The Florida Magazine Association honors the life and career of Doug Damerst by awarding a $1,000 cash prize to an exceptional student majoring in the field of the journalism/communications. During his 10 years as the editor-in-chief of the Florida Realtors magazine and as the director of communications for the Florida Association of Realtors, Damerst set an award-winning standard for the Orlando-based publication—a standard he held until his passing in 2014.
The winner of the 2017 Doug Damerst scholarship is Cecilia Mazanec, a senior at the University of Florida. Majoring in journalism (and minoring in business administration and English), Mazanec’s burgeoning career has included roles as a web reporter for Gainesville’s NPR member station WUFT and interning at UF with its social media team and at NPR in Washington, D.C., as a digital news intern.
As part of the scholarship submission process, students were required to submit three articles showcasing their journalism work, an official transcript from their university, a resume, letter of recommendation, and an introduction letter that states why they are passionate about the field of journalism. As a scholarship judge said about Mazanec’s submission, “There is a maturity to her writing that you don’t often see in college students; true to the sentiment expressed in her cover letter, she is a storyteller. And a good one, at that.”
Here, Mazanec, the 2017 Doug Damerst Scholarship recipient, discusses what inspires her to be a journalist and how she hopes to carry on Damerst’s trademark high-level journalism and ethics.
What inspired you to apply?
Reading about Doug Damerst, I understood that he was so beloved not only because of his talent but because of his curiosity and integrity. I can only hope that one day I will be known for similar characteristics. I’m also interested in long-form feature writing and was curious about the magazine industry, so getting to attend the conference was a bonus!
Did you ever imagine that you would win the scholarship?
I didn’t! I got the email informing me that I won during a daytrip to the beach, and I was honestly so surprised and excited that I told everyone around me. I really am so thankful to those at the Florida Magazine Association who chose me for this award.
As a writer and journalist, what is your favorite topic to investigate and tell stories about?
I find myself drawn to people and topics related to the arts. I love speaking with creative people. I love how people involved in the arts tend to look at life from a bigger picture and have practiced expressing their thoughts. But, of course, through writing across topics, I’ve found that if I do enough research, I can always find a character to write about. I enjoy trying to capture a person in my writing.
Describe a day in the life of your dream job.
This is a hard one! In my dream job as a writer, I hope I’m doing something different every day. If I were to imagine one day in this life, I would hope it begins with a brainstorming session among a group of creative co-workers, which grows into interesting ways of tackling feature stories. Then, along with a team, we’d do some research, make some calls, and schedule our travels. As much as I love the finished pieces, the most exciting days for me are often the ones when the story is being developed and tossed around among others.
What would be your dream assignment?
This may be too vague, but my dream assignment would be writing about some aspect of a community or culture I’m not very familiar with. My favorite part of journalism is the interviewing process, and if I was given an assignment that allowed me to take my time in getting to know people and shadowing their days, it would truly be a dream.
On the flip side, I’m also such a fan of powerful personal essays, and I would love the chance to reflect on my own experiences while writing one.
What childhood dreams did you have that relate to the field of writing or journalism?
A few weeks ago, I went home for Thanksgiving break and found a memory book from eighth grade where I had written that my dream job was to “travel the world and write about it.” I used to make up stories for my younger brothers in the back seat of the car, create scripts to act out with my siblings, and write poetry to keep to myself. I think for most of my life, I saw myself as a writer and looked forward to the adventures that would guide my work.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ve never been too great at imagining the future, but I hope that in five years, I’m working at a national media organization where I can continue to tell stories from a local perspective. Quite honestly, I think I’d be happy in a number of industries as long as I’m given the chance to meet different people and use them in my writing.