CJA packs in students, recent grads for latest spring networking event

The Chicago Journalists Association held its third annual spring networking event for college students and recent graduates in a packed room at the original Billy Goat Tavern Thursday, May 18.

The gathering was sponsored by CJA’s associate board and consisted of casual mingling and a panel discussion with the following professional journalists: Andrea Watson (DNAinfo), Mick Dumke (Chicago Sun-Times), Liz Stanton (freelance journalist) and David Zivan (Modern Luxury).

Several panelists pose with one another at the end of the night. From left: DNAinfo’s Andrea Watson, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mick Dumke, CJA executive board director Frank Bennett Rowder and Modern Luxury’s David Zivan.  Photo credit: Stephanie Choporis

“I used to associate networking events with uncomfortable settings that included business suits and elevator pitches, so I wanted to create an environment where students and journalists could interact more easily,” said CJA associate board chairman Stephanie Choporis. “Our group of attendees seems to keep growing, so I hope that means we have tapped into something valuable.”

Students and recent graduates from schools including Columbia College Chicago, Northern Illinois University and University of Wisconsin-Parkside came out to hear the journalists’ advice. After roughly an hour of socializing, the group settled in for the panel discussion, and the panelists began addressing mistakes they made early in their careers.

Watson admitted that she shied away from asking many questions on assignments and later ran into difficulties when trying to find answers online. She assured the students that it’s acceptable to ask questions that make them feel “stupid.” If they don’t, she said another reporter will ask. Dumke added that he would mentally prepare to call strangers but reminded everyone that it’s a conversation, not an “interrogation.”

Other notable advice included Stanton’s recommendation to create a website for showcasing work samples and Zivan’s tip to learn reporting tricks. To handle the stress of deadlines and other situations, the panelists shared different outlets, from swimming to turning off their cell phones during non-working hours.

“Journalism is hard and frustrating sometimes,” Watson said and encouraged the students to surround themselves with mentors, join journalism organizations and intern as much as possible.

Students and recent graduates closely listen as the journalists offer advice during the panel discussion.  Photo credit: Stephanie Choporis

Dumke ended with a twofold reminder about one’s work: Stay humble but don’t be too hard on yourself.

“Your work is never as good or as bad as you think it is,” he said.

Choporis hopes to hold another back-to-school networking event in the fall and says she is toying with a couple of other possibilities.

The associate board consists of roughly 15 college students and recent graduates from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, Augustana College, Southern Illinois University and North Central College. Membership is free.

Students or recent graduates interested in joining should contact Choporis at info@chicagocja.wpcomstaging.com for more information.