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Journalism students gain real-world experience at South Florida Media Network

Journalism students gain real-world experience at South Florida Media Network

November 15, 2019 at 4:00pm

Every journalism student knows that you need a lot of experience to land a full-time job. So when senior journalism major Mariandrea Vergel Prieto heard she could report from New York this fall for class credit, she packed her bags and quit her job in corporate communications.

“It was a tough decision. But it was the right one,” Prieto said.

Prieto is an intern for the South Florida Media Network (SFMN), the central news platform of the Department of Journalism + Media in the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts. The SFMN uses its bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami to tell stories about South Florida from both local and national perspectives. 

“People are surprised when I tell them that I’m working out of a bureau for the South Florida Media Network. They are even more surprised when I tell them that it is for a school,” Prieto said.

At the SFMN base in New York City, Prieto and her partner, senior Shannon McMullen, meet every Monday to discuss ideas with their editor, an adjunct faculty member. Then the students set off across the city to do their reporting. They have covered a wide range of topics. Prieto has written about the struggles of transgender immigrants, while McMullen has reported on a group of cancer survivors in Brooklyn that perform stand-up comedy to express themselves.

“This doesn’t feel like an internship or a class. This is real life,” McMullen said.

Meanwhile, at the SFMN bureau in Washington, D.C., senior Amanda La Rosa is covering politics. La Rosa has reported on the shortage of drinking water in the Everglades and how Congress is addressing the problem.

La Rosa is the SFMN’s only student in Washington, D.C. The bureaus are kept small to facilitate this mentorship between students and their editors.

“One of the first times [my professor and I] went into the Capitol, we went into one of the galleries,” La Rosa said. Galleries are where visitors can watch Congress in session. “I did my first story in 15 minutes. I’ve never done that before. I was so impressed."

These bureaus make the university’s journalism program one of the most unique in the nation, says CARTA Dean Brian Schriner.

“There are schools that are closer to the cities that have [bureaus], but there’s no one that I’m aware of that has them in both cities,” Schriner said.

The SFMN is headquartered at its Miami bureau, where more than 50 SFMN interns gather at the school every Friday. They meet in the Media Hub, a nearly 5,000-square-foot space outfitted with meeting rooms and private studios. The Miami bureau and all of SFMN are guided by Charles “Chuck” Strouse, former editor-in-chief of the Miami New Times.

Strouse pushes his students to create a variety of content. He encourages them to make listicles (think, “Top Ten Places to Take Your Dog in Miami”) and also guides them through more sensitive stories.

SFMN social media editor Monica Lebro has benefitted from this guidance. Earlier this semester, Lebro received a tip that said a major tennis match was being moved from Venezuela to Miami. She approached Strouse for advice on how to proceed, and with his help they broke the story. It was her first time breaking news.

Although she has only been with SFMS for a few months, Lebro has already learned a lot.

“I’ve learned how to take feedback in the best way possible, because it’s always going to come and you can always improve,” Lebro said.

During his career at the Miami New Times, Strouse was at the forefront of a changing newspaper model during the rise of the internet. As media continues to change, Strouse believes that the SFMN is preparing his students for the future.

“Newspapers, in the traditional sense, are transforming as we speak,” Strouse said. “The kids of this school, because of what Miami is, have the potential to really be leaders in the industry in the way it is reforming.”