Written by: Camila Fernandez
Eyder Peralta is no stranger to covering big news, and now he prepares to face his greatest challenge yet half way across the world.
Peralta, who graduated from FIU with a bachelor’s in communications (journalism) in 2003, was recently announced NPR’s East Africa Correspondent effective Jan. 2017. With NPR correspondents located in 17 domestic bureaus and 17 foreign bureaus, such as in New York, Washington D.C., Berlin and Cairo, Peralta will make his next move in Nairobi, Kenya.
“For any journalist to become a foreign correspondent is a dream come true. It’s a huge milestone in my career and it’s a chance for me to tell some pretty awesome stories – That’s what I came into this business for,” said Peralta.
He will live in Nairobi for about four years covering developments on terrorism and technology and how an increase in urbanization is affecting its growing population.
Peralta has been NPR’s Washington D.C. correspondent and associate producer and was a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.He has done international reporting in Cuba, Nigeria, Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua, his home country. He has also been awarded two Peabody Awards for his work at NPR and coverage on Ebola.
“It’s a great time to be a storyteller right now because you can tell stories in a million different way in a bunch of different mediums and so, while there’s incredible visibility, there’s also incredible space to tell really great stories,” Peralta said.
At NPR in D.C., Peralta covered topics, like gay marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement and did an investigative piece on Philando Castile, a black man who was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota.
“I love to write spot news because it feels like you’re writing the first draft of history, so I think covering much of the civil unrest in the country has been illuminating and cathartic and you also get to tell amazing, dramatic stories.”
“I don’t see myself doing anything else but journalism because I don’t know how to do anything else.”
Peralta first started as a literature student, but he credits professors Allan Richards, Mario Diament and Don Sneed who later died in 2005, as the people who inspired him to pursue journalism instead. He said their writings peaked his imagination and showed him that journalism was more about storytelling.
He also said Sneed got him an internship at the Miami Herald where he learned the importance of “getting facts right and using proper grammar.”
“What the Miami Herald and Don Sneed taught me is that journalism is a craft. This is a profession where you learn by doing, and I think Sneed always hammered on that.”
“I write a lot, and I think the more you sort of write and produce stories, the better you get at it and the better a reporter you become. It’s simply work your ass off and it will pay off, which is another way of saying that I don’t know that there’s a sort of magical trajectory.”
Peralta describes FIU as foundational because it got him on the path to his career and accessible because it provides good, affordable education. However, he said it is the University’s diverse population that impacted him the most because “FIU is a very welcoming place in a way the corporate world isn’t.”
For example, only 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs in 2014 were minorities, including African-Americans, Asians and Latin Americans, according to a report by Fortune. Meanwhile, FIU is nationally recognized as number 1 in awarding bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Hispanic students.
“One of the things that’s important about FIU is that there are people who look like you who are your role models, and I think we underestimate that part of the University. It’s a rare thing and just sort of soaking it in, acknowledging it and celebrating it is something we should do.”
To read work by Peralta, click here.
Click below to hear more of our interview with Peralta.
One year ago, Jessica Meszaros graduated with a journalism degree from FIU. One year later, she became the new anchor/reporter for WGCU News, the NPR and PBS affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida. But for the Miami native, whose work ethic and skills are to be admired, this opportunity didn’t come easily.
“It took me almost a year after graduating to get [this] full-time position. I applied and interviewed all around the country. It was hard to keep going and stay positive when I felt like no one wanted me,” she said.
Before Meszaros graduated in April 2014, she served as an intern for WLRN-Miami Herald News, the NPR affiliate in Miami, in September 2012. Usually, when internships end, interns in the journalism industry move on to other opportunities. However, Meszaros wanted to continue, and she did — for more than two years — as a freelance reporter for the radio station.
“I got this [freelancing] position by continuing to pitch Miami stories to the editors. I knew the editors, I knew the kinds of stories they wanted, and I refused to shut the door I had opened as an intern,” she said. “After completing five stories I had pitched, the editors began to regularly assign stories to me.”
