What Happens When You Get Stung by the “Be” Bug

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?

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Chet Czarniak, retired Executive Editor for Online News at USAToday. Courtesy of Alyssa Kramer

“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.

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Students watch and listen as Czarniak speaks. Courtesy of Alyssa Kramer

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.

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Czarniak tells a story about covering the Kentucky Derby. Courtesy of Alyssa Kramer.

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.)

In 2010, under a newsroom-wide reorganization, I became USA TODAY’s executive editor for programming and distribution, overseeing the editorial operations and publication of digital and print platforms.
In 2012, under a tweaking of the newsroom structure under a new publisher and editor, my title was changed to Executive Editor for Online News. Besides overseeing daily editorial operations of all of USAT’s digital platforms, I also oversaw USAT’s breaking-news, Money and Tech content teams.
JB: How did you use your liberal arts background and Duquesne education to position yourself for career success?
CZ: As a liberal arts student, I was exposed to a number of different classes and fields of study – foreign language to philosophy to theology, not to mention obviously the journalism training I had – and this helped deal with the ever-evolving topics that I was exposed to as a reporter and editor, especially for a national publication like USA TODAY. It provided a full buffet of ideas and subjects. I also think that the professors I had at that time encouraged exploration and experimentation – even if I didn’t realize it then – that helped me in my career, especially when I made the move from print to digital journalism. I think that was the real basis then of a Duquesne education.
JB: Why did you choose to attend Duquesne?
CZ: I grew up in the Mount Pleasant area of Westmoreland County, and Duquesne had a great reputation in this part of the state as a midsize liberal-arts college. I found that strong liberal-arts focus to be appealing, as well as the noteworthy standing DU had in specific study areas, such as the law, pharmacy and music schools. And at the time I was thinking of pursuing a law career (a path I did not follow, however.) So, when I received my acceptance letter in the mailbox, I made my decision to attend Duquesne, beginning in 1968, even before I had walked the 30 yards or so back to my house.
JB: What advice would you offer current students in terms of pursuing their career? 
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Czarniak talks about the importance of being an innovator and entrepreneur.

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.)

2. Enthusiasm. Show your future boss that you’re going to be a team player and someone who brings a “can-do” spirit to the workplace.
3. Skills. You have to prove you can do the job; bring the evidence that shows you are familiar with the tools, protocols, language and anything else required for the position you are taking.
A liberal-arts education is an excellent way to develop that kind of thinking because, by its very nature, students are encouraged to try new things, acquire new and varied tastes and look at how situations can be changed and enhanced.
-Jason
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Dr. Mike Dillon, Chair of JMA, and Chet Cznariak talk about his experience at Duquesne.

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?”

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