Alumni share career advice with aspiring writers

By Garrett Cecere
Editor-in-Chief

When Matt Huston (’12) got one of his first internships at The Philadelphia Inquirer during college, he was surprised by how little assistance he had from his boss.

The journalists discuss their lives after graduation (Photo courtesy of Emilie Lounsberry).

“There are some internships where they’ll … throw you in the deep end,” he said. “So it’s good to … be prepared for whatever it is you’re going to do.”

His editor sent him out to a railroad crossing where a car had been hit by a train. Huston drove out, took notes and came back, only to have his editor ask him about a detail that he couldn’t recall.

“(He asked me) whether the gate was up or down, and I didn’t take note of that at all,” he said. “At some internships, a supervisor might hold your hand and … guide you through that process. Here, they (said), ‘go do it and … let’s see what you do.’”

After graduation, Huston interned at Psychology Today, where he has worked for seven years and is now a senior associate editor. He shares his passion for writing with fellow alumni Jamie Primeau (’13) and Kathryn Brenzel (’11), who reunited at the College on Friday, Oct. 11, to share their experiences with students at the “Making a Living as a Writer” event in the Education Building Room 113.

Primeau, who double majored in journalism and English, has spent the last five years working for Bustle, where she has worked her way up to being the celebrity and entertainment news editor.

While her job always involves discussing tasks with a team of part-time writers who submit two to three stories during their six-hour shift, the experience changes every day with the news of the celebrity world.

“Whether (it’s) more lighthearted news like celebrity dating rumors or more serious things like celebrities opening up about mental health and other topics, it’s … a whole mix of stuff,” she said.

Since 2015, Brenzel has reported on the latest New York real estate news for The Real Deal, where she has covered areas like corruption in construction and the local carpenters’ union.

“I try to find something that’s tangentially related to real estate,” she said. “The elevator safety in the city was a pretty big issue in recent years … We did an investigative series on the state of safety standards and what that’s meant for people.” 

But whether they’ve written about myths of the human mind, the latest celebrity breakup or elevator safety standards at their respective publications, the trio’s fascination with writing began at the same place — the College.

Huston wrote for TCNJ Magazine, as well as The Signal, where he worked his way up to editor-in-chief. Despite what his current publication’s title may suggest, he never majored or minored in psychology.

“(In college, I didn’t think) I was going to become a journalist writing about psychology for seven years,” he said. “I had the opportunity, working with TCNJ Magazine, to write a couple pieces that were related to psychology … because we have professors here who do research and write books.”

During her time as a student, Brenzel worked on The Signal’s editorial staff and was a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, which co-sponsored the event with the journalism and English departments.

Brenzel’s college experience also helped her discover her direction. In her final year at the College, she interned at W. W. Norton & Company, where she found that publishing wasn’t her main interest.

“(The internship) taught me that it wasn’t exactly the right fit for me,” she said. “But it was a really good experience because I thought that I really wanted to do that.”

Brenzel’s interest in writing about real estate didn’t come to her until she started working for The Real Deal.

“I had done a couple of … real estate stories for (The) Star Ledger, but … it was almost like learning a new language in that … there’s a bunch of lingo that goes with real estate. You have to really understand business and finance,” she said.

Primeau, on the other hand, was no stranger to interviewing and writing about celebrities when she started at Bustle. When she covered the 2011 spring concert for The Signal, she sat down with LMFAO.

“Getting to sit down with them and ask them questions, in my job now, I don’t get to do that as much as I would like, but I’ve gotten to interview Chrissy Teigen, which was super exciting to me, and I got to talk to Lindsay Lohan on the phone,” she said.

Primeau also worked for Her Campus and, like Huston, was The Signal’s editor-in-chief. In answering students’ questions about necessary skills and finding opportunities, she emphasized the importance of search engine optimization.

“(SEO involves) making sure that when you’re writing a headline or writing a story, you’re taking into account … what someone would Google, and making sure that your stories are … search-friendly, but don’t sound robotic,” she said.

While Primeau stressed that using LinkedIn and Indeed are necessary, she noted every job she had since college has been through word of mouth.

“My first job, I got (it) because my old internship boss recommended me for it,” she said. “I think there’s so much value in building a strong network and people who will vouch for you and look out for you.” 

The alumni also felt that using various skills in reporting is vital, as Brenzel noted that she has had to use photography and video in her recent jobs.

“Having to take pictures to go along with my stories was a big part of my last job at nj.com,” she said.

Primeau acknowledged that getting a job can be difficult, saying the difference between career searches and getting involved at the College is that students have so many activities with which they can get involved. But she ultimately advised students to be easy on themselves and realize that it takes time.

“Everyone finds something, but it takes time,” she said. “It definitely takes a toll on your self-esteem afterwards when it’s hard to get a job, but … it’s hard for everyone.”

Huston looks back on his brief experience with The Philadelphia Inquirer as a valuable one, saying that if people are able to adapt to a job environment where there’s more independence, then they get more responsibility.

“The trade off is that you have to be prepared for lessons,” he said.

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