Blog Update: Check Out My Continued Blogging Efforts on My Website

You may have noticed that it’s been quiet on the Brand Plan lately. Don’t fear! I’ve moved the blog over to my website, sonyachudgar.com, and will continue my blogging there. You’ll still find my observations on branding, as well as random thoughts of intrigue about New York. See you there!

Advertisements

Why I’m Glad I Went to Journalism Grad School

I wrote this post because about this time last year, I wanted advice from someone who’d been to journalism grad school to tell me if it was worth it. If anyone still has any questions on this topic after reading about my experiences, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.

On Saturday, I finished my first semester of graduate school at NYU. A year from now, I’ll be graduating with a masters in journalism and a certificate business and economic reporting. Many people, including my parents, have asked me lately whether I made the right choice in going to graduate school for journalism.

My answer? “Absolutely.”

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

It’s easy, really. I can think of 5 reasons off the top of my head why grad school was the right choice for me. I’ll lay them out below for you, but let me preface by saying that most people will say journalists don’t need to go to grad school. I asked two of my undergraduate professors to write me recommendations for my grad applications, which they happily did, but not before warning me that grad schools like to see journalists with a bit of experience. That most people who go to grad school for journalism are at least 25, if not older.

And a lot of professional journalists I spoke to, from my professors to co-workers, told me it just wasn’t necessary.

Well, I’m 22. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a year ago today. I majored in journalism and mass communications and minored in French. During my last year and a half of college, and then for seven months post-graduation, I interned at QSR and FSR magazines (business-to-business publications that cover the foodservice industry). That was the extent of my professional journalism experience, excluding campus magazines.

My dad encouraged me to apply to graduate school because he says an undergraduate degree isn’t enough for people who want to be competitive in their fields. I’m not sure I completely agree with that, but I took his advice. In the meantime, though, I scavenged the internet looking for advice from fellow journalists: Was grad school worth it?

The only post I found was this impassioned plea to treat journalism grad school like Thanksgiving turkey that’s two weeks old: toss it without regret and don’t look back.

What I really wanted to do at the time I applied was work in magazines. I didn’t care which, but I loved the feel of a completed issue, the shimmer of those glossed pages, the picas behind a beautiful spread, and most of all, seeing my name in print. Not online. Print.

I applied to two schools: New York University and Northwestern. Northwestern’s Medill school of journalism offers four graduate concentrations: reporting, magazine writing/editing, interactive publishing, and videography/broadcast. I didn’t really stretch my limits in here: I applied for the magazine writing/editing program.

NYU has 10 specializations in its graduate journalism institute, including an option in magazine. Look, I could’ve applied for magazine here, too. But I decided to try something new. To push my boundaries. QSR and FSR are business publications. I’d written about sales in the food industry, bankruptcy, marketing, the impact of health care laws, branding. I came to regard numbers and figures as friends, living organisms on balance sheets that urged me to write about them. I felt more accomplished researching global food sales than I did about most of the writing assignments I had in college.

So, I applied to NYU’s specialization in Business & Economic Reporting. Let me say, I have no business background. The worst grade I got in college was a C, and that was in Econ 101. Business has always been a struggle for me. I wanted to be better. I wanted to conquer it. I loved that NYU’s program was interdisciplinary, with half of the credits being earned at the Stern School of Business. And these weren’t the undergrad’s intro to business courses. We’d be taking MBA courses. Scary, but also a challenge.

I got in to both schools. I heard back from NYU first. It was March 13, the same day the publisher at QSR offered me a full-time job there.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect to get into grad school at all. I had been looking for jobs as associate editors at magazines in DC and NYC. The pay was going to be about $28,000-36,000. I’d applied to about 50 and heard back from zero.

And suddenly, on March 13, QSR placed exactly such a job in my lap. I didn’t have to apply or relocate. I could stay at a publication I loved with coworkers I loved. On the other hand, NYU offered to whisk me off to Manhattan, pay for part of my education, and give me a competitive advantage only 15 students get a year.

