively seek out as their go-to source for news in Connecticut.
Graziano implores young reporters to “stay at it, no matter what.” He said perseverance will pay off for determined journalists, making the moment when they fulfill their dream of telling the right story that much more rewarding.
It was November 1968 and anti-war protesters had stormed into Gulley Hall at the University of Connecticut and refused to leave the building. UConn’s Storrs campus was in turmoil.
G. Claude Albert was an undergraduate student and news editor for The Daily Campus. Albert ran to Gulley Hall as soon as he heard what was going on. After observing the scene and gathering all the facts he could, he began writing a news story about the hostile takeover while his friend drove him to the printer. Albert was determined to have his breaking news story run in the next morning’s paper. Continue reading →
The first time Wong saw Connecticut’s flagship university during a tour, he said he found himself immediately drawn to the school. The large campus in Storrs could make a student feel like a little fish in a big pond, but the journalism department was small and made him feel comfortable, he said.
When Wong began working at The Daily Campus in his sophomore year, he got to practice the lessons from his journalism classes hands on, while nurturing some lifelong friendships.
Elizabeth Crowley credits her University of Connecticut journalism classes and professors for helping her discover two important things: her passion for media and a path toward achieving her career goals.
Three years after graduating with her UConn journalism degree, Crowley is now working in Manhattan for NBC Universal as a creative coordinator.
A native of Fairfield, Connecticut, Crowley said she always aspired to make it in New York City.
She transferred to UConn from Northeastern University in her sophomore year, picking journalism as her major. During her very first week in Storrs, she began writing for UConn’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus.
Crowley said she loved her journalism classes, and reporting and editing for The Daily Campus. When she wasn’t practicing her print journalism skills in Storrs, Crowley interned at her local newspaper, the Stamford Advocate, writing mostly feature stories. She worked at the Advocate full-time during every break; winter, spring and summer.
Crowley said she focused all her efforts on print news when she first arrived at UConn. But after studying broadcast journalism in a class taught by adjunct Prof. Steve Kalb, she said became much more interested in television news production. Continue reading →
Growing up a train ride away from New York City, Ryan Gilbert always wanted to see Broadway shows.
Now, seeing them is his job.
As national editor of Broadway.com, a website devoted to news and editorial coverage of New York City’s theater scene, Gilbert sees every Broadway show at least once and brushes shoulders with some of the biggest names in theater.
He also curates web content for the 43 cities that host tours of Broadway shows through Broadway Across America, Broadway.com’s parent company. Recently, he spent several days immersed in the “Phantom of the Opera” production in Orlando, Fla.
Teresa (LaBarbera) Dufour has held most jobs in a broadcast newsroom: reporter, producer, anchor and host. Dufour says each of her job experiences, beginning from when she was still a journalism student at the University of Connecticut, were invaluable steps leading her to the next opportunity.
Fun fact: On New Years Eve 2013, Teresa married businessman Brandon Dufour in a lavish affair at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT and changed her professional name from LaBarbera to Dufour.
In a Q&A, Dufour explained the arc of her career in journalism since graduating from UConn in 2001. Continue reading →
After landing competitive internships at both The Hartford Courant and Los Angeles Times while studying journalism as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, David Ushery recognized his calling in the news business.
Ushery is now an Emmy-award winning news anchor at one of the leading news stations in New York City, WNBC-TV News 4.
“I treasured my time in the small journalism department,” Ushery said in a phone interview. “In fact, I went back recently to say thank you to Wayne Worcester, who was one of my instructors there. That foundation of print and writing has served me well in my career.” Continue reading →