By Kathleen Shannon
Mariah Karis is a senior, flexing her journalism skills in the business world through communications and public relations. She’s the business manager at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and she’s getting an Entertainment Management certificate at UM. She’s also interning with Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, the Born This Way Foundation.
Mariah sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about blending her interests and talents. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: So you’re in the public relations track?
A: Yeah, so track for me is a little tricky. I have been doing journalism mixed with business. And now I am interning for a nonprofit. So I basically have been using my journalism skills and my business skills to move forward in PR and communications. I’m not a business major or minor. But I have worked in the business school for the last couple of years as the social media manager and office assistant for the Entertainment Management program. And then I’m getting the Entertainment Management certificate. It’s very cool. You basically learn the business side of the entertainment world. So I’m kind of not the typical journalism student in a lot of ways. But I really wanted the skills and I really love writing, and I love video, and I love photography. And so I wanted to have those skills and be able to use them and kind of manipulate them as I need to. And I it’s been really helpful to say, you know, ‘Yes, I can write a grant. But I also can tell you about these social media ideas. And, you know, how about we try this? It’s a little more artsy, but this is probably how we should say it because it’s a little more captivating in a written way. And so it’s kind of been a Rubik’s cube of skills, which has been kind of cool.
Q: I don’t know much about that certificate. Can you list some of the other classes that area part of it?
A: Yes. So the entertainment management certificate basically has like a core section of intro to entertainment management, intro to event planning. But other classes are venue management. So what you need to know if you’re going to be renting a venue or interacting with venue staff. You can do different electives, like in the media arts school, if you want to learn more of the graphic design elements. And I’ve taken classes in graphic design and sound art and film. Basically, you take the core classes, and then you take electives that interest you in the areas that interest you. So I know they are starting to get more involved with like the eSports on campus, as well. It’s really one of the few programs that I think pushes interdisciplinary action, which is cool.
Q: What’s the dream job when you graduate?
A: Oh, that’s a question. I think, for me, the dream job is evolving because I don’t know what it looks like yet. I have done a lot of different roles that I didn’t expect to be doing. So right now I’m a partnership intern for Born This Way Foundation, which is Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, which is really, really cool. She popped onto a Zoom call a couple weeks ago, and I was just like: ‘that’s like Lady Gaga.’ And she’s like: ‘I’m so proud of everything you’re doing’. I was just like, dazed. So, yeah, that part’s nuts.
Q: What does her nonprofit do?
A: So Born This Way Foundation basically creates opportunities to connect youth with mental health resources through content and through different projects with different nonprofits around the country that also kind of tote the mental health [and] wellness ideals. The foundation works with them in different partnering efforts to create outlets and opportunities. So they just launched the Be There certificate, which basically teaches people how to recognize when their friends are struggling with mental health and what they can do in a really nice human-to-human way without putting too much responsibility on a friend. And it’s been very interesting to see how many ideas they have about making mental health less taboo and really accessing young people to let them know that. And so they’ve done different things where they like hop on Lady Gaga’s tour and have booths at her shows to reach out to young people. Lady Gaga and her mom set up this nonprofit. And so her mom now runs it mostly. And they’re all about promoting kindness and mental health and they’re just very genuine people, which is really interesting, because they’re interacting with Lady Gaga. It’s been really amazing. I’ve been learning partnerships and what that looks like, and nonprofits working with not only nonprofits, but universities and big corporations. I’ve been learning how to write grants. And those are all things [for which] my journalism skills come in handy, but I never learned in journalism school. So it’s like, I learned certain skills, and now I’m learning how to kind of morph them into different business sections of the world.
Q: Can you talk about the classes that you’ve taken at the J-School that have been the most valuable for your public relations work?
A: I think Social Media and Audience was really, really good to learn the ins and outs of social media. I also took the social media class in the communications department on campus. And that was really good for like practical, hands-on experience, and how to create campaigns. I think any type of writing class is really good. I think news stories and newsletters or press releases have a lot more in common than people think. And knowing how to get across like the nitty gritty details, as well as putting pieces of interest and emotion when it’s applicable. I think any of the writing courses have been really helpful.