I’m here to say, nine months after I got that acceptance letter, that I made the right choice. I chose grad school. And if you’re even thinking about it a little, if you’re just getting out of college and want to set yourself apart, here’s why you, too, should consider grad school:

  1. Competitive Advantage
    There’s no doubt that having a journalism concentration puts you above the rest. At UNC, my concentration was “reporting.” Pretty vague if you ask me. Reporting on what? Cheese?

    Everyone says journalists are in less demand. I’m so tired of hearing that. I’m so tired of being told how publications are downsizing, the online revolution is shoving print newspapers aside, and journalists are about as in-demand as Ron Paul at a GOP debate.

    Stop listening to that crap and hear this: employers want good journalists. People who know what they’re talking about. There’s actual, real demand for business journalists right now.

    I know not everyone reading this wants to go into business. I totally understand. But I’m telling you that if you have a field you like to report on, whether it’s law or science or sports, go learn about it in school. Because if you know what you’re talking about, you’ll get hired.

    We’ve had recruiters come in all semester, from Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Bloomberg, and Reuters, just to name a few. They all said the same thing: they want to hire people who know how to analyze the stock market. Who know how to look at a balance sheet and report on its numbers with confidence. Who can tell you exactly what the hell a put and call option is and how people use them.

    I’ve learned much of that in just a semester at NYU. I know I’ll learn loads more in the next year. So please, if you’re frightened by people who tell you your bachelor’s degree in journalism is worthless, don’t listen. Think about what you really love to report on, or what you want to improve on, and specialize in it.

    Ten months ago, I couldn’t get a response back from magazines such as Travel + Leisure and Fitness, and in the four months since I’ve started at NYU, I’ve become an online contributor to Forbes and been offered internships at two prominent business publications. So you tell me who really loses in that scenario. I don’t think it’s grad school.

  2. You’ll Get Lots of Experience
    One gripe journalists have about graduate school is that in our field, experience is more important. It’s better to say you’ve interned or worked at publications A, B, and C rather than throw a line on your resume that says you have a Masters.

    Well, what do you think we’re doing while we work toward our masters? Taking field trips to the zoo?

    No. Getting your masters is getting experience. You’re writing at least one story a week. And you’re getting to critique, analyze, and improve it with the guidance of your professors. And if you’re smart, you’re publishing it. Maybe it’s on your own blog/website, maybe you shop it around to local publications, and maybe you send it in to big names and see what happens.

    Either way, you’re improving your skill in an environment where you get good feedback. You’ll learn how to conduct better interviews, how to find those elusive sources, how to accumulate statistics and data and use that to strengthen your reporting.

    Maybe you did just that in your undergrad, or maybe you already do it. That is fantastic. These are great skills to have. But you’ll walk out of your masters with far better clips than the ones you have from your undergrad. So not only will you have extremely solid clips, you’ll set yourself apart from those who have just good clips because you’ll have a masters to go along with it.

    Improvement is key, especially as a writer, because our fulfillment comes from the finished essay. The saucy rhetoric, clever turns of phrase, meticulous wording, and harrowing word choices define us. I’m not sure that taking a job right away would’ve resulted in a drastic improvement as a writer. But I’m thinking by the time I leave New York University, I’ll be much better than I was going in—and the intrinsic value of that, coupled with the NYU name, will certainly make the degree worth it.

  3. The Salary is Better/Networking
    I’ve heard that going to graduate school is a waste because you’ll pay a lot for it and come out making the same salary that you’d make with a bachelor’s degree. I tend to disagree.

    This is because going to graduate school opens a lot of doors for you. I’m sure you’ve heard that journalism is a lot about networking and who you know. Who do you think has better connections than seasoned journalists in New York, aka my professors? They have hook-ups at every major business publication in the city. They have the capacity to open doors for us, introduce us to people, and help get us hired.

    I wasn’t being sought out by Forbes and Inc. magazines this time last year. But I am now. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through to the third round of the internship application at Bloomberg unless I had NYU’s name attached to my application. One of my fellow colleagues at NYU was rejected from Bloomberg—within 24 hours of sending in her application—as an undergraduate last year. She made it to the third round this year. What changed in the interim? Grad school.

