Julie Zeglen changed her major three times before graduating from Temple with a degree in Media Studies & Production. Matt Albasi earned his associate's degree in physics before arriving at Temple to study journalism. And Max Pulcini began his college career as a pre-med major.
"I don't know who the hell I am," Max recalled telling his friends while trying to figure out what major he should study. "I'm loud and outgoing. My friends suggested journalism so I said, 'Fuck it. Let's do it.'"
All three are now successful journalists, documenting Philadelphia's river wards - Fishtown, Kensington, Northern Liberties, Port Richmond and Bridesburg. Julie is the managing editor of The Star newspapers and Max and Matt own The Spirit.
Julie never even took a journalism class while in college. When she arrived at The Star as a staff reporter, she had never written a news story.
"I learned by reading old Star stories," she said last week in class. "I followed the format I found."
Now, she oversees one staff reporter and she handles the social media and layout, in addition to reporting/writing stories and sometimes shooting still images.
"I get to do a little of everything," she said. "It can be a little overwhelming."
Shortly after that story was published, Max found himself at the bar where Matt was bartending. They had known each other from classes. They decided then to begin a partnership. That ultimately led to the creation of their documentary, "Rise of The Tigers." It won them a bunch of awards and garnered a lot of attention.
In 2014, they bought The Spirit.
Documenting the river wards can be challenging, as each ward has its own flavor. And not being from the area means that there is not the innate trust that a local would have.
"You're not there to screw them over," Julie said. "You care about what they're doing."
"We try to avoid the notion of fishbowl journalism," Matt added. "We don't want to be, like, 'Look at what these weird people are doing.'"
He said the news staff is careful to avoid adjectives like "blighted" of "crime-addled."
"You're talking about where people live," he continued.
Julie said she reads The Spirit and Matt and Max both said they read The Star. The competition is fierce but friendly.
"I've never had a flaming pile of dog crap at my doorstep," Matt said.
Here are a few other things that stood out to me:
• Matt decided to study journalism after reading Dexter Filkins' book, "The Forever War."
• Max originally wanted to be a sportswriter.
• Julie interned at Variety while studying for the semester in London.
• Julie said The Star's readership tends to be older and there are subjects that The Star will not cover, like marijuana. They'd do investigative stories if they had a larger staff.
• Instead, The Star does stories about people who would normally not get coverage in the larger news organizations.
• The Spirit gets feedback from their audience via Facebook, emails and phone calls. But they also have readers who walk into the newsroom to complain or praise. "People have no qualms about saying the paper sucked this week," Matt said.
• "It's important to be out there, picking up fliers and talking to people," Julie said. "It's about being able to forecast what are going to be the big stories for your communities."
• Neither paper covers national events unless the staffers can localize the event in some way. "What does this mean for Fishtown?" Julie asked rhetorically.
• The Spirit internship is hands-on, Max and Matt said. At The Star, Julie said, interns begin by shadowing a reporter. Then they'll do some social media and eventually write stories for the printed edition. "An internship isn't worth anything unless you come away with a few clips," Julie said.
What stood out for you?
6 months ago