It is no secret that most college students have no idea what they are going to do with their degrees after they graduate, and I am not ashamed to say I am one of the many confused young minds. I have considered everything from PR agent, journalist, designer, lawyer, event planner, and explorer, but one profession that remains at the top of my list is editor at a magazine.
John Capouya, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Writing at the University of Tampa, has years of diverse experience in the journalism field, as both writer and editor and shared some valuable insight with me about the life of a professional journalist.
After getting his Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia, he began his career in New York working as an editorial assistant at Sport Magazine, where he began writing about professional basketball events, then became the editor of the basketball section, and eventually worked up to a position as a senior editor.
Since then he’s worked for multiple publications such as the New York Times, Newsweek, Newsday, SmartMoney Magazine. He has written and edited features, lifestyle pieces, finance articles, sports pieces, book reviews, and travel pieces, and still free lances for the Tampa Bay Times and writes book reviews for Fortune.com while teaching.
When asked if it was normal for journalists to work in such a wide variety of fields, Capouya said, “That’s part of the appeal. You know, even if you’re a writer, one day you’ll get assigned to this kind of story and the other day it’s that kind of story. There’s always issues involved and you’ve got to research it.”
Capouya said that his favorite job as a journalist was covering professional basketball, but that the problem with any consistent position is that it is easy to get burned out writing the same type of pieces over and over. As a freelance journalist now he is able to incorporate as much variety into his writing as he wants. Instead of being assigned a topic to cover, he finds an idea that interests him and pitches it to editors at the Tampa Bay Times and Fortune.com.
He said, “I just come up with ideas, and email someone who I know supervises that area and usually, generally speaking, they say okay.”
I really enjoyed being able to speak to Capouya about what he considers the pros and cons of being a working journalist, and about being an editor versus a staff writer or freelancer. I don’t think I could be a staff writer, based on what he said and what I already knew, because I would get bored covering the same subject constantly. However free lancing sounds appealing because of the creativity I would get to express.
Capouya said, “There’s very little money involved,” but he writes because as a professor it is good to be published, and he it is a mutually beneficial relationship with the publisher, “I think they feel like they’re getting good content, and pretty reliable, and they need to fill their paper and their website every day. And I’m pretty selective, I only write a few pieces a year.”
Working as an editor, Capouya said, was a lot higher stress than freelancing. He explained that editors are responsible for choosing content, organizing it, and working with writers to publish good, relevant stories.
He said, “As an editor you usually almost always have a variety of kinds of stories assigned to different writers,” and that in order to produce good content, editors have to constantly stay up to date on current events.
Though his career has been varied, challenging, and sometimes inconsistent, the thing that stuck with me the most from our interview was when Capouya said, “I think the biggest is I made a good living for a long time using my brain and my aptitude with words, and that’s good,” which is what I really hope to accomplish after college.