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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 26, 2024

WEEKENDER: Arts section alums reflect on lessons learned amid flourishing careers in media

Steph Hoechst (left), Cassidy Olsen (middle) and Chris Panella (right), three former writers for the Daily's arts section, are pictured.

Editor’s note: The Daily’s editorial department acknowledges that this article is premised on a conflict of interest. This article is a special feature for Daily Week that does not represent the Daily’s standard journalistic practices.

Writers for the Daily’s Arts and Pop Culture section have aspired to a myriad of career paths. From political science majors to computer science lovers, there is not one set way to be an arts writer. The Daily provides more than a journalistic education; it builds life skills and connections.

But for those who do enter the media world professionally, the Daily helps establish a professional backdrop for budding editorial aspirations. The Daily recently got to catch up with three arts alums currently working in media, who reflected on their pathways from Daily staff writer to working journalist, editor and producer.

Cassidy Olsen (LA’18) knows the journalistic landscape intimately. After serving as executive arts editor in the fall of 2017, Olsen graduated to a budding editorial career. While working a day job at Reviewed, the consumer product branch of USA Today, Olsen moonlighted as a freelance film critic. Those pieces, which ran in publications like DigBoston and The Improper Bostonian, were akin to the reviews she wrote for the Daily.

In fact, it was film criticism that first drew Olsen to the Daily’s basement office. After a push from some friends, she started reviewing movies for the arts section.

“I was doing film reviews, and I think it's that I had always been really interested in film criticism,” Olsen said. “I read a lot of film criticism growing up, I saw a lot of movies [and] had a lot of opinions.”

After the pandemic thoroughly disrupted the media landscape, Olsen “soft retired” from journalism and relocated to Dublin, Ireland. There she would gratify her urge to get back behind the camera, moving into commercial film production, landing herself in the current position of senior editor for In The Company of Huskies. Still, Olsen continues to find her knowledge from the Daily applicable.

“I think the Daily will always be really important, regardless of whether people pursue it professionally,” Olsen said.

During her tenure as executive arts editor, Olsen was able to shepherd in a bright-eyed new first-year: Chris Panella (LA’21). Starting their term by writing a couple of op-eds, Panella, who uses he and they pronouns, soon found a home for himself in the arts section. There they would complete a series of editorial feats, including interviewing the likes of Olivia Wilde, Robert Eggers and Anya Taylor-Joy.

After leaving Tufts, Panella journeyed out to Los Angeles, where he worked an internship for Lucasfilm. Still, it didn’t take long for them to jump ship for their beloved Boston.

“I moved out to L.A. and was like, ‘oh, this is my future in entertainment.’ And then I quickly found that I missed journalism,” Panella said. “I missed The Tufts Daily a lot, I missed the ability to pitch stories and write and kind of have a craft. And I realized that I was a journalist.”

After a year of writing mattress reviews for Reviewed (the same platform as Olsen’s postgrad work), Panella secured their biggest professional achievement yet: a Breaking News Fellowship with Insider. Though he’s pursuing a different beat than the arts interviews he published for the Daily, Panella carries with them much of their editorial training from the campus publication.

“I pitched three things that got shot down, and I was asking for feedback,” Panella said. “The reason I'm so comfortable with accepting this feedback, and then taking it into my next pitch, is because of the Daily.”

Enlisted at about the same time as Panella was Steph Hoechst (LA’21), another committed arts writer and editor. Hoechst and Panella remain close friends from the Daily; on the day of our interview, Hoechst had plans to meet up with Panella that night for drinks.

Having been trained in news before swapping over to the arts section, Hoechst found a niche for herself in on-campus arts interviews. She reminisces fondly on her interview with the heads of TFL Comedy and with former Beelzebub Deke Sharon (LA’91). Still, after taking up the mantle of executive arts editor for the fall of 2019, Hoechst found herself relishing the community above all.

“Arts is such a tight-knit group,” Hoechst said. “I really enjoyed being in charge, not only of what our section was putting out, but also [as] kind of a social leader as well.”

Hoechst accompanied Panella on their brief Los Angeles trial period, though her stay only lasted three weeks. By then, she was ready to move back to Boston and take up a video editing position for The Inception Company. If there’s one thing that Olsen, Panella and Hoechst all have in common, it’s that they worked grueling entry-level jobs to pave their way. Editing corporate media was never Hoechst’s dream profession, but she took it in stride.

“It was good to have a year of just toughing it ... to now develop the skills I needed to be here,” Hoechst said.

Now Hoechst works as a production assistant for FableVision, a children's educational interactive media company, where she uses many of the logistical tools she learned by running the arts section. 

“It's really strange, because I never was like, ‘oh, being an arts exec is going to help me be such a good producer,’” Hoechst said. “But, now that I'm here, that was totally my first foray into project management.”

Among Olsen, Panella and Hoechst, one lesson learned remained communal: the ability to try, fail and try again.

“I feel comfortable failing and getting feedback in that way,” Panella said. “The Daily I think teaches you to be really open to feedback from your peers and from people who have more experience than you. And it teaches you that a core aspect of journalism is constantly improving your reporting and writing skills.”

Olsen confirms this notion: “I definitely had some times where I felt like I messed up, and I feel like that was actually really important.”

Still, what the Daily intends to inspire more than anything is a love of journalism in its purest form. It’s a passion for storytelling, from interview pieces to criticism, that grows from the basement of Curtis Hall.

“The Daily taught me to love pursuing a beat and looking for stories, and then telling those stories,” Panella said. “So I would say I owe a lot to the Daily and I owe a lot to my time there, because I don't think I would be a journalist if I didn't get pulled into the arts section by Cassidy.”