President’s notes

Dear future ONA USFSP presidents,

Stephanie Farid, our current treasurer and the financial finesse-r of our upcoming shindig funds, has pointed out that the following document may help outsiders and newcomers to understand the value of our organization and the importance of continuing its work.

I humbly submit my graduate school white paper for your perusal, and I hope that you feel the privilege, honor and responsibility bestowed upon you as a steward of ONA USFSP.

All the best,

Lorien Mattiacci

Founder, first president, and President Emeritas

As recently as the beginning of this semester, I felt terrified that I did not deserve to graduate. I hadn’t done enough work. I hadn’t learned enough. I hadn’t “mastered” journalism.

Journalism job postings escalated this fear. They required years of experience in programs that I do not know and skills that I did not pick up.

My entire, seven-semester grad school experience could be summed up in two words: running ONA.

Founding and leading ONA USFSP consumed my time and energy up to and including this final semester. I customized my ARP to work part and parcel with running ONA because I knew that this was the only way that I would do an ARP.

I decided to keep running ONA (determining student needs, finding speakers/content, confirming, promoting, attending, etc.). I’m building the website,, and populating it to recruit members and partner organizations, publish and promote member accomplishments, communicate with all stakeholders and the general public and build a framework to provide opportunities that will serve USFSP students beyond my time at the helm.

I’m also creating the ONA USFSP NNB Learning page, taking the information from our trainings and creating instructional content to provide these same opportunities for those who could not attend in person.

I saw peers making documentaries and custom coding websites, and I feared that I had wasted my time, money and opportunities with my unwavering dedication to ONA. When I devoted yet more time and energy to keeping ONA going and shaping documents to promote its continuation, I worried that I was actively throwing away my last chance to earn my degree.

But something has happened as I’ve set up and created the instructional materials for ONA USFSP NNB Learning: I have found the value in my graduate school experience.

ONA started with eight members in the fall of 2015–me and seven of my friends. Those seven friends signed up to help us to meet the minimum requirement to become an official student organization.

The journey from those eight friends to our current 70 members–a curated list that excludes most alumni–included some magnificent stops.

We hosted two Data Play Dates with notable speakers. Adam Playford, our keynote speaker for the first event, was the Data Director of the Tampa Bay Times and had just led the data team for a Pulitzer Prize-winning series. Alexios Mantzarlis of the Poynter Institute and the International Fact-checking Network led sessions as well.

The two events created collaborations between USFSP, Poynter, the Tampa Bay Times, WFLA and USF Tampa. We cooperated across campuses and departments. We had help from the University of Tampa through Dr. Jeffrey Neely. That level of collaboration and cooperation between competing schools and departments and outside organizations was an impressive feat that yielded remarkable results.

More than 50 people attended the two events and learned how to create, populate, manage and edit spreadsheets to find and support stories from data. Many showed appreciation in their evaluations of the events.

We created and ran a digital newsroom for the American Copy Editors Society in St. Petersburg in 2017. We recruited and trained 30 volunteers from USFSP (current students and alumni), USF Tampa, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. We published blog articles that we edited ourselves and that included high-quality photographs from our staff photojournalists. We interacted on social media with conference attendees and the #NotAtACES crowd. We created videos and podcasts. We livestreamed through Facebook.

In 2018, ACES invited us to come to Chicago to again build and run a digital newsroom. They comped three hotel rooms for us (in the Palmer House Hotel, the conference location) and waived all nine registration fees. Our team of six current USFSP students, two advisers and one alumna made 18 posts on the ACES website: 10 text-based posts, five videos and three podcasts. We went live on Facebook 10 times, and one of those videos reached 8,379 people, garnered 3,063 views and 232 reactions/comments/shares as of September 7, 2018. We sent dozens of tweets and retweets for the #NotAtACES community, and we took hundreds of photos.

We produced media for, with and about editors from some of the best-known publications in the country: the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Buzzfeed, the AP Style Guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, the Merriam Webster Dictionary and more.

For months leading up to the conference, newsroom staff participated in intense trainings on best practices for on-camera interviewing, social media strategy, audio and video production, writing, and photojournalism. Staff had to learn all aspects of all subjects to produce that amount of high-quality media in a matter of days. Students became leaders to train others in their area of expertise. They edited for their own sections, and we edited all content before posting. They worked together as a team to help each other to meet deadlines and expectations.

We have worked with campus groups like the dance marathon sponsors, Students Transitioning Into the Next Generation, Recognizing Alternatives for Youth (STING RAY) and the Student Environmental Awareness Society (SEAS) and campus publications like the Crow’s Nest and Connect.

We have had students form and run groups on video storytelling, podcasting, broadcast journalism, photojournalism and writing. We have had upward of 20 students regularly attending some of those group meetings.

We have brought in speakers from the Tampa Bay Times, Poynter, local production companies and more.

Our chapter has been recognized this semester by ONA as one of the 10 U.S. student groups to watch.

Looking back at all of this, I am proud the work that we have accomplished, and if my ARP helps the work to continue in my absence, then it has been worth every effort.

But these accomplishments, as extraordinary as they are, are not the reason that I finally believe that I deserve to graduate.

I deserve to graduate because of Vanya Iliev, Amanda Sosnowski, Shannon Gazdacka, Devin Rodriguez, Graham Colton, Amanda Drapiewski, Martha Rhine, Emily Bowers, Tommy Hilliard, Jeffrey Zanker, Andrea Perez and so many more.

These students received opportunities from ONA USFSP that led them to their passions, expanded their technical and leadership skills, introduced them to contacts that led to their hire, and/or gave them the experience to pursue their dreams.

The department and advisers have been unceasingly supportive, and the universe (and department) have delivered tremendously talented and devoted students to join in on this mission. Many of the things that helped them along the way came from group leaders and their contacts.

I didn’t do any of these things by myself. I didn’t teach these things myself, and I can’t take credit for accomplishments earned through their hard work and determination.

But they all accessed these benefits through ONA USFSP, and I built ONA USFSP. I recruited, developed and facilitated the leadership. I recruited and supported the members. I established and nurtured the relationships with our partners. I planned and organized the events.

I didn’t impact their lives by myself, but I designed and built the structure that allowed it to happen for the last seven semesters, and I have set it up to continue on indefinitely.

For that, I have earned my graduate degree.