During her time as a freelancer with WLRN, she would either pitch stories to her editors or work on stories assigned to her. Her typical day included working odd hours into the nights and weekends, gathering as many interviews as possible to tell the whole story, and even recording her narration inside her car.
Now, as WGCU’s anchor/reporter, she’ll be recording her narration inside a studio instead — and with a set schedule.
“I will still have to do these things, except I’ll have a studio to record in and not my car. I’ll be reporting weekday mornings and I’ll be live anchoring the local news in the afternoons, which I’ve never done before,” she said.
This will be Meszaros’ first time permanently living away from home, although she worked as an intern for three months in Washington, D.C., for NPR’s “All Things Considered” in 2013.
“I’ve lived in the same house since I was in my mother’s womb. I am nervous because this is all new. New job, new home, new city. But I’m extremely excited to see how I will change now,” she said.
Meszaros thanks the SJMC for shaping her into a multimedia journalist, but she says the school couldn’t prepare her for the rejection she’d face.
“I’ve learned a lot about rejection on my own without the university’s help,” she said. “I learned that rejection is OK because it really isn’t the right job for you until the right one comes along.”
She says her drive and perseverance are what helped her succeed and take on this new opportunity in her life.
“I was in a constant state of worry about my future. But if you have passion and the drive to accomplish what you want, you will make it happen, so just chill.”
From its humble origins in a Norwegian shipyard shack in 2001, Meltwater has grown to become one of Europe’s leading media monitoring solutions, a go-to company for data analytics and media intelligence. Today they are one of the largest media intelligence companies in the world, with San Francisco headquarters and offices in 20 countries and 41 cities. We invited them to our Fall ’14 Career Fair here at FIU’s BBC Campus – and it was their that Maria Serrano met her future team.
Eighteen months later Maria Serrano is thriving, so we reached out to her to learn more about her journey, her successes, and what advice she has for our current SJMC students.
Can you describe your journey from SJMC alum to Meltwater? Looking back, what do you think your key steps to success were?
The continuous support that FIU provides students in order for them to get in contact with great employers like Meltwater, is the main key to success. I met my team from Meltwater at the Fall Career Fair in 2014, held at the Biscayne Bay Campus. I showcased the knowledge that I had gained at FIU and a month later I started my internship at Meltwater. Within 4 months I was promoted to Implementation Manager. I graduated from FIU in December 2015, and today I’m working full time in a company that I enjoy growing professionally at.
What was it about Meltwater that attracted you?
Meltwater’s focus on developing their employer’s as business leaders. Meltwater’s customer base is very varied and I’ve therefore learned incredibly about many different business and industries. We have clients from all over the world and from many different business areas, and with help of my supervisor’s support I have learned to work efficiently in a multi-faceted environment.
How did your studies at the SJMC prepare you for the challenges of working with an international company with a focus on online data?
Most of the classes prepared me to have a global perspective of the business world. The fact that FIU has a requirement on global learning expanded the way I see businesses and their operations. In terms of online data, I took many classes that taught us the importance of having tech-acumen in this ever-changing world. The media monitoring that Meltwater provides was an option a few years ago, but now it is a requirement to succeed in most industries.
What do you think is the most important aspect of media intelligence that outsiders don’t appreciate?
The most important aspect will be to know the world that you live in. Nowadays it is key to know how your brand, your name, your company is being perceived in the media. Key decisions can be drawn from having media intelligence about a topic, issue, brand or person that you care about.
What advice do you have for current SJMC journalism students who are looking to succeed in the world of media intelligence?
- Be flexible, especially for constant changes.
- Be patient.
- Know your strengths and work on enhancing them.
John James Muller graduated with a PR degree from FIU’s School of Communication in 2009. Seven years later he has achieved 10 seasons of strategic PR initiatives at New York Fashion Week.Muller is a Director at petitePARADE Kids Fashion Week, a platform he helped grow through several media partners, and has just accepted a role as Part-Time Faculty teaching part of the Fashion Marketing program at PARSONS School of Design, beginning Spring 2016.
