There’s an Avett Brothers song that occasionally plays on my Pandora radio with the lyrics, “Decide what to be and go be it.” Good advice. I guess that’s why they write songs for a living and why I enjoy their music. However, the pursuit of what to be is something we’re all in search of, right? That’s not really discussed in the song. So, what happens when you’re stung by the “Be” bug?
“Be persistent, be patient, be passionate, and be enthusiastic.” Those words were uttered by Chet Czarniak (left), the retired Executive Editor for Online News at USAToday and a 1972 McAnulty College and Graduate School Alum of Duquesne. He recently paid a visit to College Hall and spoke to the Journalism Media Arts 434/534, Media and Sport, class. Having had a professional career that spanned forty years, Czarniak certainly understands that it takes a lot to be what you want to be. It was these philosophies of enthusiasm, passion, patience, and persistence that helped propel his career be what it was. He was stung by the “Be” bug.
Sound advice to a room full of current college students who are in the process of beginning to figure it out and explore what they want to be.
As part of Mr. Czarniak’s visit, I had chance to sit down and talk more in-depth about his experiences and advice he’s willing to offer current students.JB: Tell me about your career? What positions have you held?
CZ: After graduation by Duquesne in 1972, I went to work as a news reporter for the Valley News Dispatch in Tarentum, which was purchased by Gannett in 1976 (and is now owned by Trib Media Co.).
In 1977, I was assigned to Harrisburg as the state legislative correspondent for Gannett News Service. Covered the legislature, governor and news that was important to the areas covered by Gannett papers in the state. Covered the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the 1980 political party conventions.
In 1983, went to USA TODAY as a sports reporter, focusing my reporting on horse racing and winter sports as well as other general assignments.
In 1986 I became an assignment editor in the Sports department. During 13 years in that role I oversaw coverage of a number of sports beats plus special projects and long-form cover stories. (A side note: I have attended 11 Olympics as a reporter or editor – Sarajevo in 1984; Calgary, ’88; Albertville, ’92; Lillehammer, ’94; Atlanta, ’96; Nagano, ’98; Sydney, ’00; Salt Lake City, ’02; Torino, ’06; Beijing, ’08; Vancouver, ’10)
In 1999, I moved to usatoday.com as sports editor, overseeing sports coverage for USA TODAY’s website.
In 2001, I became the managing editor of usatoday.com, overseeing daily operations and coverage for all aspects of the website and derivative products. (In 2006, we merged the print and digital newsrooms and I was one of six managing editors, continuing my editorial oversight of the daily output of the website and emerging digital platforms.)
CZ: Be passionate and enthusiastic about what you want to do in your career. Having said that, be open to changing your career path if you’re not getting fired-up with that first choice. Always have a Plan B. For me, as an example, journalism was a Plan B early in my freshman year. As it turned out, that Plan B was the right choice. As for taking advantage of your college years, remember that the university is a multi-faceted training ground that provides a place for you to theorize, develop hands-on skills and experiment. But that’s only part of what you’ll need to craft a career. It’s your enthusiasm, persistence and curiosity that will drive you to success. So use those college years to develop that. And finally, try any means possible to reach out to the professional world beyond the university to learn about your chosen profession. For example, the internships I had at newspapers in Pittsburgh and Greensburg were invaluable. For me as well, visiting the print shop in Homewood where the Duke student newspaper was printed and talking to the printers was a great learning experience.JB: What were the 2 or 3 qualities you would look for when you hired someone?
CZ: 1. Curiosity. Show the hiring manager you care and have thought about this career and job by pointing out ways you have brought uniqueness and experimentation to the work you have done. (An example I mention a lot: A reporter in Gannett’s Fort Collins, Colo., paper who bought and learned how to fly a small remote-controlled “helicopter” and attached a camera to it to take aerial photos and video for his stories.)
Something you didn’t know about Chet Czarniak: He is the father of ESPN, SportsCenter Anchor, Lindsay Czarniak. How’s that for a,”Did you Know?”