Alumnae share career advice with the Carolina Association of Black Journalists

By Beth Hatcher

During a wide-ranging discussion covering topics from salary negotiation to freelancing as students, alumnae Giulia Heyward ’21 (M.A.) and Ruth Samuel ’21  doled out career advice during a recent virtual event held by the Carolina Association of Black Journalists (CABJ).

Kamryn Hailey ’23, president of CABJ, moderated the event. “I wanted to use Black History Month as a chance to highlight Black journalists," she said as part of her introduction. "This evening, we have two amazing Black journalists who have been to the Hussman school.”

Samuel, a culture reporter at HuffPost, and Heyward, a breaking news reporter at NPR, spoke of how their time as students at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media molded their current careers during the “Black Women in Journalism” panel discussion.

Persistence, knowing what you want, knowing your worth and great contacts — this is what aided Samuel as she looked for work after graduation.

“The [job] application process is very arduous,” Samuel said. “You’re going to have to be comfortable with hearing ‘no.’” Samuel applied to 35 jobs and heard back from five before she took her role at HuffPost, where she has written about topics ranging from striking Black TikTok stars to hip-hop history.

Samuel credited Hussman professors like John Robinson, Ryan Thornburg, Trevy McDonald, Kate Sheppard and Paul Cuadros as key mentors during her time at UNC Hussman. She encouraged current students to seek out connections with faculty and organizations like CABJ.

Pictured above, clockwise from top left:  Associate Dean for ABIDE and Julian Scheer Associate Professor Trevy McDonald,  Giulia Heyward, Ruth Samuel and Kamryn Hailey during the virtual panel event.

Heyward encouraged current students to think about how they can get published even before they graduate. “I don’t think that there was ever a time I got an assignment at Carolina that I wasn’t also thinking about how I could parlay that into freelance elsewhere,” said Heyward, who as a student published in outlets like The Atlantic  and The New York Times, where she later became a reporting fellow.

Once students get to work, forming relationships with other journalists is key, said Samuel, who not only looks “up” but “across” for mentors. Same-age colleagues are great sources for advice and intel on issues like salary, she said.

Staying confident is also important, especially for young women of color entering newsrooms still focused on telling mainly white stories, said Samuel, who’s had to be a strong advocate for her story ideas involving the Black community.

“Believe in yourself, but also believe in your idea,” Samuel said.

Associate Dean for ABIDE and Julian Scheer Associate Professor Trevy McDonald, CABJ's adviser, noted the unique impact of young alumni on students. "Our students need to hear from recent graduates like Heyward and Samuel because they feel closer to them. Some of our students may remember Giulia and Ruth when they walked the halls of Carroll just a few years ago," McDonald said. "This is just the beginning for them, and I'm excited to see where they are in five or ten years."

Both Heyward and Samuel urged students to take advantage of their time at UNC Hussman by taking all the different types of classes they can and seeing what they like. The two writers noted that Hussman’s prestigious multimedia courses had made them more well-rounded journalists. “Take advantage of all the different ways you can experiment with journalism,” said Heyward, who also noted those multimedia skills were important in self-promotion. “Having a website is so important … I’m so shook when reporters my own age don’t have a website.”

Ultimately, UNC Hussman’s biggest strength for students is its professors, many of whom have decades of experience in the journalism industry, said Heyward, who encouraged students to take advantage of professors’ office hours. Sheppard was a mentor who helped Heyward get frequent freelance work during her time as a student.

Both Heyward and Samuel said the school’s faculty played key roles in preparing for them the work they’re now doing, work that they find meaningful and fulfilling.

In her work, Samuel relishes shining a light on the ubiquity of pop culture’s influence on American society. “Culture dictates so much of how we see each other,” she said.

Heyward — who writes hard news and often interviews people on their worst day — said that when sources reach out to say "thank you" after a story, it makes the challenges of the job worth it.

“We’re entrusted to write a story that does them justice,” Heyward said.