I Go Back to School to Study Journalism

One morning in the middle of September, I found myself at a breaking point and easily coming to tears. Having been out of work for so long and having been looking for work for even longer without much traction, I turned to my wife and said something like, “I just can’t take this anymore.” I had to openly admit I was legitimately depressed for the first time in a long time.

As she usually does, she turned my complaint into a productive conversation. She ultimately helped me see that I needed an outlet and, given she and I both know the only thing I really love doing is writing for Todd Flora’s America, the epiphany struck. Within days – and just hours ahead of fall classes – I was enrolled in the Journalism Certificate Program through UCLA Extension. The UC system works in quarters, so this fall I’m taking “Reporting and Writing 1: The Fundamentals of Journalism” and recently completed the seven-week intensive course “Media Law and Ethics.” Both courses are two of the four required courses, with the remaining four to earn the certificate being electives. If I stick with it, take one or two courses a quarter and complete the program, I might even consider a career change if any news outlets would consider a (by then) nearly 51-year old white guy.

Our Reporting and Writing Fundamentals course is taught by Jeff Wald, who, among other things, was the News Director at local L.A. Station KTLA not once, but twice for about 10 years each. He took KTLA to #1 in news during each stint, which is a huge deal in L.A’s massive Five County market of around 17 million people. He has earned 13 Emmys and 23 Golden Mic Awards and was named Journalists of the Year by the L.A. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s pretty clear UCLA Extension doesn’t hire any slouches!  I really enjoy the course but am struggling a bit adjusting to the kind of writing required of a journalist v. the colloquial style I can get away with here on the blog.

Media Law and Ethics was taught by an attorney, Loralee Sundra, who works with entertainment companies in a variety of ways, but I sense it is largely on things like defamation suits. This made her a perfect fit for a class that felt like what I imagine law school feels like. Each week we were buried in first amendment case law, but it was absolutely fascinating and worth the seemingly endless reading to learn what I did about how the first amendment affects journalists and the principles of journalistic ethics.

My classmates are a diverse mix of terrific people, some already working in journalism and others like me at a crossroads due to unemployment or just a change in or temporary hold on their career. Some are very young and recently received their undergraduate degrees. A few have seen or lived through some very hard things overseas. I’m definitely among the 3-4 oldest class members, which doesn’t really matter because I LOOK so young and am really, really, really, really, really good looking.

The Beloved “Double Desk”

Probably the funniest exchange in the last two months came when Erin – who works right beside me on our new “double desk” now by day – witnessed me in classic neurotic student mode, fretting about a quiz and worried I may not earn an A. When I vocalized this concern to Erin, expecting the usual calming touch, I was instead met with a burst of laughter. She thought it hilarious that I would care about my class grades in the program. A little surprised, I sort of said, “What? OF COURSE I’m going to try to get As!” which prompted yet more laughter…. And then it hit me – my wife, who has known me for almost 20 years, has never witnessed “student Todd,” the neurotic worry wart that always asks too many questions in class, carries massive test anxiety, and worries about grades because of a philosophy I adopted as a young student that goes like this: If I earn an A in AP Government, I’ll be an “A person” IN government. If I earn an A in English, I’ll actually speak and write A-level English. If I earn an A in AP History, I won’t make as many mistakes IN politics. You get the idea. It’s a philosophy that can make sense, but it does put a lot of pressure on a guy. So, as you can imagine, my “C” on my recent Reporting and Writing Fundamentals mid-term had me feeling very low about being a “C” journalist.

At the time of this writing, there are only 2 more instructional weeks of class, and then our Reporting and Writing Fundamentals final exam on December 16. From there, only a couple weeks holiday hiatus before starting “Reporting and Writing II: Journalism in Practice.” And away we go! 

17 Comments

  1. Come on, Sally. C? I expect perfection out of you. Jokes aside – well done. I foresee some lucky UCLA Extension students taking a course from Professor Flora in the coming years. Glad to see you and Erin enjoying some quality “double desk” time.

  2. Good work Todd. You’ll get back in the swing of school and knock it out of the park like always. That double desk is a Covid era gem. Make sure to take your desk mate out to see the sunset or this amazing bright November moon.

  3. Very inspiring. My undergrad is in journalism. I worked in that field a little bit. We’ll have to exchange stories. I want to take some extension classes at UCLA – brilliant!!

  4. Good luck on this adventure! My wife, Tina is two classes away from a 2 year paralegal program. While she had a full teaching credential, taught for several years in la peunte, when we returned from overseas she decided teaching wasn’t for her…I’m more like Erin her finding it “funny” when she stresses about assignments and such. She’s the straight A student and let’s just say, I was not.

    So, if anyone knows any OC based paralegal jobs, Tina would love a break to launch her new career.

    • Thanks for reading as always, Scott. I have a good friend that did the same thing and graduated just before the pandemic, so he’s still looking, too. But ok, and good luck to her!

  5. You forget the entertainment value your “too many questions” brought to us all. Proud of you for picking up and moving in this new direction! I know you will conquer it. Perhaps that style being taught is the problem 😉. And Erin is clearly so perfect for you. Glad she gets to see this side of you!

  6. Oh my gosh, I loved reading this! I remember “Student Todd” like it was just yesterday! I was always so relieved to be in class with you because I knew you would ask enough questions (from the front row, of course) to distract the teachers from calling on the rest of us poor souls!🙃 And I swear I was an A student too, but I recently pulled out my high school transcript (thinking I was going to be bragging to my kids, LOL) and I was completely floored to see soooo many Bs (and a couple of poor citizenship grades to boot).😌 UCLA is lucky to have you and I can’t wait to read more from you T!

    • You’re so kind. It’s funny you and Caroline both appreciated “Student Todd.”

      You don’t know this, but since 2018 I now wear a hearing aid in my left ear… though I still thankfully feel like I’m still in the front row on UCLA Extension Zoom!!

  7. Zoolander

    Plus I see a lot of great students do bad work in the real world (and vice versa). Not to mention grading includes bias. Etc., etc.

    In any case, excited to hear about your new adventure and what you’ll do next!

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