2010-09-03 / Front Page

From South Carolina to New York City

By Natasha Whitling

Editor’s note: Natasha Whitling is in New York City preparing to intern at the United Nations for her final course in the masters program in USC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Her adventure will be traced in The Columbia Star and Whitling’s blog http://sc2nyc.tumblr.com/.

Many years ago in a college application essay I compared life to a work of art. Each paint stroke, color choice, or form was a person or experience that ultimately made up your life’s painting. It was kind of cheesy, but not too bad for an 18–year–old. Actually, as I start out on another path in my life, I find this analogy to be rather accurate. My life painting has some dark shadows balanced with bright highlights. I learned we can’t always choose our colors, and sometimes things don’t end up the color we intended them to be.

I would say the journey that brought me to this point— on the road north from Columbia, SC to New York City and an internship at the United Nations—had periods like Picasso’s blue period.

My career in journalism began in the summer of 2003. I had just finished my junior year at Roanoke College and was searching for a part time job. I landed at the desk of Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association. At that point I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a journalist. I was in that awkward phase that so many English majors enter—do I want to go to law school, teach, or become a writer?

Young man at Michael Jackson’s birthday party Young man at Michael Jackson’s birthday party Luckily, Mr. Rogers directed me to the doorstep of The Columbia Star. Aside from the college newspaper, this was my first taste of journalism, and I loved it! The love was mutual and when I graduated in 2004, they offered me a job.

The Columbia Star was a great training ground for me. I gained new organizational skills. I also learned how to use design and photo editing programs and even had the opportunity to travel back to Russia.

However, after two years I wanted to move to a daily newspaper. My chance came in mid–2006 when a position opened up in the features department at The State newspaper. After a thorough interview process, I was offered the job of features assistant. In all honesty, I was completely scared witless my first few weeks there. It was a totally different environment than The Star. Eventually, I settled in and before long I had written a front page story and several section fronts. I was meeting new and interesting people all the time: musicians, artists, dancers, writers, and even the occasional celebrity (interviewing Ron White over the phone was pretty sweet).

Unfortunately, I was about to hit a “blue period.” My double whammy of divorce and a lay off left me reeling. I won’t delve into the personal issues, but I will say that losing my job was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I was laid off along with most of my department. I felt as if I had simultaneously lost my dream and had my “family” torn apart.

Thankfully there was a bright patch around the corner. With the help of some great friends and family, I got back on my feet and found a new direction for my life. I reenrolled in the Master of Mass Communication degree at the University of South Carolina and began plotting a new career. In some ways graduate school was more difficult than working a full time job. I was fortunate enough to have a 20–hour per week assistantship with University Housing Marketing and Publications. I also wrote weekly for the Free Times and periodically for The Star. And then there was class.

I’ll admit my attitude may not have been the best at first. I was still mourning my career and classes like Media Economics and Research Methods were far less interesting than blogging about American Idol or visiting the set of Wheel of Fortune in Charleston. But eventually I made some wonderful friends (despite the fact I felt like the “old lady” in a group of mostly 22–year–olds) and began to see the opportunities ahead of me.

The final step to my degree is an internship. At first I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I began by thinking of where I knew people who I could potentially live with for three to four months – with my Pomeranian Pumpkin, too, of course. I focused on New York City, Seattle/Tacoma, DC–area and Columbia. I was offered an internship over the phone from the Humane Society of the United States and was sorely tempted to take it. As anyone who knows me or my vast zoo (a dog, two cats and two parrots) knows I love animals. However, I had my concerns that the internship may not provide me with a wide enough array of work experience, and I’d have to live in Maryland.

The next offer came from the Tacoma Museum of Glass’ communications department. It seemed like the perfect fit. I could combine and my love of the arts with my job, stay with my sister, and live in the Pacific Northwest, which I enjoy visiting. I had all but given up on the United Nations ever contacting me. I assumed my application had been lost in a sea of far more advanced people. But in July I got an email from Emmanuel Kattan of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations http://www.unaoc.org/. After my phone interview the choice became clear – if they offered me the job I had to take it. I mean who turns down the UN?

Each week in The Columbia Star will be a snippett of Natasha’s adventure and a link to her blog http://sc2nyc.tumblr.com/.

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