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Q&A With Dr. Sara Netzley

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bradley U chapter.

Each student has a professor that inspires them, mine is Dr. Sara Netzley.

Dr. Netzley has been working at Bradley University for nineteen years. She has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication and Media Arts from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield, and a B.A. in Communication Arts and Political Science with a minor in Spanish from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

When I arrived at Bradley I was lost when it came to my future, and I felt like I didn’t belong here. I was struggling with my classes and it felt like each person I met didn’t understand me or know how to help me reach my goals. I was ready to transfer schools until my first advisor meeting with Dr. Netzley.

Before I even sat down I felt welcomed by her positive energy and fun office. I finally found someone who understood exactly how I was feeling. I left her office feeling relieved that someone understood me. She made me have hope that my goals can be achieve.

Now six semester later, I have got to know Dr. Netzley as a professor and an advisor. She has helped shaped my future, inspired me to reach my goals and thrive to be a better person. I would not have survive my time at Bradley without her.

With March being Women’s History Month, I reflected on why she was my inspiration. One thing about me is I have many goals, unlike others in my class I have a interest in all of the fields. I have a Political Science minor because one day I would like to be able to educate people in it. I have a creative writing minor because I would like to write my own book. My major is Journalism because I love being able to sit down and get to know someone then be able to write their story. Everything that I want to achieve Dr. Netzley has done it.

I had a meeting we Dr. Netzley and asked her question to let you get to know her the way I do.

This has been slightly edited for clarification purposes.

How many different fields of journalism do to work in?

Oh, good question. I got my master’s in public health reporting, like I said, so I did state government reporting. While I was getting that degree the program involved in internships so I covered the Illinois General Assembly, and I was an entertainment reporter for the Journal Star here in Peoria after getting my master’s, and so I did, movie reviews, concert reviews, just general feature reporting, and that was a lot of fun. Then I got my PhD, and I became a full time professor, which turns out was great. I love reporting. I really love being a professor. And since then, I’ve done freelance work for primarily Entertainment Weekly, so I do entertainment news, writing I do TV recaps opinions. Like Best of lists and things like that for some of the beads that are on, I get to interview celebrities on occasion when it’s on my beat. I just got to interview the third lead of NCIS last month, when the show came back from the Hollywood strike. , so I did see that they got renewed for Yeah, yes. And there’s there’s spin offs that are coming and all kinds of things. So they actually these 1,000th episode of NCIS is coming up, which is a lot of my editor just asked if there’s some stories that might be good to go along with that. So I’m thinking about things I could pitch or, you know, what would be a good way to talk about 1,000th episode so it’s a nice, it’s a nice way to keep a foot in the field in the professional field and see what our media company is looking for, in terms of who they hire and the kind of work that they do and the skills that you need to have because I can bring that to the classroom, you know, at ew. Here are the things that I need to do and I need to know and so I want to make sure my students know how to do those things and are prepared you know, every media outlet is gonna be a bit different, but that’s a big publishing company, and it’s nice to see what are they working with and how can I set my students up for success as much as I can.

So, one of the reasons I say that you’ve inspired me is because you spread positivity, Even when you’re teaching like tough topics, one memory I have is when you had to give us the car accident scene in journalist writing. How do you keep such a positive attitude when you deal with the negative firsthand?

I mean, it is not easy all the time, because I always want to be sensitive to how students react to content like that in the classroom and I don’t want to take it too lightly or assume everybody is going to be okay with the material. But I also think part of the communication field is dealing with unpleasant topics and tragedies and people that their worst days. And so presenting it, talking about it, talking through the professional strategies and then sort of ways to handle it for journalistic perspective, if it’s not a journalism class, discussing ways to talk about it treat it deal with it. That’s important, but I also just want it to be a comfortable place for people to share their thoughts and move forward. I don’t know if you’ve been in a class with me when I’ve done like, Alright, here’s a GIF of puppies, after we’re done with you know, here’s a kitten picture. Do that just because sometimes you need attention breaker because the classroom is removed from the world but it’s part of the world too. I think you need to talk about those important concepts and talk about in terms of our field and things we can learn and take from it but to understand that it’s still a classroom and you’re going to have to leave the room in 20 minutes and go to BCC math class. I know that too. And so I tried to keep the mood light with a subject change after you know that conversation has concluded it is it’s hard but that’s just my personality. I’m tend to be an optimist and I tend to be I tend to make inappropriate jokes like Chandler Bing sometimes and so that comes through sometimes.

Why did you choose to go into journalism?

I like writing and I like people and I like talking and listening and honestly that’s that’s what journalism is. It’s it’s asking questions, It’s finding interesting people and interesting topics and interesting angles. And then the challenge of putting all that together and using language and vocabulary and turns of phrase and surprising details and things like that. It’s just it’s such a fun challenge every time no matter what the topic is, no matter what the story is finding some way to get the most useful, relevant, interesting information and then presenting it in the most useful, relevant and interesting way. It’s something I love to do every time.

Did you have any role models in the field?

