Azzopardi gives advice to current EMU journalism students

Originally published on April 1, 2012 by The Eastern Echo

Figuring out a career path post-graduation can be an incredibly intimidating and confusing task when tackled alone. While some people flounder under the pressure, others fare far better.

Eastern Michigan University graduate, former Eastern Echo editor and high-profile entertainment journalist Chris Azzopardi is one of those who were able figure things out. In the six years after his graduation, his career path has taken him from humble beginnings to being a highly sought after entertainment writer and reporter.

March 29 Azzopardi came back to EMU to a lecture entitled “From Here to Hollywood: How I Met Madonna with my EMU Degree.” During the lecture, he shared stories and experiences from his short but incredibly successful career in the hopes of helping current journalism students avoid the post-graduation hump.

Azzopardi began his thought-provoking and often comical lecture by reading a few “inspirational” pieces of fan mail he’d received early on in his career. One was a touching and heartfelt letter from an unidentified fan of his work.

The letter read, “The manner in which you criticized Diana Ross is [expletive] and condescending and it’s your sissified

mannerisms and journalism, which may take umbrage. You’re one of a dime a dozen who call themselves reporters – or worse – journalists who qualify as nothing more than [expletive] queens.”

Undaunted by the fan’s overflowing appreciation for his hard work, Azzopardi simply said, “That was pretty cool.”

After sharing one more piece of fan mail regarding a separate article, the lecture moved into a discussion of what it’s really like to be an entertainment journalist and how students can prepare themselves for a successful career.

Azzopardi began by recognizing his luck in landing a job that is based near his hometown of Canton, MI.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do [my job] here in Michigan. Not to have to move out of state, to go to New York or LA, which is where I initially thought I would be at.”

He then spoke a bit about what it is like to interview celebrities and attend press junkets.

After sharing an anecdote concerning Christina Aguilera having what he describes as a “diva moment” over some soup, he gave his honest assessment of his job.

“I love interviewing celebrities but it’s not as glamorous as it may seem. I’ve been able to see them as real people… that’s probably not a real person moment. A normal person would probably just eat the soup,” Azzopardi said.

Entertainment journalism might not be as glamorous as it appears but Azzopardi’s career has taken him to some places many would consider to be rather glamorous. Places such as the premier of the 2011 film “The Kids are Alright,” where he was treated to all you can eat concessions and an all-expenses paid trip to a Napa Valley resort spa to cover the film “Eat, Pray, Love,” where he was treated to a seaweed wrap.

Although he is able to attend swanky media events now, Azzopardi cautions that students should not expect to get complimentary spa treatments right out of college.

“At the end of my last year in school, I thought, ‘Ok, well I can go from The Echo to Entertainment Weekly, no problem.’,” Azzopardi said.

Unfortunately, those plans didn’t work out.

“…I never heard back from Entertainment Weekly,” he said with a laugh.

Eventually, he was able to land a job with LGBTQ newspaper Between the Lines, which kick started his career.

“If I didn’t start off small, I wouldn’t have been able to build onto that,” Azzopardi said.

Starting small was just one of the many insights he offered, he also discussed the topic of networking.

“Having your degree is important… But who you know is more important than I could have ever realized,” Azzopardi said.

“Going out of school and into my first job, I didn’t even realize that networking, getting to know other journalists and getting to know people at conferences was so important… That’s how I got the OUT [Magazine] interview with Martina McBride.”

Azzopardi stressed the use of digital media and social networking as a way to connect with other journalists.

He later advised students to maintain a good report with their professors.

“Suck up to your teachers,” Azzopardi said. “If I didn’t have the good relationship with Sheryl [James], she probably wouldn’t have asked me to come on board at Metro Parent.”

Networking was a part his overall message about the importance of self-sufficiency.

“My job was created by me in a way,” Azzopardi said. “I had the platform. I had the foundation, which was Between the Lines. But when we bought The [Q] Syndicate there was no celebrity department, there were no celebrity features.”

He created a door where there was none; he filled a position he created for himself. This was used as an example of the strategy and planning that he believes is key to success.

“As soon as I graduated from here, I knew that I wanted to make something of myself. I knew I had this big goal of Entertainment Weekly and I still have it,” Azzopardi said. “But if you set those [goals] up for yourself, you’ll find the resources and experiences to hopefully reach that.”

Azzopardi stressed that an important part of strategy is recognizing a good opportunity when it arises. After getting the opportunity to be flown to New York to do press for a film, he also got the opportunity to interview Madonna and Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, only one night of his stay was complimentary, which meant he needed to be resourceful.

“I got one night paid and then the rest of it, I was trying to figure out where I was going to stay,” he said. “I mean, I would have pitched tent if it meant meeting Madonna… as long as it could be a part of my resume and my portfolio.”

He later expanded on his thoughts on the topic of portfolio building.

“Building a portfolio and the experience that you have is so important. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all the experience I had in the beginning of my career.”

That experience is also what helped him become the interviewer he is today.

“Interviewing is an art form, that’s not something you can teach,” he said. “That comes with experience.”

“But look at where I started; I was doing an interview with my editor talking to Margaret Cho and [now I’m] doing interviews by myself with Beyoncé. Because I’ve done so many of them it just makes it easier.”

Although difficult to teach, he did share a few tips to becoming a better interviewer. Those tips included going off script but being prepared, balancing questions, managing your time and asking unique questions.

As he wrapped up his lecture, Azzopardi discussed the evolving state of journalism and how students should prepare it.

“Journalism is changing so much, and it’s going to continue to change. If you can only write it’s going to be hard to be a successful journalist.”