    Oh, and starting salary at Bloomberg for reporters is about $60,000-80,000, depending on where you are located. The upper bound for reporters there is between $126,000-163,000.

    Of course, Bloomberg is at the upper tier of business journalism jobs. But I do believe the average starting salary is at least in the $50,000 range. I’d pay off my NYU degree in under two years and keep making a respectable salary.

  4. New York!
    Obviously, not everyone who goes to journalism grad school comes to NY. Totes understood. But if you’re going to grad school in this field, why not go to a big city? Somewhere journalism is anchored, where you’ll have a lot of opportunities?

    In my application process, I started out with the idea to apply to eight different grad programs all over the nation. I thought about UNC, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and several other big-name journalism schools. But a friend of mine correctly pointed out that if I was going to do grad school right, I needed to go somewhere where journalism thrives.

    Not everyone wants to live in New York. But if you do, grad school is the perfect opportunity to do so. You’re not entirely expected to finance yourself, so it’s OK to take out loans and live a little. (I’m not saying be irresponsible and sign yourself up for something you can’t afford, either.) You get the year or two in that big city, be it NYC, Chicago, DC, or anywhere else. You make connections you can’t make from home. You basically are allowed to live and grow and succeed and challenge yourself and meet new people in a new setting. If it sounds like I’m describing college, I don’t mean to. Grad school lets you entertain a better version of yourself as a professional.

    If you were to ask me my least and most favorite things about living in NYC, I’d tell you that my least favorite is grocery shopping (lines out the door at Trader Joe’s? No thanks.) and my most favorite is BER, this program at NYU where I’ve met a lot of great people, made very good friends, gotten mentorship from esteemed journalists, tangled with MBA classes at one of the top business schools in the country that I never would’ve thought I was capable of, and fulfilled my passion more in four months than I did in four years as an undergrad.

That’s why I’m glad I went to graduate journalism school.

The Barclays Center: An Economic Snapshot

Our final project this semester is to write an economic snapshot of a neighborhood in NYC. I chose to evaluate the Barclays Center, the new entertainment and sports arena built in Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

IMG_2603

Barclays Center Pinpoints Local Winners and Losers in Business

By Sonya Chudgar

A Darwinian evolution transpired in 1962 on New York’s Upper West Side, a neighborhood so rough, it was cast as the lead antagonist in West Side Story. When local leaders unveiled the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Upper West Side turned to mirror the Center’s classy endeavors, reducing its grit throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s in favor of gentrification.

The Lincoln Center is just one historical example of a facility that ignites urban cleanup in the neighborhood it anchors. Next on history’s list may be the Barclays Center.

The Barclays Center opened in late September in Atlantic Yards, a community announced in 2003 by Forest City Ratner. The development firm championed the $1 billion Barclays Center as a rebirth for Brooklyn. The entertainment and sports arena repositioned the NBA Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and the NHL’s New York Islanders agreed to join the venue in 2015.

Underlying the announcement was the promise of economic development, from the 300,000 square feet of proposed retail space to the boost incumbent businesses would afford.

But weeks after the arena’s opening, several empty storefronts and “out of business” signs dominate Flatbush Avenue to the Center’s right, illuminating one silent truth in Forest City Ratner’s proposal: While the Barclays Center will spur economic development, it will fundamentally change the nature of businesses that can succeed in its vicinity.

IMG_2653

Changing the Economic Landscape

Unlike the Upper West Side, Atlantic Yards was not born on mean streets. Instead, it meets at the cusp of three Brooklyn neighborhoods: Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Fort Greene. The brownstone and gentrification revolution swept through the area as it did much of Brooklyn in the late ‘50s. Families swayed by the region’s architectural character, diversity, smaller scale, and local businesses moved in and settled into a residential routine there.