Can you describe your journey from SJMC alum to successful NYC publicist? Looking back, what do you think your key steps to success were?
I do believe that success is measured in moments. PR is a tough field to feel completely successful in, you have moments of disparity when not hearing back on pitches or invites; but persistency is important. During college, I volunteered at as many industry-related events as possible (i.e. Art Basel Miami Beach, Food & Wine Festival, Miami Swim Week, etc.) Right after graduating from FIU’s SJMC, I moved to NYC with a few hundred dollars and a handful of relationships. Through a recommendation, a well-respected Publicist and Editor In Chief of a luxury publication gave me an opportunity to work at her firm and since then, we’ve conquered 10+ seasons of New York Fashion Week together. I think my key steps were taking chances and saying “yes” to anything that came my way. You have to prove your worth, and that only comes through working vigorously and selflessly.
You’ve grown petitePARADE into a much larger initiative with several new media partners. Can you talk about how you became involved with this project, and how you grew it beyond initial expectations?
There is no “I” in team, it takes a village to grow such a platform. I’ve been honored to have an amazing team and learn from the partners involved in petitePARADE Kids Fashion Week. As publicist, I knew that in order to grow, we had to have several media partners and unique coverage. There is an uproar in children’s fashion in North America and unlike the women’s and menswear shows, there isn’t much competition, so creativity is crucial. Digitally, we expanded outside of the bi-annual runway shows – we have a go-to blog, social network and an audience of well-respected members of the fashion industry. Through incalculable amounts of research and development, we’re thrilled to be approaching 10 seasons of petitePARADE Kids Fashion Week runway shows in Manhattan’s most respected venues.
You’ve taken on a role as part-time faculty teaching PR at PARSONS School of Design – how did that come about, and why did you decide to teach?
Since my learning experience at the SJMC, I’ve always wanted to teach. Over the years, I’ve been elated to share my knowledge with interns who also want that hands-on experience. I know what’s important and what can help students succeed in the field. PR & Marketing is changing exponentially, and students need to hit the ground running while in school to be able to enter the workforce and spearhead creative projects and initiatives. For the past two years, I’ve sat as a panelist at PARSONS School of Design, judging the childrenswear graduate collections – the relationship began that way and when the opportunity presented itself, I was recommended for the course.
What advice do you have for other public relations and communications graduates who are looking to become publicists for fashion, art, and lifestyle brands?
Always say “Yes, I can!” and figure it out along the way. Experience is priceless in this industry. You may not get the paying job you initially want, but commit yourself to whatever you can and show your employers that you can be the driving force, setting yourself apart from the rest. Relationships are also more than half of the battle, given its general title of Communications. Stay in touch with your contacts whether they’re at VOGUE or have moved to Vietnam, network and attend events. Lastly, all those grammar exams, pay close attention – nothing gets under a journalist or editors skin more than misusing words or punctuation.
With so many successes already under your belt, what’s next?
I’m really excited to be teaching my first course at PARSONS. It’s one of the most respected design schools in the world and the alma mater of America’s most-recognized fashion designers. PR isn’t the most thankful career, but being able to give back by sharing my craft might be the most rewarding experience to come. This February, we’ll have the 40th show of Custo Barcelona at New York Fashion Week and this March will be the 10th edition of petitePARADE Kids Fashion Week. Luckily, work hasn’t slowed down very much; but I don’t forget to pause at times and enjoy life, smile and say thank you to all of those who’ve helped me grow along the way.
Growing up, Jenise Fernandez always knew she wanted to be a journalist. But she didn’t give much thought to pursuing the TV medium until a professor encouraged her.
“After taking Neil Reisner’s class, he talked to me and said, ‘I really think you should consider the TV route. I think that’s the route you would like, and that’s a route you would enjoy,’” Fernandez said.
She said Reisner pushed her to get an internship at WPLG. And now, six years later, she reports news and anchors the traffic segments every weekday at the same station.
“It’s fun, exciting, and a little overwhelming at times,” she said. “This city seems so different than I remember. But I’m also looking at it through a reporter’s eyes.”
