Friday, June 20, 2014

Featured Alumna: Mallory Carra (CAS '05)

What’s your journey been like since graduating from NYU? 

Oh my. I graduated in May 2005 - 9 years ago! - from CAS with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in history, as well as three years at the Washington Square News. Two weeks later, I moved to Raleigh North Carolina for an internship at The News and Observer, a newspaper that paid me $500 a week and gave me my own cell phone. Mind you, this was back when newspapers were doing very well. After that, I moved back to NYC (where I'm from) and looked for work, eventually deciding to take a job at a mid-sized newspaper in Tennessee, The Chattanooga Times Free Press. My college friends thought I was nuts to cross the Mason-Dixon (again) and used to joke that it was my study abroad experience, but my three years in Tennessee wound up being the most influential, eye-opening, and inspiring years of my 20s.

At age 24, an old friend of mine from WSN told me about an open position at the New York Daily News and I applied, not thinking much of it. I wound up getting the job, but quitting 6 weeks later (as detailed in an essay I wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review - This also coincided with the 2008 recession. I got a job at a hedge fund right before Lehman Brothers collapsed and they laid me off two months later, on the same day they fired the guy who watered their plants. The recession was in full force.

So I freelanced, traveled, spent time with my family, and reached for a pipe dream: Hollywood. I always secretly hoped to parlay a career in journalism (telling other people's stories) to a career in screenwriting (telling my own), a la David Simon, Billy Wilder, and Nora Ephron. One night, I decided maybe I didn't have to wait to write a book or two - I should go for it, grad school style. But I also decided that four years at NYU were plenty and I had always wanted to live in Los Angeles, a city I had loved since my family visited when I was 16. During that recession, I had two unsuccessful job interviews, but I got into USC's amazing MFA screenwriting program, which only takes 30 people a year. I considered myself very lucky.

Since graduating from USC with that MFA, I've worked with Google doing quality assurance and then Hulu for a year in their customer service department, where I learned a lot about TV, social media/communications, and, naturally, customer service. I've continued to freelance in several areas - social media and publicity, web design, journalism, creative writing - while trying to make the Hollywood dream happen.

Currently, I regularly write for WhoSay, an online celebrity magazine and social media platform. I write in my TV/food blog sometimes ( I'm on the board of USC's Women of Cinematic Arts alumni organization as publicity chair. I'm also an NYU Torchbearer and a member of the NYU Alumni Club of Los Angeles.

Can you remember any specific ways that NYU helped prepare you for life post-college? 

I remember coming out of NYU very confident that I could live successfully in the real world because NYU is not a school that holds your hand. NYU advertises itself as being in and of the city, and I always told people that it's no joke - when you go to NYU, you experience all the ups and downs and crazy realities of New York City life. You grow into a tough, resourceful, and determined New Yorker just by going to school there. Every day, I was exposed to real Manhattanites in Washington Square Park (one of my favorite places to this day). The NYU student body is all about working and spreading your wings all over the city and every one does - during the one semester I didn't have an internship, a job or both, I felt very left out. While at NYU, I worked at ABC (Upper West Side), College Sports TV (back then, at Chelsea Piers), Pearson Education (Midtown), and at the NYU School of Law. I loved exploring all those areas, using the encouragement from the NYU philosophy and still use that to this day when embracing new surroundings, like Southern California.

Another key experience that helped me prepare for life post-college was my time at WSN. Looking back, it seems cute that I used to be so very passionate about a college newspaper, but I was. I truly fell in love with NYU when I joined WSN and being in the newsroom made me feel like I was part of something magical. To this day, I firmly believe that college journalism is journalism in its purist form - a bunch of kids, writing and reporting for little or no money, just for thrill of it. During those three years, I worked my way up from staff writer to sports editor - yup, there are sports at NYU. Once I graduated and became a professional journalist, I soon realized how much being an editor at WSN had prepared me for the job of being a real life journalist - from managing your own beats and time, to agate and writing briefs on command, and filing out tons of photo assignments and traveling with teams. 

You’ve had a lot of great opportunities working with brands like Hulu and Google on different digital projects. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about a career in digital marketing, PR or communication in general? 

You need to stay current, always. Don't be afraid to embrace the new and always be ready to jump on your next opportunity. I learned that lesson in 2008 when I thought that my four-year-old bachelor's degree became seemingly obsolete - people declared "newspapers are dying" and this new thing called Twitter was on the rise. But a journalism degree is such a great foundation and comes with a lot of skills useful in other fields - research, writing, story telling, seeing different angles, not being afraid to ask questions, and staying current on the latest trends and news. Now, I'm always thankful I have that degree in journalism as a foundation, because I use those skills every day. You never know what's going to be the next big thing. Look at how fast Instagram crept into most of our daily lives - I taught my dad how to use it a few weeks ago! The news cycle and technology move so much faster than it did 9 years ago. I was very skeptical of Twitter when it first came out. I really wish that I considered ways to use it instead. So now, I make sure to take these new apps seriously, whether it's Snapchat or Whisper or Tinder - and try to think, "How can we use this?"

What made you decide to go Freelance? 

In my journalism classes at NYU, my professors also prepped and encouraged us for that possibility. They were all successful freelancers, but still, I used to be terrified at the suggestion. I actually fell into freelancing during my periods between full-time jobs and I've enjoyed it, especially since I also juggle other creative projects as well. I like being able to take on lots of different projects and experiences. The funny thing about freelancing is that after you've built up a solid portfolio of work, the work starts to finds you on its own, whether it be through word-of-mouth or just by a small peek at your resume. I've worked with non-profits, production companies, academic organizations, and even with friends launching projects. I can't tell you how many times I've been offered a gig by someone saying, "I see that you write. Let's talk."

What direction do you see social media going in the next 10 years? 

Right now, I think the shift toward anonymity is fascinating - anti-social media, if you will - with SnapChat and Whisper, balanced with our obsession with selfies. Some young people I know communicate solely through sending selfies to each other with super short captions on SnapChat and Instagram direct. My younger cousins and even my friends are more active on Instagram than Facebook. Between that and news becoming BuzzFeed articles filled with animated gifs, I think we're becoming an increasingly mobile and visual society that depends more on images than words on our phones. 140 Twitter characters may become too much text rather than not enough. I also think the ubiquity of "like" - which means more to people personally and professionally than they'd like to admit - will cause the red hearts and thumbs up to start to lose their meaning, if it hasn't already. I think another form of feedback will emerge in the near future.

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