Alumni News

Sara Sidner takes on Jerusalem brief for CNN

Sara Sidner

Sara Sidner

Congratulations are in order for Sara Sidner, TEL 1985, one of our 2011 Alumni of Distinction honorees.  CNN announced today she is moving to their Jerusalem bureau as senior international correspondent.  She visited the College in April 2011 for our student awards banquet.

Sidner will join CNN’s contingent of correspondents across the region, as the network underlines its commitment to Israel and the Middle East. In addition to its Jerusalem bureau, CNN has a production hub in Abu Dhabi as well as major operations in Amman, Cairo, Baghdad, Dubai and Beirut, where just last week the network added both a correspondent and producer/shooter.

Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president for CNN Worldwide in charge of international newsgathering, said: “Sara’s drive, commitment, bravery and intelligence shines through in her reporting. Her work in Libya last year was truly inspiring, and I know that she will bring many valuable qualities to our Jerusalem bureau.”

Sidner shared the Achievement of the Year award at the 2011 Sky Women in Film & TV Awards for her reporting during the conflict in Libya. The WFT panel praised the example she had set to colleagues by taking to the streets alongside rebel fighters and reporting under fire in Tripoli.

With more than 15 years of television journalism experience, she has covered many stories of national and international importance, including the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Pakistan floods, the Chile and Haiti earthquakes and Afghanistan’s elections. Most recently she has been based in New Delhi, where she was responsible for CNN’s coverage of India and South Asia.

Sara Sidner was interviewed by Sheli Muniz in 2011

Kristin Harmel: “Sweetness” of Success

Kristen Harmel

Kristen Harmel

The UF alumna and novelist explores Alzheimer’s disease, heartache and the Holocaust in “The Sweetness of Forgetting.”

Whenever we’ve needed someone to write about a big celebrity for Florida Online, we’ve gone straight to longtime People magazine reporter Kristin Harmel (BSJ ’01). Whether its Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (BSR ’96), former Saturday Night Live comedian Darrell Hammond (BSADV ’78) or country recording artist Easton Corbin (BS ’06), we know she can maneuver her way through the various handlers and actually sit down with the stars. Besides, just making the phone call to her is fun — we’ve caught her joy-riding with Chubby Checker and watching NASCAR with Ben Affleck.

In recent years, Harmel has also made waves as a novelist. Her seventh novel, “The Sweetness of Forgetting,” was published earlier this month. Now that she’s becoming a bit of a star herself, we thought we’d ask our favorite star seeker about her new book, her influences at UF and which star left her tongue-tied.

Read the rest of the story in Florida Magazine →

UF grad part of new digital journalism team at CBS News

Miles Doran, TEL 2010 has done more than just hit the ground running since leaving the College of Journalism and Communications for CBS News just over a year ago.

He has been to more than 20 states and traveled close to 100,000 miles reporting on some of the largest stories.

“The first story I was sent out on happened to be one of the biggest stories of the year,” said Doran, on his assignment to cover the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “I was still in the process of training.”

Doran had packed just three days of clothing, planning to shoot a story with CBS’ Steve Hartman in Destin. As soon as Doran landed, he checked his e-mail and was told to stay in the Gulf “indefinitely.”

“I think I learned more in the first two weeks covering the oil spill than I could have learned in months of training,” said Doran. “Nothing compares to being thrown into a situation and having to figure out how to get the material back to New York.”

Doran’s title at CBS News is digital journalist and he’s part of a relatively new unit the network created just a year before he arrived at the corner of 57th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan.

As a digital journalist, Doran can be working on a number of stories for a variety of platforms. His content is often seen on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.
“I don’t think we are reinventing journalism here,” said Doran on his role at the network. “It’s just the way of getting the information and transmitting it from point A to B that is changing.”

Doran, who was the 2009-10 Hearst Journalism Awards’ Television Broadcast News winner, started producing his own news packages in high school while interning at the local ABC affiliate in Tampa. His first piece on discrepancies with school start times aired on the station’s Sunday morning public affairs show.

That was the start to a budding career that already has included work at WUFT-TV, WRUF, WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg, the ABCNews On Campus at UF and two internships with CBS News in New York.

