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Media Minds- Student Edition with Samantha Grasso

In this special edition of Media Minds, we travel a few blocks south of the Red Fan office to the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin where Samantha Grasso has just finished her third year as a journalism student. Samantha currently serves as ORANGE Magazine’s managing editor after previously serving as a contributing writer for the Daily Texan’s Life and Arts section and as a staff member of the Daily video department. Most recently, she finished an internship with McCombs TODAY.

I sat down with Samantha to talk all things UT and journalism, gathering some advice for future journalism students who wish to gain experience writing for higher-ed publications.

What makes a good story?

I am particular to feature stories and videos, where I can cover topics in-depth as opposed to the traditional news brief. To me, a great story does more than give information — it stirs emotions. It goes beyond teaching an audience and triggers critical thinking. It leaves readers with a sense of enlightenment and understanding of a topic, from an angle that is infrequently ventured. I'm not saying a story needs to read like a soap opera script to be good, but above all it needs to be informative and thoughtful.

What story, in your career, are you most proud of?

My favorite piece so far would have to be a feature I wrote on the first-ever undergraduate female case competition at the McCombs School of Business. It was a great opportunity to show how a community created opportunities for and increased participation of a marginalized group within these competitions.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

I was in eighth grade when I saw my favorite band, Say Anything, on the cover of the Cleveland-based music magazine Alternative Press. I begged my parents to buy me a subscription as a Christmas present, and for the next two years I was hooked on magazine writing and music journalism. Since then I've diversified my interests, but my love for feature writing still remains.

What story do you wish you could have covered?

I was just talking to one of my mentors about this. I feel that many student journalists face this experience, where early in a college career they feel so much pressure to be the "first" to cover a story or to share developing information. For me, the pressure came from various places but was mostly just me being hard on myself and feeling I had something to prove by chasing after being the "first." After establishing myself over the last two years and learning what my strengths are, I no longer feel like I've missed out by failing to cover a story, so it's not really something I dwell on — at least, not as much as I used to. That's not to say that I've lost my drive or am no longer competitive. I'm still constantly reading stories by my peers and thinking, "Wow, this is a really great piece." The difference is that I'm no longer beating myself up for not being the one to cover it.

How has your time at UT shaped your views on journalism?

The UT School of Journalism has been extremely supportive and has helped me grow as a writer and videographer. Going into my first semester, I still had this preconceived notion that journalism was failing. After that semester, I no longer felt insecure in the changing industry. I've learned there is more than one way to tell a story, and that I'm passionate about videography. I've come to understand that objectivity is oftentimes arbitrary.

What advice would you give to those who want to study journalism?

Once you find whichever reporting mediums you're attracted to, be it writing, video, photo or broadcast, keep consuming those mediums. Keep reading strong, compelling stories. Keep watching informative, dynamic documentaries. Keep learning from the practicing professionals. It's easy for students to get caught up in class assignments and exercises. Practice is absolutely necessary, but consuming strong, responsible journalism helps that practice.

What famous historical figure do you wish you could have interviewed and why?

I started exploring Frida Kahlo's work when I was 12 or 13 years old, and I think she would be an amazing person to interview. She lived a very painful life, and her paintings and intersectionality still speak to many people today. Writing a profile on Frida would have been incredible.

Samantha is spending her summer in UT’s prestigious University of Texas Semester in Los Angeles Program where she’s learning from industry experts about the entertainment industry. Follow her adventure on Twitter, and be sure to look out for more articles from Samantha this coming year.

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