When I was in high school picking my career my older cousin Eric was a TV reporter. And he was so I really, I really thought I wanted to do TV journalism. But then when I got to college, I realized I really writing words on the page or words on the screen is where my strengths lie. And so that pivoted to print written in journalism, as opposed to TV but he was the first one that I saw that looks like a fun job to be able to report on politics and to be able to report on the events in the community. That’s super cool. Beyond that, oh gosh, I I was a subscriber to Entertainment Weekly for years and years and years, the physical printers and it sort of come into my dorm room as a freshman in college. And the writing that they did, they’re making pop culture, surprising and fresh and relevant and engaging and the access they had to sneak peeks and reviews and things. I just thought that was such a cool thing. And so 20 years later, whatever it was when he that he was looking for freelancers, basically to get to do that was mind blowing.

I was on for the Superbowl. And so my editor is in the slack we’re looking for Hey, what did everybody think about the halftime show? And we all kind of pitched our thoughts about what it was as they were putting together that halftime show story so to get to contribute and even a tiny ways so cool, just even on a freelance basis. You know, I’m such a tiny cog in their big machine but it’s neat see it all happened. Then I’m going to be recapping Bridgeton this season, so I will get early access to those episodes and that’s is just great.

How did you end up working at Bradley?

In the year 2000 my then husband got into law school and that was in Carbondale, Illinois, and there was not much else to do in Carbondale, Illinois. I already had my master’s degree. So I got my PhD thinking I would go right back to the newsroom. I wanted to be a journalist and think I wanted to be in academia. But the longer I was in classes and then dissertation I realized oh no, I actually really liked this. And I think I could, I think I could do this as a career. I think I would enjoy it. I think I’d be good at it. And so I as I was finishing my coursework and moving into my dissertation work, there was a job opening that came up in the Peoria at Bradley for a professor to teach journalism, specifically print journalism. I wasn’t I was just like, Wait, that’s exactly what I did at the Journal Star and It’s what I did for the Associated Press. When I was getting my master’s. I could do that job. I wasn’t going to apply for jobs while I was finishing my PhD, but I loved Peoria when I lived here before, I loved the town. My family’s in the area. And it was the field that I had experience in. It was the perfect job and I was so lucky that I got the first academic job I applied for. I got tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2012. I got promoted to full professor last year. This has been my home. And I’m so grateful for it. So it just happened that the job came along at just the right time and that I happen to see the listing and here we are.

What have you what are some of your career goals?

I hit a lot of them. One of the challenges when you get to the point where I am which is going to start my 20th year next year. You don’t want to coast you know, you don’t want to say I’ve taught all these classes before so I’m just going to pull out my notes and do the same thing I’ve done. So my goal is to continually look at what am I teaching and how am I teaching it and how can that be improved? What content should I be adding? What approaches should I change? So just staying fresh and not letting myself stagnating, not letting my students down. That’s my number one goal every semester. It’s why I can take a class I’ve taught six other times and still take forever to prep the next lecture because I want to make sure I’m adding and keeping it fresh and updating what needs to be updated. I’ve really changed the way I teach journalism and you’ve seen a little bit of this. The newer approaches I have because I do think there’s more of an understanding about we need more voices. We need more awareness of people outside of ourselves and we need maybe a little more advocacy sometimes for human rights. Humanity community needs things like that the neutral approach to journalism, I’m not sure it’s the best one. And it’s never been really a possible thing to do. So I’ve really changed how I approach a lot of my classes and that has made a lot of retooling for me, so it’s just staying fresh and staying current and not getting lazy. That’s the best thing.
In terms of other career goals, I like where I am I like being a professor. The next step is administration for a lot of people to be a chair, a dean, President provost. It takes you into the classroom it takes away from the students and you need good people in leadership but boy do I like being in the classroom with my students, and I would hate to lose that. So I’m pretty happy where I am just making sure I’m staying current and relevant and useful to the students who look at me for an hour and 15 minutes every day.

You work for EW as recap or what is your experience with that compared to a news company with hard news?

Um, gosh, the news experience I had the hard news experience was from an era that was really before heavy online. So my hard is experience was very much shoe leather reporting and you’d go to the fire station every morning and you see what emergency runs they went on and you are walking the community and doing that sort of in person. Just the Facts covered school board meeting type reporting that’s so important to communities. We’re losing that as newspapers closed down as TV stations, cut staff. So that’s always a concern and that’s so important, but ew it is it’s a whole different kind of communication in that it’s the online aspect of it frees you up to write to a broader audience that is interested in this specific kind of topic that you’re doing and so it is such a nice change and it’s such a nice outlet for me as a writer to get to pursue fun, offbeat, how does pop culture interact with society or social issues and things like that to kind of put together some of the things I do in the classroom. What are we learning about in terms of how entertainment is working with different cultural events and trends? How do policing shows deal with Black Lives Matter? Talking about that and recaps and things that’s so fun to get to take sort of the academics and the culture and the 45 Minute TV show I just watched and get to put all that together.