As graduation approached, Doran had a difficult choice to make – be on camera and take a job as a local reporter or stay behind the camera and work for CBS News.

“That was a pretty big crossroad for me,” said Doran. “I chose the latter and so far so good.”

As the industry changes rapidly, and the definition of “new journalism” is continually altered, Doran is challenged with staying on top with new technologies. For example, just this summer in Joplin, Mo. after a devastating tornado destroyed the town, Doran was faced with no cell phone service and a team of journalists needing to communicate. Using a portable satellite, Doran and the rest of the CBS team were able to communicate with headquarters back in New York and transmit their material back on deadline.

“Especially in this setting at CBS News, you get a great appreciation of what it takes to tell a good story,” said Doran. “The journalism values haven’t changed and I think that is important.”

From oil spills to tornados to drug smuggling in Puerto Rico, Doran continues to check off the cities he has worked on a map posted on the wall of his Upper West Side studio in Manhattan.

“I often don’t know what state I’m going to wake up in or fall asleep in,” said Doran. “The job is really flexible and that’s what I like about it.”

—Steven Johnson

Gator grad celebrates radio call for NBA winners

Chuck Cooperstein, TEL 1981, has spent the better part of 30 years dreaming of calling a championship moment on radio. On June 12 of this year he got that chance as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Dallas Mavericks when they beat the Miami Heat 105-95 in Game 6 of the NBA finals.

“The reality is a million times better than the dream,” said Cooperstein. “It is greater than you can imagine to get there. The champagne. The celebration. You see it happen to others, but you don’t think you’re ever really going to live it.”

For Cooperstein, that moment was a long, long way from the first game he broadcast, the Gainesville High School state football championship game in 1980 where he teamed up with Larry Vettel, TEL 1981. The WRUF-AM broadcast was the first of many the two would do together, including the first women’s basketball broadcast ever aired for the Gators.

“We were so excited about broadcasting our first game on WRUF,” said Cooperstein. “I thought we were going to share the play-by-play – one of us doing the first half, the other the second half, but Larry let me do play-by-play for the whole game and he did the color commentary. I always had to thank him for that.”

Cooperstein’s first broadcasting work at the College actually started a couple of years earlier at WUFT-TV, where as a sophomore he tagged along with Dan Hackel and Ken Ratcliffe as they led the public television station’s efforts to start their first daily news broadcast.

In the fall of 1979, Cooperstein found his niche in radio, working alongside Vettel on WRUF’s Dial-a-Score, the venerable postgame radio show made famous in the days before computers and ESPN provided constant updates of scores. In a dark, dusty studio at the Stadium, he and Vettel had a lot to talk about as the Gators went 0-10-1.

“I loved the immediacy of radio,” said Cooperstein. “Television didn’t appeal to my sense of impatience. After that experience with Dial-a-Score, I went to New York for a six-month business-oriented internship with NBC. When I came back, I knew just what I wanted to do – sports radio.”

When he graduated in 1981, he moved back to New York and began building a career that would ultimately lead him to Dallas in 1984 to work for KRLD-AM 1080, an all news station that carried the Cowboys.

“I started doing the evening sportscasts and then over the years, started doing pregame and postgame for the Cowboys, but I really was interested in moving into sports talk radio,” he continued.

In 1992, he moved to Philadelphia when an opportunity emerged to do a daily talk show. While the experience only lasted 16 months, Cooperstein obviously showed his abilities, because Dallas came calling again, and this time he got his own show on Dallas’s first all-sports station.

“I loved the immediacy of radio. Television just didn’t appeal to my sense of impatience.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of Chuck,” said Vettel. “Because he grew up on Long Island and had a strong New York accent, many people said he’d never be able to work outside the Northeast markets. He proved these people wrong and continues to do outstanding work.”

Cooperstein has been a regular on the Dallas daily sports scene ever since and ultimately joined the Mavericks as their radio play-by-play announcer in 2005. Today in addition to his play-by-play gig, Cooperstein hosts a daily talk show with former Cowboys’ All Pro Nate Newton on 103.3 FM ESPN. His show “The NCAA College Football Insider,” which runs on stations across the country in the fall, airs on WRUF Sportsradio 850 on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m.

