Changes Big and Small

School, Updates, Work

There have been a number of changes to this website and in my life lately. Some of the smaller changes are here on the site. First, you’ll notice the domain name changed. I decided it was time to spend the $18 and buy ShanaWestlake.com. I’ve also added a few things to the site, mostly under the work samples tab. You can now listen to my final from my Research for Media Activism, which was an audio podcast based on ethnographic research of the first meeting of the Move to Amend NYC affiliate. In addition, I’ve added a few of my favorite segments from ABC News to the professional work tab and within that, I’m slowly working on adding more information, including write-ups of the segments and slideshows.

So, that’s the small changes. Mostly housekeeping, cleaning things up.

The big changes, though, are pretty big. First off, I am officially 100% done with graduate school. Last week I graduated from The New School for Public Engagement with a Master’s of the Arts in Media Studies and a certificate in Media Management. When I first applied to The New School, it was because I felt like I could get an education that I could control. My undergraduate studies at NYU were very broad and very narrow all at once. The journalism major was only eight courses and most focused on hands-on skills, like putting together a news package or writing up an interview article. The rest of my time at NYU was a combination of required courses and electives, many of which added up to my three minors. In retrospect, I wish I had double-majored instead.

At the New School. I was really able to design my own curriculum and, in the end, it wasn’t the curriculum I expected it to be. Recently, a friend was struggling with her graduate school application and I sent along my statement of purpose for her to check out. Re-reading  that I realized that what I thought I was going to do with my graduate experience and what I did with my graduate school experience were very different. I applied very interested in globalization and ended up focusing a lot on politics. As you can see from my academic work, I wrote a lot about the intersection between media and politics. Somehow, I ended up writing three separate papers that looked at the work of James O’Keefe III from various angles. I tried to gain a better understanding of why the news media could become so obsessed with scandal while ignoring the bigger picture.

I was also able to pursue a media management certificate in conjunction with my Master’s. While I enjoyed almost all of my classes immensely, I think the media management courses were some of the most helpful. It’s very easy to say a manager is bad, but it’s hard to really define why. Media Management and Leadership helped explain why and how I could be a more successful manager in the future. Another favorite class was Media, Corporate Responsibility and the Law. In the class we discussed the legal ramifications of invasion of privacy and libel. I learned laws that govern the news media and I learned how to read court decisions, a useful skill.

Another advantage to my education at The New School is that I was required to take a certain number of production courses. Many of my classmates chose to take as many production courses as they could, learning to shoot and produce documentaries and short films. While I was interested in learning more production skills, I wasn’t particularly interested in narrative film or documentaries. I had done an internship with a documentary film company in the past and primarily learned that I didn’t want to be a documentary filmmaker. At least not right now. So, I chose to use my production credits on sound and images. My first class was Radio Narratives, which made a very strong impact on me. I’ve always loved audio and the aural experience. Radio Narratives took that appreciation to the next level and showed me how to make sound. I also took Visual Storytelling, where I learned more about photography and the craft of telling stories through images.

And beyond that I met an overwhelming number of smart and interesting people who are looking to do amazing and important things in the world. Graduate school was a wonderful experience and anyone who says it’s a waste of time has clearly never been. Graduate school, for me, was about more than the piece of paper. It truly was about expanding my mind and understanding the world in new and different ways. Will I be paying off my student loans for the next 30 or so years? Yes. Will having an MA make a practical difference in my career? Who knows. But I am proud of my accomplishment and, for now, that’s enough.

The other big announcement is that I am no longer working with ABC News Now. Since I started with the department, News Now has gone through a number of changes. New programs have come and gone. I worked on health, finance, politics, entertainment and more. I was there for the inauguration of President Obama, the Miracle on the Hudson and the 2010 Midterm Elections. I had the opportunity to book guests, write news copy, produce interviews and meet a ton of interesting and amazing people. But recent changes in the department have made my role there largely superfluous. I am very grateful for the experience, but it’s time to move on.

And in moving on, I’ve made the decision that it’s time to start telling my own stories. That being said, I am venturing out into the world of being an independent producer and writer, pitching audio and video segments and articles to anyone who will have me. I’ve also joined PRX and I plan on putting together podcasts, packages and explorations of topics that might, hopefully, end up on public radio. I also want to continue writing and producing segments on health and personal finance. I’ve done a lot of work on those topics in the past and I surprised myself by enjoying it a lot. I have ideas that I was never able to pursue with ABC News and I think it’s time to jump off the cliff and go at it on my own.

I am apprehensive about the change, but I’m also excited. I don’t know if this is going to become my life going forward; I still have hopes of finding gainful employment with an organization and program that I can be proud of. But I do know that I am at a crossroads in my career and the only way to take the next step is by showing everyone that I can. But I also know that I’m going to need as much help as I can get, so if you’re reading this and willing to offer a hand (or a job!), I’d appreciate it.

Stay tuned. There are bigger things coming.