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Paula Madison to students: ‘If you come to work and don’t have your own story, I will fire you.’

By Tierra Smith
Grambling State University journalism student

Television executive Paula Madison told Grambling State University students they can get the jobs of their dreams, starting with well-written, well-edited resumes and cover letters.

Paula Madison, Grambling State University visit

Paula Madison, CEO of the Los Angeles Sparks, stopped by to chat with Grambling State University journalism students. Photo: Trent Brown

“Cover letters should speak about how you can help me,” said Madison, a former NBC Universal television station general manager and news director. “Your cover letter is your first interview, even before I put your tape in.”

Madison urged the mass communication majors to create more than one resume and more than one cover letter, making each specific for every job, company and market.

Majority owner of the Africa Channel, Madison visited Grambling as the fourth and final installment of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism Visiting Professors Program this semester. She spent time visiting classes, providing one-on-one career and writing feedback and sharing her wisdom about business, business journalism and media and news careers and opportunities.

Madison said there would be a greater chance of seeing more diversity in business journalism if African American and other students stop veering away from math. “To be a business journalist, I’m not suggesting that you need to be a math wiz,” added Madison, “but you’ve got to have some proficiency with numbers, you need to have some understanding of economics, you need to have some understanding of finances.”

Before getting any job, however, Madison said it is essential to submit resumes and cover letters without any mistakes. Accidently mailing something to “Paul Madison” rather than “Paula Madison” can be the quickest way to find your documents in the trash.

“If you make that mistake, you will make more mistakes,” said Madison, who is the majority owner of the Los Angeles Sparks. When you make it to a big market, there is no room for such errors. Madison said when you make mistakes in markets like New York City, the company is likely to be sued.

The former news director at WNBC-TV in New York City said a lot of job candidates fail to write convincing cover letters, saying they will do anything rather than showing that they have some kind of specialty. Madison said big market media outlets want people who produce “enterprise,” stories journalists pursue on their own. It is so important that Madison said she would tell her newsroom staffs, “If you come to work and don’t have your own story, I will fire you.”

Paula Madison Visits Grambling State University from Orlando Lewellen on Vimeo.

After you have perfected a resume and cover letter, Madison said broadcast candidates must avoid sending tapes with what she called “beauty shots,” pretty faces with basic, expected journalism content. She said major television markets and networks are looking for some substance, not just journalists who know how to do live shots.

The most efficient way to produce enterprise work is not to fall victim to “lazy journalism.” Madison required her staff to find their own news, not depending on media releases and newspapers as primary sources.

Madison’s reporters find their own stories that provide a service for the community that people find necessary. The community understands that the only way you got that story is because you were really in the community. Madison liked her employees to live in the different communities, so they can get the stories that other stations would not.

Reneaux Ruffin, a broadcasting major, described Madison as “one of the most down to earth and homey people we’ve had to visit the university.” He said she was “honest and attentive” as she “drilled” students when asking about their careers, not just their majors.

Kevin Keise, a junior mass communication major from Houston, called Madison’s news and story idea development process “remarkable,” especially how she approached the evening newscasts.

What had the most impact on Justin Madden, a senior mass communication major from Los Angeles, was Madison’s encouragement and inspiration to ”not only report the news, but to own the news outlets” producing and providing the news.

A resident of Houston, Tierra Smith is a sophomore at Grambling State University. She is a broadcasting major with an emphasis on sports journalism. Already a staff member at the campus newspaper, The Gramblinite, she jumps in to help edit as often as possible. She did quite well in an mass media writing and editing class with a business journalism focus, and she’s been an active participant in the strictly-optional Reynolds Tigers workshop program. She’ll be doing an internship covering news and sports at Gannett’s Shreveport Times in the summer 2012.

In 2014, Career tips, Networking, Visiting Professors Program.

Comments (1)

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  1. Will Sutton says:

    Paula Madison’s Reynolds visit was a challenging, engaging and fruitful experience. As a result of her visit, more Grambling students have been exposed to business, business journalism, what it takes to be a successful journalist and media professional and much more. Several will be attending the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention in New Orleans next month, including Trent Brown, Orlando Lewellen and Tierra Smith. If you want to meet one or more of them, let me know.

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