“It’s always about the games,” said Cooperstein. “The inspiration for doing games came from growing up listening to games on radio, and then spotting for Otis Boggs [the beloved WRUF and Gator play-by-play announcer] for two years only strengthened those feelings,” he said. “Just sitting by someone who was doing what I wanted to do was very special. Larry also had a huge impact on me, because he created all these opportunities for us, even though he was also a student at the time.”

When it comes to loving a team though, there’s only one that matters. “The only team I really care about is the Gators,” said Cooperstein, who growing up on Long Island was a big New York sports fan. “I used to be a huge Jets fan, but I just don’t have that same passion anymore for the New York teams. My money and my love go to UF and the College of Journalism and Communications.”

—Quenta Vettel

Gators lead Herald

Mindy Marques Gonzalez and Rick Hirsch (Photo by Charles Trainor Jr.)

In what is believed to be a first, two of the College’s graduates are leading The Miami Herald newsroom. Last October 26, Aminda “Mindy” Marques Gonzalez, JM 1986, was promoted from managing editor to executive editor; Rick Hirsch, JM 1980, was named managing editor on January 5.

Marques Gonzalez is the second woman and first Hispanic to head the newsroom of The Miami Herald. After working for the newspaper as an intern, she started full-time with The Herald in 1986 and worked as a reporter and editor before leaving in 2002 to become the Miami bureau chief for People magazine. She returned to the Herald in 2007 to help launch the Miami.com entertainment site, before moving on to become the paper’s executive features editor, senior editor for news and managing editor.

“I always wanted to work for The Miami Herald,” said Marques Gonzalez, who was born in New York, raised in Hialeah and upon graduating from UF, received the Dean’s Cup for professional promise. “I was the geeky kid who would get excited at seeing The Miami Herald delivery truck.” Hirsch has spent his entire career at the Herald, joining the paper full-time in 1980. He has served as editor of numerous sections, overseen the paper’s recruitment of young journalists and focused on connecting the newspaper to evolving new media. He most recently directed The Herald’s online efforts and built numerous partnerships including a radio partnership with WLRN public radio.While the two didn’t cross paths in Gainesville, they have worked together off and on since 1986. They also shared the experience of losing their homes in south Miami-Dade County during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 while covering the storm and its aftermath.“We had that common experience,’’ Hirsch said. “If you lost your home, Andrew lasted a year; if you didn’t, it was a few months.”

Both credit the education and experiences they received at the College with their success in the industry. “Jean Chance was my news writing professor and I had plans on going to law school,” said Hirsch. “She said to me, why do you want to go to law school and become another mediocre attorney when you can become an outstanding journalist? She goaded me into becoming a journalist.”

Hirsch also credits Buddy DavisJon Roosenraad and Ralph Lowenstein, saying of the former Dean “he’s as good as it gets, an inspirational person.”For Marques Gonzalez, she too, points to Roosenraad and Chance, but also to a larger lesson she learned about fact errors from Journalism Associate Professor Ed Weston.“Today as an editor, I have a low threshold for fact errors,” said Marques Gonzalez. “I still remember going to cover a city commission meeting and listening to a local pastor speak about an issue. I turned to one of his congregants to get the spelling of his name. I wrote the story, turned it in and got a big fat zero because I misspelled the pastor’s name. It took a lot for me to make up for that zero, but it taught me a great lesson that I use to this day.”

John Spence: one of nation’s top 100 thought leaders

John Spence, one of the nation's top 100 thought leaders.

Good thing John Spence, PR 1989, likes to travel. A normal year for the nationally renowned executive educator, consultant and speaker means at least 225 nights away from home.

“I get paid to play,” said Spence. “I think, read, study and then tell people about it.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple.

Spence estimates he has read at least 150 business-related books a year for the past 18 or 19 years. Add to that another 14 periodicals and countless blogs and websites he reads each month, and it’s easy to see why companies worldwide bring him in to share that knowledge on strategic thinking, high-performance teams and other advanced leadership development topics with their employees.

It’s that ability to take large amounts of information and research, combine it with his personal hands-on experience and deliver succinct, timely, focused, results-driven programs that has made him the guy his clients refer to as the “Human Cliff Notes.”

