It began with fog, flying circles in a holding pattern, having to divert to another airport for fuel and being stranded on a Baltimore tarmac with Little Richard.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This is the story of 25 journalism and electronic media (JEM) students who sacrificed a week of classes to embark on an adventure to the Big Apple to meet editors, producers, writers and media celebrities as well as get an insider's view of the media industry from its home turf.
"It is a trip that provides the opportunity for students who are thinking of getting a job working for a magazine or a broadcast outlet to see (how) one of the major media hubs in the United States operates," explains Carolyn Lepre, JEM professor and adviser. "It is a chance for students to network with professionals as well as to get a feel for what it is like to live in a city like New York."
DAY ONE: Sunday, January 14.
The story was supposed to begin at 6 a.m. at Tyson McGhee airport, but most of us had been up past 2 a.m. anyway. We began wandering into the airport yawning and looking like the living dead somewhere closer to 3:30 a.m. But let's skip ahead to an airplane stuck in a holding pattern 200 miles from New York because that's where the story really begins.
None of us knew why exactly we couldn't land. Just before I fell asleep the first time, the pilot simply said we were waiting for clearance to land. By the time I woke, the pilot was telling us we were basically out of fuel and were being diverted to Baltimore, along with 27 other planes, where we sat on the tarmac for several more hours while the flight attendants rationed out whatever food they could scrounge up.
And Little Richard was sitting in first class.
Free to use our cell phones, we quickly learned that New York had been blanketed in fog. After an hour or so, the problem was less about the fog in New York as much as it was waiting for the fuel truck to fill up 27 aircraft for takeoff.
Now Little Richard had a show at B.B. King's later that night, and he was getting restless. There were sound checks to do and pre-show preparation. He tells the pilot that he's willing to pay for the fuel himself if we can get bumped up to the front of the line. The pilot makes the call, and we get our fuel. Another hour or so, we get clearance to take off and then we're back on our way to New York. (And now you've heard the story of how Little Richard saved the day for a group of UT students headed to New York.)
We were originally scheduled to arrive in New York at 11:59 a.m. Around six hours later, we actually made it. Wasting time piling into waiting cabs piloted by kamikaze drivers, we arrived one cab after another at the Muse hotel, a half-block from Times Square, and the place we'd call home for the next week. By 8 p.m. we were stuffing our faces with pizza and frothy beverages and not long after we discovered an Irish pub about 40 steps west of the hotel.
The second day began early for some, who ventured out to see Regis and Kelly at 7 a.m. I, fortunately, was not one of them. But Julie Solomon, senior in journalism and electronic media, not only had the privilege of attending but of being part of the show. Those familiar with the show will note that every day there is a go-go girl on stage and Solomon was asked to fill the role for the show.
"I've seen the show so I knew. It's self-explanatory: just get behind this shadowy box and act like a 1960s go-go girl, so that's what I did," Solomon recounts. "And then when they came back (from a commercial break), Regis pulled me out from behind the box, and I danced with him for probably five seconds until the next commercial break."
For the rest of us, the day began at 1 p.m. at the offices of Fox News. We took a tour of the control room, the offices where news is gathered, the editing rooms and even one of the sets, where we met anchor Shepard Smith. Smith is a University of Mississippi alumni and so wasted no time in digging up some college rivalry. He talked about his job at Fox News, his climb up the ladder through a series of smaller stations and less noteworthy positions until landing in a position where he would become of the most noticeable faces in broadcast news. He spent a great deal of time answering questions about everything from media bias to what it takes to make it to the top.
The day began with a panel on "Getting Your Dream Job — NYC-Style" with Shannon Lanier, a producer with CBS, and Chandra Lanier, a producer with BET — both former students of Naeemah Clark, JEM professor and faculty advisor. Following that, we were introduced to Kristin Luna, recent UT alumna and Daily Beacon editor, and Tanner Stransky of Entertainment Weekly to talk about celebrity and entertainment journalism.
The New York Times and tapings of Martha!, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and the Daily Show were also on the agenda for the day and made for great entertainment, as well as a good insight into how the media industry churns away. The day ended with an alumni reception with UT alumni, advertising students also in the city for a tour and current UT faculty.
The Wall Street Journal kicked off the morning with a tour of the newspaper by John Edwards, news editor of the Pursuits section. Erin Zammett of Glamour magazine gave a tour of the magazine for interested students, and the entire group met up for a tour of the Food Network (which made fans of us all) that afternoon. Later that evening, we caught a showing of The Phantom of the Opera, followed by another trip to that cool little Irish pub near the hotel.
Esquire magazine and Maxim.com were both on the morning schedule, and the group split between them. Recent UT graduate Adam Bryant, now an assistant editor at Maxim.com, gave that portion of the tour.
"I really liked the addition of the Maxim tour this time," Lepre explains. "We've never done an online publication before, and I thought it was very interesting that all of the people that talked to us were close to 30, if not under 30, and it sort of showed the youth of the industry and how it is driving that industry. And how it is seemingly very, very accessible. I mean Adam, who is only nine months out of school, is already the assistant editor."
The visit to MTVU was enough to make me consider jumping from magazine journalism to broadcasting. Imagine MTV 25 years ago before it grew up, and you'll have a much better understanding of MTVU. While Andrea Sabia, intern coordinator, was giving us a general overview of the network, VJs Gardner Loulan and Kim Stolz (former America's Top Model participant) made their entrance by playfully peaking in the windows wearing masks and hiding behind cardboard cutouts — expressing the playfulness that makes the station great. A few of us were actually fortunate enough to take part in a taping for a Valentine's Day segment. Probably the most exciting thing about MTVU is that the station is free to do almost whatever it wants; experimentation with new shows and concepts is what MTV encourages of its younger sibling, and MTVU certainly has the talent for it. Not only is the show young, but walking through its offices is like walking through a dorm room: young producers doing the writing, directing and editing themselves. There was even a segment being shot in the hall while I was waiting to go into the studio!
The last day began with a panel by editors from Real Simple magazine — Rachel Hardage, Jaimee Zanzinger and Elizabeth Wells, who talked about the magazine and their unique approaches to the topics they cover. Even though I'm not a Real Simple reader, it was informative. Following that panel, we met with former UT students Alexis Brekke, managing editor for New Jersey Countryside, Laura Lacy, from InStyle, and Laura Pack from Glamour for a panel on breaking into the magazine industry. Of all the panelists we had met, all were in their twenties and were working at some of the biggest and most popular media companies in the country.
"It is definitely an inspirational kind of thing," says Lepre. "When you are from some small town in Tennessee and you go and meet someone from that same small town in Tennessee that has made it...and is doing what you maybe dreamed to do, I think that sometimes is more recognized as doable."
Day six ended with a "swanky" dinner in midtown, where we were joined by some of the panelists we had met earlier in the week as well as David Sandford, manager of Sting, and Gretchen Brennison of Sony/BMG. It was a great time to relax, have a great meal (and open bar), and generally have a great time. Many of us finished off the night at a club in the East Village before waking up a few hours later to catch a cab back to the airport for the ride home.
"I have made many trips to New York, but the New York City media tour by far surpassed them all," says Katie Caldarulo, JEM senior. "It was a great opportunity to network and gain valuable advice from professionals working in the big city."