Interview: Marisa Hoheb

[This item was originally posted to The Media Drop]

Today’s interview takes a different direction from the last few, as I’ve been able to “unmask” someone who does their daily work with a pseudonym. Her name is Marisa Hoheb, but some of you might know her by Rachel, from the Rachel Speaks column at Media Life Magazine.

After my initial contact with “Rachel”, I learned something exciting – she’s a 22 year-old senior at the University of Virginia, and is just a few months from graduation. I immediately got all “cloak and dagger” (but without Dabney Coleman) about revealing her information, but was assured I need not worry about it, which made this even more intriguing for me. So here goes!
TMD: Tell me a bit about your background, career, and your interested in the media world?

RH: My name is Marisa Hoheb, I’m 22 years old, and I’m in my last semester at the University of Virginia. I’ve been writing and editing for as long as I can remember…probably since elementary school! So after graduation I hope to have a job in magazine journalism (either print or online) or book publishing. I guess you can call me a media junkie, because although I have no intentions of pursuing broadcast journalism, I currently do news and public service announcements for a local radio station as well, and it’s a lot of fun!

TMD: Do you have any hobbies or things outside school or work that you enjoy?

MH: Well, unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot of free time right now since for some strange reason I decided to make my last semester my BUSIEST one instead of my slack-off one! But I very much enjoy reading, eating, and wasting a whole lot of time online. Oh, yes, and I love to travel. Luckily my mother shares this love with me, and she’s crazy enough to call me up every once in awhile and say, “Hey, do you want to go to [fill in the name of a city/country here] this weekend??” I’ve scored several free trips, including two to London and one to San Francisco, that way!

TMD: If you had to choose what role you might have at a media outlet, what would be the order you’d go in: editor, writer (behind the scenes), byline journalist, on-air talent (radio or television) – or something else? Why would you choose as such?

MH: Honestly, I love writing and editing so much that I could easily envision myself in any of the first three positions. Hopefully I will find a job that lets me fill all three roles. I am a pretty shy person, but if I were more naturally outgoing and could think on my feet a little better I would also love to pursue radio as a career rather than simply a hobby.

TMD: Tell me how you got involved with Media Life Magazine?

MH: Media Studies, which is one of my majors, [ed: note to self….”one” of her majors!!] used to send out an e-mail newsletter every week with media-related job opportunities, and at some point in October Media Life advertised for a copywriter/proofreader. On a whim I applied for the job since I figured I could use the extra cash, and I got it! I worked (and continue to work) as a copywriter/proofreader three mornings a week, and at the beginning of this semester my editor asked if I would like to write a career advice column as well. And thus, the birth of Rachel!

TMD: In performing your duties in the “Rachel Speaks” column, what kind of mail do you get the most? Are they from people with serious job requests or general questions about the media industry for people who aren’t necessarily employed in it – or something else?

MH: I get a pretty big mix. Many of the people who write to me have had at least a few years of experience in the media industry and have pretty specific questions, how they can get a raise, what and where the hottest media jobs are right now, how to do with office politics, things like that. But I also hear from people who are just entering the workforce or who are approaching media from an entirely different career path, and many of them have more general questions regarding how they can break into the world of media.

TMD: Have you ever answered someone’s request either in a column or privately and receive really great feedback from it?

MH: The first series of columns I did, about how and when to ask for a raise and what to do if your boss says no, elicited a lot of positive feedback…which was really exciting since I essentially had no idea what I was doing at that point! I think people reacted so well to those columns because raises and promotions are important to EVERYONE, regardless of their specific job or level of experience.

TMD: Many people think that “advice” type columns are a dime a dozen – not to defame what you do in any way – but why do you think what you do is important, and what do you think that you, “Rachel”, bring to the table?

MH: Okay, I’m going to start off by being a little selfish here. Writing this career advice column has benefited me greatly because I myself am totally new to this whole “full-time job” thing! 🙂 I have learned so much about the working world over the past couple of months, and I feel like I am expanding not only my knowledge base but my capability to face challenges because if writing a column about media careers before ever having had a full-time job in media isn’t a challenge, I don’t know what is! I can only hope that I have succeeded in making “Rachel Speaks” easy and fun to read and the people who read the column, particularly those just starting out in their careers, are benefiting from the advice I provide. Several media veterans have asked me why Media Life elected to have me write the column rather than someone with a wealth of experience, and the answer is that they thought I would be able to provide a fresh, youthful voice. So I would like to think that although I can’t bring experience to the table, I can challenge media newbies and pros alike to think about various aspects of their careers in a new light.

TMD: Five year plan – what’s on yours?

MH: Graduate from UVA, find a job in print journalism or book publishing in the New York metro area, move into my own apartment (most likely in Queens since it’s not exactly realistic to think I can afford New York City rent on an entry-level media salary!), travel as much as I can, settle down with my boyfriend of six years, and hopefully succeed and advance in whatever career path I end up following! 🙂

TMD: Is there a person who caused you to be interested in the media as a whole? If so, tell me how they influenced your education and direction?

MH: This is a hard question to answer because I feel like I was born to write and edit. For that I guess I can thank my parents, not only for the literary genes but for the encouragement and support they have always provided me.

There are also a ton of employers, teachers, and professors who have convinced me over the years that this is really what I want to do.

TMD: Obviously writing a column for a publication can take some time out of your day – how much do you find you read in other publications, online or otherwise – anything in particular you regularly follow?

MH: When I am home from school I read newspapers and magazines, everything from Newsday, the New York Times, and Time to Jane and Ms., on pretty much a daily basis. When I’m at school I kind of live in a bubble and don?t have much access to such publications, so I pretty much follow the news by reading the Cavalier Daily (UVA?s newspaper) and news web sites such as CNN.com. Doing live morning news for the radio station pretty much forces me to keep up-to-date on the major stories, so at least I’m not TOTALLY out of touch with the world right now! 😉

TMD: What impact do you see blogging having on the journalism and mass media fields in the near and/or long term? Have you ever blogged?

MH: I think blogging has increased the public’s desire to infiltrate the private spheres of high-profile individuals (politicians, celebrities, or otherwise). How could it be otherwise? Blogging has become so common that our society is pretty much accustomed to being able to sign online and read about the day-to-day minutiae of friends, family, and strangers whenever the desire trikes…so it follows that we would demand the same of those in the news.

Accordingly, I think journalism will increasingly cater to this appetite for “fluff” (where does Britney Spears get her hair extensions put in? What does Justin Timberlake eat for breakfast? What’s J.Lo.’s sex life like?) I myself have blogged, but not extensively. My friend set up an account for me on livejournal, but I never really got into posting details about my life for all to see. I’d say I update the account once every six months or so!

TMD: One last question – if you had two or three sentences of advice for someone looking to get involved in the media world, what would they be?

MH: Wow, I wish I had something awe-inspiringly profound to say here, but I’m just starting out! Anyone have any advice for me on how to secure a magazine or book job? I’ve applied for at least 25 already, but so far my phone’s not ringing! 😉

But seriously, I think the most major lesson I’ve learned from “Rachel” so far is that you have to be creative, flexible, and patient if you’re hoping to break into media. There are definitely jobs out there, but this is an extremely difficult industry to enter. Don’t have your heart set on one specific job and location. Keep an open mind, because you never know what might pop up!

Thanks so much for interviewing me! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Hope you all enjoyed that interview – I thought it was very insightful, and perhaps we all have something to learn after realizing that not only did a publication offer Marisa an advice column about working in an industry before she graduated from school, but that people really utilized her column as a resource. We should all keep Marisa on our radar screens, as I’m sure she’ll be at a publication near you sometime soon! Good luck!

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