So there’s a little more flexibility and freedom and I know some people think entertainment reporting is silly, just like they think sports is silly and they think fashion is silly and you know that we should be doing hard news all the time and hard news is crucial. And I’m glad that we still have people who are doing it. But we need play. We need light topics and lead escape and if it’s all escape, or it’s all hard news, we’re doing a disservice to audiences. It can’t be all one thing or the other. EW is just such a nice counterbalance to the hard news. And it’s been a lot of hard news over the last decade, it’s just been difficult news time sometimes and so it’s nice to have that refresher of here’s a funny take on a TV show you watch it and enjoy it and I will give you my comments criticisms sarcastic little jokes. Hopefully let you escape for a little bit.

How did you end up getting the job?

I don’t remember the year maybe 2012. That 10 years ago, we’ll say about 10 years ago. They were looking for people to do writing for a community website that was an offshoot of Entertainment Weekly, and so they were looking for volunteers to just provide recaps of older shows to have a little bit more content available under the umbrella. I volunteer for it even though you know I had this job and didn’t pay anything but I thought it would be kind of fun to see how does a big company work with writers what kind of computer systems do they use? What kind of editing do they do and so I just sort of put in an application on a whim. And they chose me it’s like for maybe half a year a little more than that I recapped West Wing episodes. Old TV had already aired so it was just kind of a throwback. Hey, remember this episode? And then after about a half a year of that. One of the editors reached out and asked if I’d be interested in writing for the main site, just doing recaps of NCIS. And I said yeah, of course. Yes, please. And so that’s how I got in.

So it was when students come to me and say I have an internship opportunity. It’s unpaid. What should I do?
That’s a hard call sometimes because I do I think it’s important to get paid for your labor. But I also do think sometimes positioning yourself right place right time, you can have an experience that leads to a paid experience or leads to a full time gig and so it has made my approach to internship advice and mentorship. of students a little different because of my experience at this tiny little level with entertainment we were I volunteered for fun and it led to a freelance gig that has lasted for I do think it’s about eight or nine years now and have to check that has let me do recaps. It’s let me do news writing when they need somebody to pick up a couple of shifts. It’s one of the interview celebrities. It’s just it’s it’s been fun rewarding. Keeps my skills sharp. Lets me buy cute shoes on occasion with a little extra cash.

As a as a professor here at Bradley along with a writer for EW and a fiction writer Do you have any tips for time management?

It’s hard and I don’t when I get busy. What falls to the wayside is my fiction writing because that is completely on my own timeline. For the most part and something I get so much joy from and so much. It’s so rewarding to do but facing a class of students on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have to have that work done Entertainment Weekly when they when the episode airs at eight o’clock at night. I know that recap has to be ready to go by nine o’clock when it’s done airing. So hard deadlines are really what motivated me. I’m a procrastinator and I’m a panic writer.
So a lot of me is just driven by what’s the next deadline. You can graph your things you’ve graph your workload with timely and urgent, things can be timely but not super urgent or they can be not super urgent but timely. Timely and urgent it’s getting ready for class. It’s making sure that recap is done it’s my editor said she needed this interview in by five o’clock Pacific time on this day so I got to get it done. So it’s a lot to do list and keeping track of what’s due when but it means a lot of the personal deadlines especially for fiction slide a lot I’m behind on where I want to be on the next book that I’m supposed to be working on. And that’s okay. I don’t beat myself up about it because I have to meet the obligations in order of priority in my life and that is Bradley, and then Entertainment Weekly, and then everything else so I don’t get as much done as I would like that’s what break is for. That’s what weekend when I can swing it is four. That’s what laying in bed, sleepless at night thinking that would have been a good scene, okay, and then rolling over and grabbing your phone and like groggily dictating, okay, here’s a line of dialogue in this book, so it’s a lot of snaps moments. I’m trying to do more dictation when I drive to work and back to Bradley back on fiction. So just to have a scene in my head that I can dictate the so it’s using your commute time for something a little useful.

So anything else I’d like to ask you that you would like to share? Five you saw that?

I’m really grateful for this job that I have at Bradley because what I teach, reflects what I do, and so writing for Entertainment Weekly, writing fiction, getting to do news writing on occasion when I can, all of that I can bring into the classroom. I’m so grateful to have the flexibility to be able to do all of these things and to teach classes that not only do journalism and journalism skills, but then to get to teach media, race and gender where I can talk about some of those experiences and where I can pull things I’m doing in race and gender into the recaps that I do. I was just talking about this issue of missing white woman syndrome for example, It’s something I do in media race and gender and I see that over and over and over in TV, right that we focus on women who are kidnapped or what have you in crime, procedural so I can talk hopefully, smartly, to a mass audience about the things I’m talking about in my classroom, and the back and forth of the interplay. I’m so lucky. To get to be able to see all of my interests and skills and passions in the classroom translate to what I write and what I write translating to in the classroom. So I couldn’t be I couldn’t be happier with what I do here with my students with my teaching and with my creative pursuits.

Ann McManus

Bradley U '25

Hey!! My name is Ann and I'm a junior journalism major with a minors in creative writing and political science. As you can tell I love to write, but when I'm not, my favorite activities to is reading, crocheting, or catching up on my favorite shows/movies.<3