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From high school to hired: alumni talk about their intro to journalism

As part of Scholastic Journalism Week, Feb. 19-23, the WVU Reed College of Media recognized alumni who began their journalism careers in high school, including Teran Malone (BSJ, 2023), John McPherson (BSJ, 1979; MS Integrated Marketing Communications, 2013), Michael Rinker (BSJ, 2020) and Olivia Sneed (BSJ, 2019).

Teran Malone

During his freshman year at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville, West Virginia, Malone enrolled in the only journalism class available. Within a year, he and his team converted the struggling newspaper into a television production-based course, and he was promoted to student advisor and sports director. During his senior year, he was named the Wetzel County Youth of the Year for his work in sports media. Malone majored in Sports and Adventure Media at WVU and interned with MetroNews, where he accepted a full-time position as an overnight radio operations manager and sports reporter upon graduation. He is now the MetroNews director of creative content for WVU Lacrosse and vice president of the MOV2GO Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides cost-free education, scholarships and grant funding to Ohio and West Virginia high school journalism students.

John McPherson

Even as a child, McPherson paid attention to news coverage of national and global events and knew he wanted to pursue journalism. At Bethel Park Senior High School in Pennsylvania, he signed up to be the morning announcer and joined the staff of the school’s literary magazine, eventually becoming the editor during his senior year. He also won a combined Martin Luther King Jr. oratory and essay writing contest. McPherson, who is currently the editor and publisher of Vernissage Magazine, earned his bachelor’s degree in Journalism with minors in English and Communications and a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications.

Michael Rinker

Rinker also started his broadcast career doing the morning announcements that were televised throughout Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He enrolled in radio and television production classes through a Spotsylvania County Career and Technical Center, where he learned Adobe software and camera skills. After earning his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with a minor in sports communications, Rinker landed the main anchor position for the ABC affiliate in Dothan, Alabama.

Olivia Sneed

Sneed joined the yearbook and newspaper staff at Morgantown High School in West Virginia. Throughout her high school years, she participated in several journalism programs hosted by WVU, including the Reed College of Media’s High School Journalism Competition and other events where she could receive feedback from WVU professors. Sneed earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in sports communications and now works as an assistant director of athletic communications at WVU.

Maddie Stratos, a WVU Advertising and Public Relations senior and student worker for the Reed College of Media’s Marketing and Communications team, interviewed these featured alumni about how their high school journalism experiences informed their college and career paths.

Maddie Stratos: How did you discover journalism opportunities in high school and which did you pursue?

Sneed: I found journalism in my junior year of high school. I was involved in the yearbook and our school newspaper. I was actually part of the class that re-started our school newspaper. It had been idle for many, many years, and I was in the class that helped start it up again. This involvement really kick-started my interest in journalism – getting to be a part of one of the first newspaper classes at my school was a very rewarding experience. We told real stories about the school and started social media pages to promote it. I still think of this experience as the start of my journalism career. I also had a really great journalism teacher in high school, and her passion for journalism really helped me discover a passion for it too.

Malone: During my freshman year of high school, I joined the only journalism course that was offered because I thought it would be cool. Immediately, I was promoted to sports editor of the school newspaper and followed teams each night, writing articles about them and taking still photos. At that point in time, I realized I loved doing sports photography and telling the stories of the student athletes and coaches. That same year, the high school football team went 14-0 and won the state championship, and I had fallen in love with sports journalism. After the state title game, the school's yearbook advisor died. I used all the knowledge and skills he taught me to help finish that yearbook and get it published on time. The school's journalism course was in limbo, but we were blessed to get another teacher that really helped put things into motion. We went from a dying school newspaper to a television production-based course in a matter of a year. During my junior and senior years, I traveled with all the high school’s different sports teams to publish stories and highlights and was named the Wetzel County Youth of the Year for my work in sports media. I had local news companies coming to my school to do stories on my hard work in journalism.

Stratos: How did high school journalism experiences prepare you for college?

Malone: High School allowed me to prepare for college and gave me the confidence to do what I love. A lot of credit goes to the coaches and players that allowed me to tell and show their stories to everyone out there. I learned how to properly communicate, which was really beneficial in college and in my job at MetroNews.

Sneed: As a Morgantown native, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in journalism programs at WVU as a high schooler – these competitions and professor feedback reaffirmed that I wanted to study journalism when I started as a student in the Reed College of Media.

Stratos: What is your advice to high school students who are considering pursuing journalism in college and in their careers?

Sneed: I think, especially in today’s journalism world, the best advice I can give is to be open-minded about all the different paths journalism can take you. I started my college career thinking I wanted to go into broadcast journalism, with an aspiration to be on ESPN one day. I quickly learned that wasn’t something that really interested me once I got into it in school. That’s when I discovered sports communications through an internship with WVU Athletics. I completely changed my career path without ever having to change my major. I think it’s important to remember that you might go to college expecting to go into one thing, but that could change and that’s okay. Journalism has so many different paths and opportunities. I would urge someone interested in pursuing journalism to be open to trying something that you didn’t think you might be interested in – it might end up being your future career. There are so many different things you can do with a journalism degree.

Rinker: My advice for those pursuing journalism in high school is to get involved in any way you can at school whether it be print, photojournalism or some form of broadcasting. And to find people in the industry that you admire, learn their story and how they got to be where they are today.

Stratos: Lastly, how do you still use the things you learned in high school journalism today?

Rinker: Taking journalism in high school was important for me because it teaches you the foundations of the job. I use the things I learned then every day. From finding and understanding a story, to writing and editing. But then also understanding the timeliness of each story, which is a lead story or what may be something for the everyday viewer.

McPherson: I still write. Every day. I write freelance articles on areas I’m interested in. I write short stories, poetry, and I am a long way into a novel. I belong to a writers’ group that meets via Zoom every two weeks; in fact, several of the people I worked with on that high school literary magazine are in the group, as well as some people I worked with at various stops in my journalism career, even though we now live in different places. Some group members live as far away as South Africa. I still write traditional news articles too. I started a digital magazine during COVID-19 pandemic and am currently revamping it.

Scholastic Journalism Week is an initiative of the Journalism Education Association, which supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities for students and advisers across the country.