How a line from ‘My Cousin Vinny’ describes a career in journalism

Educators In the News

This fall marks my 20th year in the classroom. Teaching was supposed to be a temporary job until I could land my next TV gig. Remember Marisa Tomei’s character Mona Lisa in “My Cousin Vinny”? She learned about automotive issues not from school or career but from firsthand experience in her family’s auto mechanic business.

“Well, my father was a mechanic, his father was a mechanic, my mother’s father was a mechanic, my three brothers are mechanics, four uncles on my father’s side are mechanics….”

My experience is similar, just substitute “educator” for “mechanic.” Many people assumed I would go into the family business of teaching, but I wanted to be a journalist since I was 10 years old. Friends tell me I used to interview them at slumber parties using a wooden spoon as my imaginary microphone.  I have no recollection of this, but I don’t doubt it. 

Like just about everybody around my age who studied journalism, Watergate was an idealistic inspiration for our career paths.  There was a generation of us who marveled at these young reporters’ persistence on a story.  We loved the idea that journalism could make a meaningful difference in the world. 

My vocation turned out to be not quite as exciting. (That is unless you count covering city council meetings and doing stories about landfill tipping fees as riveting stuff.) I never lost the feeling that it was my job as a member of the news media to hold accountable people with power and influence.

However, I had two kids under 3 years old and was out of work because a TV producing project I was working on lost funding. I thought I might as well give teaching a try. It turned out to be a good fit. I liked teaching so much I went back to school and got a master’s degree. 

My “book learning” helps me when I am teaching about history and theories related to journalism and broadcasting. But my time as an industry professional is like an educational superpower. All those experiences allow me to help students know what real-life challenges they’ll face in their professional careers. 

A favorite part of my job is the warm welcome I get when I bring my students to visit TV and radio stations. Station managers, news directors, anchors, producers, photographers, engineers and announcers all greet me by name – and I’ve met all of them through the WBA. It gives me added credibility when the students realize my contacts might give them a leg up in their careers.

Thanks to all those stations we have visited or who have allowed their employees to come in as class speakers and share their expertise. If I haven’t called you yet  – I will! Your participation makes me a world of difference for our students – and shows I’ve done more than interview my friends on a pretend microphone.

Nancy Stillwell
WBA Education Committee