Like other aspiring reporters, she knew she had to make tough decisions in order to pursue her dreams.
THE JOB HUNT
Fernandez graduated from FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2010 with a bachelor of science in communication. With internships at WPLG and WTVJ under her belt, along with a writing gig at WSVN, she started the job search.
She said she applied to more than 10 job openings a day, which meant sending her resume and reel to news directors every time.
“Out of 10 news directors (in one day), I’d probably hear back from maybe one. It was that competitive and it was that hard,” Fernandez said.
She spent a lot of nights talking to her mother, asking if she was meant to be a journalist.
“It’s really hard to land a job right at graduation or before graduation. If you do, that’s awesome, but if you don’t, don’t think that you’re not going to make it,” she said.
And sometimes, whenever she’d receive responses from news directors, they’d lead to nowhere. She described the experience as dating someone and waiting for him/her to call you or text you. But then, in October 2010, five months after graduation, she applied for a position at KATC (market #121), the ABC affiliate in Lafayette, Louisiana. The next day, Fernandez received the call she’d always wanted.
“We talked over the phone, and she basically hired me over the phone. I had never visited the state of Louisiana, didn’t really know much about the state of Louisiana, but I accepted the challenge,” she said.
She said her parents and friends thought she was crazy for accepting the job offer.
“But I went for it. A huge leap of faith. Packed up my bags, drove 15 hours to Lafayette, and called it home for two years,” she said.
FROM LAFAYETTE TO PENSACOLA
Fernandez signed a two-year contract at KATC, where she’d end up working as a multimedia journalist (also known as a one-person band).
“I shot, I wrote, and I edited all of my own stories. It was the most terrifying experience but the most incredible experience of my life so far,” she said.
On some days, Fernandez would drive through swamps and climb over levees to get the stories.
“I always tell people I was born and raised in Miami, but I grew up in Lafayette,” she said. “When you’re 22 years old and you’re living by yourself in a really strange city, you will grow up very fast.”
Six months before her contract with KATC was over, Fernandez applied for jobs in larger markets. In December 2012, Fernandez scored a reporter position (where she’d work alongside a photographer) at ABC affiliate WEAR (market #58) in Pensacola, Florida, which is about nine hours from Miami.
“Pensacola was a bit of a different market because it was slower. Even though Lafayette was really small, it had a lot of movement,” she said. At WEAR, Fernandez came in each day with at least five story ideas in mind.
“It’s nice to chase the breaking news stories of the day, but what makes you a really journalist is when you can enterprise a story and when you can get an exclusive that your competitor isn’t going to have,” she said.
HOME SWEET HOME
After spending two years in Pensacola (a total of four years away from home), Fernandez landed a job in her hometown as a reporter for WPLG. She recently completed her first year back home.
“I’m not at all surprised that she moved so quickly from smaller markets to Miami, the 16th largest market in the country. It shows what dedication, ambition and passion can do,” Reisner said.
Fernandez said she’s happy to be home again with her friends and family.
“I changed. I grew up a lot,” she said. “Everywhere I go, every person I talk to, it’s a potential story. It’s a potential source. I’m learning so much about my city that I didn’t know before.”
She’s still not sure what’s next for her after her contract with WPLG ends, but she said she’s interested in giving network news a try.
ADVICE TO STUDENTS
Fernandez’s story shows an example of the competitiveness of the broadcast journalism industry. Out of all the students she graduated with, she recalled only one other student who made it on the air: WSVN’s Lorena Estrada.
“I thought that was a clear sign of how competitive this business is. You also have to be willing to make the sacrifices. You have to be willing to move away,” she said. “You have to want it. And if you want it, you can make it happen. But it all comes with you really, really wanting it.”
The best part, Fernandez said, is that there are different aspects of journalism, like writing, producing, and filming, where people can excel and thrive.
“It’s a numbers game. You will find that job. You just can’t give up. Keep applying. And if a news director doesn’t call you back or doesn’t email you back, reach out again,” she said. “We’re journalists. We’re aggressive. Show them that you’re aggressive. Show them that you’re serious.”