By Tom Donahue
Hannah Gordon has a résumé that would be the envy of any seasoned professional peddling herself in the job market today.
Her experience includes stints as a newspaper writer, editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief. She writes two blogs and has been a public relations director, a radio show host, and a social media marketing manager. Then there are the big feathers in her cap: writing feature stories for The Buffalo News and serving as a contributing writer for USA Today College.
If things work out over the next several months, she could add book editor to her list of accomplishments.
Under “skills,” Gordon includes still photography and video production, a working knowledge of several industry standard desktop publishing software applications, and familiarity with Facebook, Twitter and a handful of other social media sites. Oh, and she types at an astonishing speed of 80 words per minute.
A seasoned professional, for sure.
But if you’re looking to hire Gordon, you’ll have to wait until December of 2016. That’s when she’s expected to graduate, a semester early, from St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in women’s studies.
You remember journalism; that tired old profession that went the way of dinosaurs, fax machines and DVD players. Didn’t they write its obituary years ago?
Gordon scoffs at the suggestion that learning to write well is out of fashion, or worse, obsolete. After all, it’s the reason she chose St. Bonaventure, she said, and the foundation that supports her vast array of communications experiences and accomplishments.
As a high school senior at Immaculata Academy, a Catholic school in Hamburg, N.Y., Gordon was torn between two regional colleges with strong communications programs. “I specifically wanted a school that would teach me how to hone my writing skills,” she said. “When I visited St. Bonaventure, everybody said exactly what I wanted to hear: Before you learn how to do anything else, you need to know how to write solid copy.”
It’s a philosophy she embraces passionately.
“Some say that journalism is a dying field, that there won’t be any newspapers in another 10 years. Well, I think that’s a lie, but I also think that even if newspapers completely die out and everything is digital, someone has to write what goes online, and it’s more trusted when it sounds like journalism, when it sounds good,” said Gordon. “You need to learn the basics first, because that’s what the people who will hire you are looking for.”
THE DIGITAL AGE has only opened new doors of opportunity for good communicators, she contends: “The expanding digital world doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be journalists anymore. It means there are going to be more journalists, more communicators to keep all this digital stuff straight.”
The value of having solid journalistic skills hasn’t diminished, but the role of the typical journalist has changed, said Gordon, noting St. Bonaventure has adjusted to the shift.
“Most journalists today are backpack journalists. You go out and get the story, shoot the photos, produce a video – you’re it. So it’s important to know how to do all those things,” she said.
“St. Bonaventure has such a diverse and educated staff. If you take a course from Paul Wieland, you’re going to learn how to make a really solid video, and be a fantastic journalist in a different way than if you took a class from Denny Wilkins, where you’re going to learn to write solid copy. And then you take a class from Kimberly DeSimone and you learn the really important aspects of social media.”
If her résumé runneth over, Gordon credits the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s demanding 400-hour internship requirement. “They force you to go out into the world,” she said, pointing out that 300 of those hours must be served off campus.
The school, in turn, sees Gordon as a model student.
“Hannah stops in to see me at the start of every semester to tell me what she’s been doing over the break. It is such a delight because she has so much energy, enthusiasm and passion for her work,” said Dr. Pauline Hoffmann, dean of the Jandoli School. “She studied for a semester in the Czech Republic. When she returned, she pitched the idea of telling stories of her time there to The Buffalo News. What a pleasure to open the paper and see stories I know were pitched by her.”
Gordon spent last summer as an intern at The Buffalo News, an opportunity she’s wanted since working for two years in high school as a correspondent for NeXt, the Buffalo News section written by young people. The only intern in the newspaper’s features department, Gordon wrote a piece on Ant-Man – “I’m a big Marvel geek,” she said – and even reviewed a concert by her favorite band, Fall Out Boy.
“It was a very good experience for me, as a young journalist, to work around people who are so serious, so willing to help you and so happy to have you there,” she said. “It was just welcoming and fun – it was great!”
Gordon is presently a contributing correspondent for USA Today College, the national newspaper’s online edition written by college students, for college students. She was selected as a contributor after a very competitive application process involving strong college writers from across the nation.
GORDON KEEPS HER eye out for regional stories of national interest, but is otherwise free to write and submit “pretty much anything,” she said. With three USA Today College bylines to her credit thus far, Gordon has been retained as a contributor through the spring semester.
Meanwhile, she’s back on campus after winter break, studying and working as editor-in-chief at The Bona Venture, the university’s student newspaper.
She joined the staff as a freshman, an opportunity not all schools offer. “Some schools don’t let you write for the paper until your junior year,” said Gordon. “Here, you’re immediately thrust into the action. After all, you’re a journalist now.”
You get something else as a student in the Jandoli School at St. Bonaventure, said Gordon: The chance to be part of a network of talented and driven alumni that includes five Pulitzer Prize winners and countless others in high-profile positions.
“The people who are committed (to communications) have this drive in them. I really admire that and it’s a drive I see in Bonaventure students,” said Gordon. “And the Bonaventure alumni have this drive still, so it’s a huge, beautiful network of people being very ambitious and helping each other out.”
Drive? Gordon may be redefining the word, said Hoffmann.
“Hannah takes every opportunity that comes her way. I think she sees stories everywhere she goes. That’s the mark of a good journalist – see something, ask questions, wonder, dig, get the story, write well, do it again,” she said.
“Hannah has said to us she plans to write for The New York Times in 10 years and there isn’t a single person in the Jandoli School who doubts she will make that happen.”
(Donahue is director of print and electronic communications at St. Bonaventure.)
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