The Barclays Center is turning the routine upside down, says Gib Veconi, treasurer of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

“You might have expected a small business to come in, entrepreneurs to come in, everything else,” Veconi says. “Instead, it’s really the landlords and the national brands that will move in there that are going to be the most benefited.”

Listen to Gib Veconi’s take on the Barclays Center and check out some photos of the area!

The Center lies on a patch of land between two distinct avenues. On the left corridor is Atlantic Avenue, where a haven of national brands such as Target, Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), Best Buy, and Victoria’s Secret prosper.

National brands dominate Atlantic Avenue to the right of the Barclays Center.

National brands dominate Atlantic Avenue to the right of the Barclays Center.

Across the street on Flatbush Avenue, the Barclays Center is driving rents up and small businesses out.

“If they increase my rent, I gotta leave,” says A.B. Fulani, owner of an eponymous shop that has sold men’s suits and high-end clothing on Flatbush Avenue for 15 years.

“I’ve been around a long time,” Fulani says. “I knew when [the Barclays Center] opened that it wouldn’t be good. It’s not doing me good so far. I’m not getting the same people that I used to get.”

Veconi says rents surrounding the Barclays Center are hitting $175 per square foot, “which is huge.” Retail rents are usually $5-10 per square foot in the area, according to property listings.

At the Furniture House on 170 Flatbush Ave., owner Ruben Mesa regards the arena with narrowed eyes.

Across the street, Flatbush Avenue has fewer prosperous businesses.

Across the street, Flatbush Avenue has fewer prosperous businesses.

“Well, I’m moving,” says Mesa, whose store has been a staple of the neighborhood since 1991. “So, that’s the story—and it’s because of that.” He points at the Barclays Center sitting 30 feet across the road.

Joy Mesa, Ruben’s wife, says she hopes they find a Brooklyn storefront to relocate to, though she’s not hopeful, given the climbing rents.

“A lot of people will tell you, ‘Oh, you’re getting business because you’re near the Barclays Center!’ But no, we’re not,” she says. “It depends on what your business is. If you’re a restaurant or a bar, then yes, you probably are. But us? Not a furniture shop.”

The ultimate victor of Atlantic Yards is Bruce Ratner, whose firm built the complex. Ratner’s is worth about $400 million, according to USA Today, and he earned another $200 million for selling majority ownership of the Brooklyn Nets to Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov. His nonchalant stance in seizing Brooklyn’s eminent domain outraged locals.

The press office at the Barclays Center did not respond to requests for comment.

Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz has been one of the staunch proponents of the Barclays Center since the beginning, galvanized by the arena’s ability to elevate the status of the borough and rejuvenate business in the area.

The Furniture House on 170 Flatbush Ave.

The Furniture House on 170 Flatbush Ave.

“Of course, I remain optimistic that this project will create thousands of jobs and bring much needed affordable housing and even more vitality to downtown Brooklyn,” he said when the new Barclays Center design was announced in 2009.

But for business owners such as Fulani and Mesa, the Barclays Center has been a misery.

Veconi says the neighborhood dynamic will shift from family folk to those chasing the nightlife, as developers commercialize with the fervor of a child quenching a sweet tooth.

“It’s going to feel very different over there,” he explains. “It’s going to be like something that will resemble SoHo or the Upper West Side than what’s been traditional in brownstone Brooklyn.”

The pivot is already in motion, eradicating mom-and-pop businesses and uplifting the food and beverage industry.

The Winners

Logan Bowles is manager at gourmet falafel restaurant Kulushkät on Dean Street, a block from Flatbush Avenue. He says business has improved since Barlcays opened last month, adding that nearby bars now blow up with customers during big sports games.

Business has increased 50 percent at the Cake Ambiance, a pastry shop on Dean Street with sprinkle cupcakes and red-velvet-cheesecake mélanges.

“Especially after games or shows or whatever, people come out and buy,” says manager Modupe Gonzalez.

Rent has not increased yet at the Cake Ambiance. Gonzalez says she expects it will soon, though the store has no plans to relocate regardless of a rent hike.

A handmade shirt from Brooklyn Rock.

A handmade shirt from Brooklyn Rock.

