05/04, MEJO 153

Image courtesy of The Daily TarHeel

PJ Morales, assistant director and senior writer for The Daily TarHeel tells students about his experiences at the Hussman School of Media and Journalism.

The University of North Carolina junior, from Miami, FL, told students he came to UNC-CH not knowing what he wanted to study. He was initially interested in studying history and sociology.

“I had friends who were doing 121 and 153 and it seemed really, really interesting to me,” he said. “I’ve always really liked talking to people and getting to know people’s stories and … just learning things about people.”

Knowing that the DTH sports desk was experiencing a shortage of writers in 2019, Morales decided to apply for a position. He was given a spot as a writer, which is how his career in journalism at UNC-CH began.

Morales advised students to take as many opportunities to write as they were given. 

“I just kind of started writing as much as I could to try and get more experience, get people to kind of see my name more,” he said.  “Never say no to an opportunity.”

He emphasized the importance of working hard in the journalism industry. From his experiences, Morales has learned that it is crucial to put yourself out there, and express your interest in potential opportunities.

“At the end of the day, the people who are going to be the best journalists aren’t the ones who are just sitting there waiting for someone to assign them something,” he said. “They’re the people who are out looking for story opportunities, trying to … seek out ideas.”

Morales developed a reputation as the DTH writer who would take whatever assignment he was given

“One of my friends heard one of the editors refer to me as … a Hungry Hungry Hippo,” he said.

When the pandemic came around, Morales hit a wall in terms of what he was able to write about. Since he was part of the sports desk, there wasn’t much to cover as all sports games were put on hold.

He did not let this get in the way of his career development. 

“I tried to write an article a week during COVID, which was hard, because sometimes things just didn’t happen for weeks at a time,” he said. “it was during COVID that I wrote my … first feature length piece … about an athlete.”

Morales also stressed the importance of being interested in a story.

“That’s another piece of advice that I always tell people: if you feel yourself resonating with a story, that means you’re going to tell it really passionately,” he said. “That’s an opportunity to say, ‘hey, this is something that really impacts me, this is something I know to be a huge deal.’”

In the lecture, he described the possible advantages of an online model for journalism, as well as the opportunities that arose as a result of Zoom becoming more prominent at UNC-CH.

“COVID  gave us a chance to talk to people from across the country in a really meaningful way because that was the only way we were talking to people,” he said. “Now coming back, transitioning fully in person, again, as an editor, it’s kind of hard”

Morales had a hard time transitioning to in-person conferences, as it was difficult to coordinate meeting times with potential interviewees.

“Now, we’re not just sending people on Zoom calls,, we have to coordinate getting people to a stadium, we have to coordinate getting people to a venue for a press conference,” he said.

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