“My job is making the very complex . . . awesomely simple,” Spence said, noting that phrase is also the tagline for his business. “I’m able to take my vast background of experiences, the exposure I’ve had to business problems and best practices, and look for patterns in strategy, in leadership, in solutions. I take complex things and make them simple.”

In January, the former UF Public Relations Student Society of America Bateman Case Study competition team member was named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders by Trust Across America. “This year’s recipients include leaders from the public and private sectors as well as authors, consultants, researchers and academics,” said Barbara Kimmel, executive director of Trust Across America. “Each recipient has made extensive, positive contributions to building trust in business.”

Spence, who lives in Alachua with his wife Sheila, credits the College and the Department of Public Relations for preparing him for his career. “The work I did on the Bateman competition team as well as my membership in PRSSA [where he was named one the top three PRSSA students in the Southeast his senior year] was absolutely a springboard to my work,” Spence said. “As students, we were doing real work, applying what we were learning. That was a big inspiration for me.”

“[He] delivers succinct, timely, focused, results-driven programs that have made him the guy his clients refer to as the “Human Cliff Notes.”

Public Relations Professor Mary Ann Ferguson remembers the dynamic Spence. “Even then, he was a force to be reckoned with,” she recalled. “He was the kind of student when he spoke up, others would listen. I always knew he’d make his mark. He has become incredibly respected in his field and we’re very happy for him.”

Spence estimates over the past 17 years he has presented workshops, speeches and executive coaching to more than 300 organizations worldwide, including Microsoft, IBM, GE, Abbott, Merrill Lynch, AT&T, Qualcomm and dozens of other private companies, government offices and not-for-profits.

Last December, he was invited to participate in the Renaissance weekend in Charleston, a private retreat for innovative leaders in business and finance, education, religion, law and medicine, government, the media, science and technology, sports, non-profits and the arts made famous by the Clintons during President Bill Clinton’s time in office.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Spence. “It really was at a whole another level. It exposed me to people who are making national and international decisions and challenged me to elevate the way I look at the world.

“I came out feeling like it is incumbent on me to continue to escalate the level of my work. I went through the innovation tract – the ‘keeping the American dream alive’ tract. I really feel like innovation is going to drive the success of our country.”

Spence has earned the respect of many of the country’s major companies. “I am proud to be on the cutting edge of business,” said Spence. “I happen to really enjoy business; I get to work with some very large companies on big projects that are going to have a significant impact on their business.

“I spend my days around a lot of very, very bright people. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who reads as much as I do, who has the natural ability to take a lot of information and organize it and discover the patterns. I think that’s why I have been successful.”

Mike Neumeier: The Power of PR

Mike Nuemeier APR, PR 1992

Mike Neumeier, APR, PR 1992, was inducted into the Public Relations Student Society of America’s Hall of Fame at the association’s national conference for his contributions to the public relations profession and public relations education.

Neumeier served as president of PRSSA in 1992-93 while a master’s student at UF and believes that the College instilled in him the importance of the organization. Today, he is a principal at Arketi Group, a high-tech business-to-business public relations and digital marketing firm in Atlanta.

“When I was in the College, it was drilled in you that ‘you are going to do this [be in PRSSA] and this is what you’re going to get out of it,’” said Neumeier. “And you know what, I did get a lot out of it and always have wherever I was in my career path.

“Even now, when I went to New York a few years ago for a Public Relations Society of America meeting, I didn’t expect to know anyone. But I knew everyone, because a lot of them were students in PRSSA when I was a student and now we’re all involved in PRSA.”

Neumeier is a past chair of UF’s Department of Public Relation’s Advisory Board. He has received more than 60 industry awards, including a PRSA Bronze Anvil for architecting a demand-creation program resulting in a $13 million increase in sales. In addition, he is the past-president of the Georgia chapter of PRSA.

In addition to his professional achievements, Neumeier’s work to help establish the Georgia chapter of PRSA’s annual PR Real World conference for public relations and communications students, his leadership as past chair of UF’s Department of Public Relations Advisory Board and his participation as a founding member of the National Advisory Board for Kennesaw State University’s Department of Communication were noted among his achievements.