Another beneficiary of the Barclays Center is Brooklyn-centric shopping.

Yukiko Wada and husband Chris Smith own the apparel store Brooklyn Rock on Dean Street. From the teal exterior to the multicolored lights dangling off the wall, their shop oozes flair.

Everything in the store is handmade by Wada and Smith. Humor radiates from the products, from mugs that quip “I got mugged in Brooklyn” to shirts that depict the Brooklyn Nets as hunters who wield butterfly nets and chase basketball players.

The shop’s native appeal made it an attractive investment to the building’s owner, Wada says.

“I’m sure the arena has driven up rent, but our landlord wanted the right business here,” she explains. “We’re Brooklyn made. He wanted to try to get artists and neighborhood people [into the store].”

Yukiko Wada shows off the Brooklyn-centric apparel at her store.

Yukiko Wada shows off the Brooklyn-centric apparel at her store.

Success stories such as Brooklyn Rock and the Cake Ambiance support the views of Veconi and Markowitz. The two differ in their opinions on the Barclays Center, but both are exact about its impact: it will transform the businesses that succeed in Atlantic Yards whilst growing into Brooklyn’s entertainment heart.

“Think about all the jobs that the arena will generate for the businesses that provide services to Barclays Center, and all the shops and restaurants will be booming thanks to the hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to this arena,” Markowitz said in September at the Barclays Center ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Until the gentrification is complete, though, the defeated business owners on Flatbush Avenue will dwell under the shadow of the Barclays Center.

Lexus Aims for Younger Crowd with December Ads

Remember those old Lexus commercials where someone opens a gift box and the climax is a Lexus (surprise!) sitting in the driveway? Everyone crowds around the car like it’s Santa Claus himself, just marveling and exclaiming with happiness.

An example of a December 2011 ad:

First of all, I think commercials where someone gets a new car in the driveway are logistically a nightmare. How did the husband have time to sneak out and deposit this shiny vehicle in the driveway without anyone seeing it until morning? Also, when the husband drives to pick up the new car, what does he do with his own? He certainly doesn’t drive it back. Or does he have someone else drive the new Lexus over for him? Who does he trust enough? Does Lexus have a car-delivery system, like chauffeurs? Look, I’ve got a lot of questions.

They don’t matter, though. The point is that Lexus has unveiled a new campaign for its December push, and in these ads, people actually drive the cars. They uproot from their tech devices, quit liking, sharing, and friending in cyberspace, and get out and do the real thing themselves.

A December 2012 ad:

So, the bit about getting off your arse to hang out in real life is not a new message in advertising (remember Applebee’s botched “Girls Night Out” campaign?), but it’s a notable change for Lexus because the brand appears to be targeting younger consumers.

The new direction actually makes the Lexus appear more attainable. The characters in these commercials are more relatable. And given that BMW recently unseated Lexus as the top luxury car brand, the entire campaign is extremely temporal.

Also, check out this pretty funny parody of the old Lexus commercials:

Apple’s Evolution Continues. Next Stop: Disillusionment

“Remember the old bit about a General Motors car in every garage? Today, iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads seem just as ubiquitous, especially at Starbucks.”

That’s a line from Roben Fazard’s great article on BusinessWeek about how Apple’s fall mirrors its struggles this year.

Apple’s stock tumbled 23 percent last Wednesday, pushing it to a four-year low to $545. According to BusinessWeek, the one-day misfortune eradicated $35 billion in market value for Apple.

So, what gives? If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’ve discussed Apple a few times over the course of the semester. My most recent post on the company divulged how it is losing face as it inches further and further away from Steve Jobs’ original vision.

The article outlines a few more reasons for discontent:

  • Investors have not yet gotten that mega-dividend they prayed for ahead of the U.S. fiscal cliff.
  • Increased competition, notably from Samsung
  • The closed-off nature of the App Store experience, which is a turn-off to consumers
  • Management discord, particularly after Scott Forstall left the company after its failure to duplicate Google Maps resulted in the laughably erroneous Apple Maps

Apple’s products will not sell forever just because they carry the brand’s name. Competitors will catch up and perhaps pass Apple in terms of innovation, technology, and price. This dip may just be an unfortunate-but-natural deviation from Apple’s grand scheme, but the company should try to forestall this autumn of discontent from becoming a year of one.

