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Meet Chloe Tai JMS‘21, Co-Writer of the Award-Winning story “The COVID-19 Money Trail” and Political Producer at Spectrum News NY1
“[Rewards] came in the form of the gratitude we received from the people we featured in our piece,” said Tai.
Meet Chloe Tai JMS‘21, Co-Writer of the Award-Winning story “The COVID-19 Money Trail” and Political Producer at Spectrum News NY1

For Chloe Tai JMS’21, Madison McGay JMS’22, and Hayley Slusser JMS’22, giving their best effort towards a single college assignment resulted in a significant journalistic impact and outstanding personal rewards.

Last year, these three hardworking JMS students proved their talent as journalists during Professor of Professional Practice in Journalism and Media Studies and Co-Host of DemocracyNow! Juan González’s Investigative Journalism course.

Following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to remote learning, Tai, McGay, and Slusser analyzed and reported upon Rutgers student’s perspectives about how the university was spending its money during the pandemic.

Through their research for the article, they provided a forum for their peers to share their experiences during the pandemic and get to the bottom of the financial concerns they had. As Tai said, “The article was meant to pressure Rutgers into being more accountable and to share the stories of the suffering students. I hope we were able to do just that.”

Their final work, titled The COVID-19 Money Trail was published in The Daily Targum, and the article garnered an award from the national Investigative Reports & Editors Association (IRE).

We spoke to Tai regarding her work on the story and how it prepared her for her current role as a political producer at Spectrum News NY1.

SC&I: Introduce yourself! What did you study at Rutgers?

CT: My name is Chloe Tai, and I am a political producer working on the Inside City Hall program at Spectrum News NY1.  I just recently started the position at the end of May. I graduated from Rutgers University as a Journalism and Political Science double major in May of last year.  I wrote for The Daily Targum during my last two years of college, and served as the associate copy editor for the paper my senior year. I also participated in WRSU, the on-campus radio station. A lot of what I learned from hosting my own show and doing some audio mixing has helped me in my time working in broadcast news.

SC&I: What is it like being a producer at Spectrum? What is a typical day like in your career?

CT: Back when I was a producer with Spectrum News 1 in Albany, my day-to-day started with me trying to get familiar with the news.  I did the late shift, meaning I assisted with the Albany 5 P.M. show and then put on a new show at 9 P.M.  So, during the times I was not at work, I was reading the news and getting caught up on what was happening around the world. Once I got to the newsroom, I read up on emails and all the press releases that I had received. Our news department was on email chains with all the local governments in the New York Capital Region, so it was easy to get caught up on the agendas of local politicians and officials. I also communicated with my fellow producers (those who worked on shifts earlier than mine) to get a rundown of the local stories our reporters were following. I wrote scripts and created content from the feeds our photographers sent back to us from the field. On days when the control rooms were backed up and our technical directors needed help, I headed into the control rooms to guide our directors and anchors. Our shows were all pre-taped, and we only had two anchors to tape content for all five of our markets across the state, so it was imperative we were being efficient with our time.  Since the Albany office served as the hub for all the upstate markets, including Hudson Valley, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, I frequently helped out our colleagues across the state.  That was a typical day in my career as a producer.

I just started working as a political producer, but I would say a lot of the daily elements are similar. Instead of reading news about the neighborhood or the world, I focus more on news regarding the political landscape of the city.  I see what Governor Kathy Hochul has been up to or what her primary opponents have been doing.  I also see what Mayor Eric Adams has done.  I then cut video feeds and pull sound bites from the events these politicians have attended.  I also prepare the Inside City Hall show before we go live at 7 p.m. each night. I work on researching and developing segments for the guests we have on. Being a political producer allows me to focus specifically on the city and to put 100% of my attention on New York City politics.

SC&I: How did studying JMS at Rutgers prepare you for this role? Were there any particular classes or professors that stuck out to you as being especially interesting/helpful?

CT: Studying JMS at Rutgers helped me build connections with seasoned professionals.  All of my professors had practical experience in the field, which helped enhance the lessons and skills they taught me. I think back to my days in Digital Media with Tom Davis, where I learned the fundamentals of a lede and nut graph, or Introduction to Investigative Reporting with Professor Juan González, where I learned the basics of doing research and reaching out to sources.  My professors taught me how to build a toolbox and make the tools I would need to do my job correctly in a professional setting. They also prepared me to face disappointment.  If I missed a deadline or the crucial aspect of the press release I was writing about, they would take the time to explain to me my mistakes.  Media Ethics and Law with Professor Rachel Kremen and Communication Law with  Christoph Mergerson, Ph.D.'22 were two of my favorite classes and taught me practical skills like what “on background” means and how I can avoid defaming someone. I use the knowledge I gained from these two classes every day in the newsroom.  I also have an interest in Global Media, which led to me pursuing the specialization. I loved the passion of Professor Mary D’Ambrosio, and her classes taught me how to pursue a story and to never let go. While I’m not doing much global reporting now, the lessons she imparted are widely applicable to national and local stories too. Of course, I can never forget Professor Steven Miller’s classes, which were always so full of fun anecdotes and relatable connections.  His love of journalism is something I think everyone should have if they are looking to enter this field.

SC&I: Talk about your investigative article for the Daily Targum, “The COVID-19 Money Trail.” What was it like writing the article? What are the rewards and challenges of writing an investigative article, and having to dig deep into an issue/topic?

CT: Writing “The COVID-19 Money Trail” was probably one of the most, if not the most, difficult assignments I had in college. This project started as the final report for Professor Juan González’s Investigative Reporting course. It constantly felt like my teammates and I were pushing a boulder up a hill that was inevitably going to roll down again. Every time we sent out a FOIA request, we were stonewalled and met with excuse after excuse as to why we could not receive the information we had requested. Our story involved students’ perspectives on how Rutgers was using its money during the pandemic, and we wanted to include their side of the story.  That meant we had to collect plenty of data for our survey, and an accurate data pool involves a huge number of responses. Not to mention, I reached out to probably 20 to 30 students through email alone in search of people to interview. After all that work, only three people got back to me and were okay with talking about their experiences.  Trying to coordinate this story with my teammates while remote was another challenge. My teammates and I could not meet in person to discuss anything, nor could we talk to our classmates in person about answering our questions. Nevertheless, there were rewards. They came in the form of the gratitude we received from the people we featured in our piece. When I got a chance to interview students, it was super satisfying getting to hear their stories and being able to provide an outlet for them. The article was meant to pressure Rutgers into being more accountable and to share the stories of the suffering students. I hope we were able to do just that.

SC&I: What advice would you give to other JMS students? (this can be about anything)

CT: Take the time to talk to your professors. Honestly, it was so nerve wracking going to office hours during the pandemic. I felt like my professor might not show up to the Zoom session or that they wouldn’t want to engage with me. But every time I did, I was never disappointed. My professors always wanted to help and be a resource for me. They were also the reason I had a lot more confidence in the job-finding process.  With their connections, I reached out to multiple alumni who were looking for Rutgers graduates to recruit.  Their references and suggestions allowed me to find a good first job out of college.

Discover more about the Journalism and Media Studies major at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information on the website

 

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