A Lemon Bar With That Jeans Purchase?

I love this article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek about the rise of the retailer-restaurant. It talks about how shopping stores from Urban Outfitters to JCPenney are adding cocktails, espresso bars, and other foodservice outlets to their storefronts.

Source: Creative Commons

Source: Creative Commons

Having covered the foodservice industry for the past couple years, before coming to NYU, I actually think that from the business’s perspective, this move is great. Malls have food courts, which are often crowded and bustling no matter the time. So why not create a mini-food court of your own, in your store?

As a consumer, this scares me a litte. Mostly because I think it will work. I know how much I love getting a bubble tea or frozen yogurt at the mall to walk around with, and the more stores that include yummy options like these in their stores, the more tempted I will be.

One of the last articles I wrote before I left QSR magazine and moved to New York was about Macy’s opening its first co-location with Pinkberry. I spoke to Pinkberry CEO Ron Graves and Macy’s director of brand operations, Chris Burr. They both concurred that their brands fit well together; the Macy’s shopper is also likely already a Pinkberry consumer, too. Thus, fans of both brands are already familiar with the other company, and if they’re only familiar with one, they’ll have a wide open opportunity to try the other.

This harkens back to the power of co-branding, which I talked about in my very first blog post(!) when I discussed the potency of Taco Bell and the Doritos Locos Taco. Co-branding associates two distinct brands at once, and if it works well, consumers remember not just one but two brand names at the end of the experience. Any fan of Taco Bell also knows the Doritos Locos Taco. A fan of Harry Potter may associate Universal Studios with the enterprise. Universal is owned by NBC, which has little link to Harry Potter otherwise, but its theme park broadens its fan base. And so on.

One downside to this new trend is that consumers allow retailers to dictate which foods we eat and make our dietary assumptions for us. Not wholly, of course; we can always exit the store. But their plan is to keep us in there for as long as possible, and if a store ever opened a taco window in its clothing or shoe department, I’d be hard pressed to say no.

When Companies Get Swept Into the Facebook Mythology

You’ve probably heard by now that the SEC is considering a lawsuit against Netflix for a post it published on its Facebook page in June. CEO Reed Hastings shared that the video-streaming platform saw more than 1 billion streams the previous month, and as a result, its stock rose 6.2%.

netflix-logo1

The SEC is displeased. According to securities law, companies must share information in a “non-exclusionary method,” like in a press release or a newswire. The SEC wants all investors to have access to the same information—a fair point, if you ask me—and admonishes that Netflix did not file an 8-K or issue a press release in conjunction with the CEO’s status update.

This speaks to a broader problem with life in 2012, outside the micro world of video streaming and company profits: there is a pervasive atmosphere of over-share, promulgated by Facebook and his cousin Twitter, and companies and CEOs need to know where the line is. Perhaps, in fact, we all do.

The ease of sharing on Facebook and Twitter coincides with an overall loss of privacy—which, granted, we all give up easily and without thought, completely ignoring the battle for personal privacy that courts have fought on our behalf for decades—and with no one reminding us when to curtail that sharing, we keep on hitting those “like” and “comment” buttons.

Netflix isn’t the first company to throw some stats up on Facebook, and it certainly won’t be the last. But companies need to not buy into the Facebook mythology that the social network has successfully concocted and spun into all of our brains. We don’t have to share our thoughts on daily happenings, our commentary on sports and politics and our families. We, surprisingly, do not have to post photos of every gathering we go to with our friends.

Facebook has done an incredulous job as a brand, getting us to believe we must log on to feed off its life-giving energy and survive our daily routine.

Regardless, we’ve gotten used to sharing and liking and tweeting our pants off. So what happens when Netflix gets sued for getting caught with its pants down?