I’m also in Marketing your Work right now. And we’re starting to talk about elements of marketing and taxes and freelancing and the ins and outs of things. And it’s been really interesting to hear J-Schoolers say, ‘we know nothing about this, we would love to know more about this.’ I think there’s a really great opportunity for the J-School to put a little more emphasis on the business side of things, as well, not only to understand why advertisements are important–that’s also how we get the money. So I’m also the business manager of the Kaimin and so I do all the advertising. It’s been very interesting to learn, what has to happen so that journalism can happen, basically. It’s been a lot of learning this year of like, all of the back-end things. Like you always see an amazing foundation doing a concert or something. And it’s like: ‘okay, well, what happened for that to happen?’ Or ‘what happened for this story to happen?’ Usually, it’s advertising or PR communications.
Q: I’ve talked to other students about the big sweeping changes journalism has seen in the last couple decades. It occurs to me that advertising is also seeing that shift with influencers. Sometimes I’m on Instagram watching an advertisement that I don’t realize is an advertisement for a minute, which is the craziest psychological experience. Can you talk about like the changes on that end?
A: Yeah, I think it’s been really interesting to have conversations with journalism students in particular, about advertisements and about the paywall that pops up on different sites and to pay wall or not to pay wall. [To talk about these] ideas of, ‘Does it bug you more to have advertisements on the side or to subscribe to something and pay for it?’ And most people are like: ‘we want access to it.’ I can’t subscribe to every single thing. It’s not feasible. I’s a very interesting thing that I think should maybe be talked about more because it has such power. So for like the Kaimin, if we saw more ads, we have more money to spend on, like, the audio department or to get merch or, you know, to do all these things. And I think there’s a piece of that that people don’t always think about and it’s not a great piece. Sometimes it really sucks because you have to, like, take out a story or something. But finding that balance between business and journalism is really important.
Q: Yeah, it’s vital. Can you talk about what your day to day duties are at the Kaimin as the business manager?
A: As the business manager, I work with a lot of different people on campus and locally that basically want to either advertise an event or advertise their business. I’m also a designer at the Kaimin, which is comes in handy because [I’m] also designing a lot of ads. So we figure out what kind of ad they want, what kind of pricing, what size. And then I work with the design team to make sure that happens. I do payroll for everybody. I deal with any hiccups in delivery. I also work with our distribution student advisor, basically. When I’m saying this out loud, it kind of sounds really boring. But it’s basically like all the gears that keep things moving.
Q: So I’m hearing you say that the glamorous part of journalism is not necessarily the business side. So what keeps you interested in that side?
A: So this is a side tangent. I work a lot with the Blackstone Launchpad. And I started my own small business last summer. So I basically sell new, used, vintage and upcycled items. And I’m trying to launch this media component that basically teaches people, young people specifically, how to have really cool spaces without spending a ton of money because money isn’t really available to young people. They’re like: ‘is it just posters on my wall? Like, is that what I have to do?’ And the answer is ‘no, you just have to get kind of creative.’ So I’ve been working with them quite a bit. And I did the John Ruffatto Business Startup pitch contest. The business school puts it on, and I didn’t learn until the end that I basically was competing against the MFA students as an undergrad, as a non-business major undergrad, which is super cool. But I was also like, very intimidated. I was one of two women. And so I won the Athena Award for Best Female Participation, which was cool. And I’m going to San Francisco next week, because I did a pitch contest and was a semifinalist for a National Blackstone Launchpad pitch contest. So basically, this is a roundabout way of saying I learned business through the eyes of a journalism student, which I think was really interesting. Because there’s so much business jargon, and I think it’s really hard to understand these really simple concepts sometimes. And I that was always my biggest pet peeve. It was just like: ‘what are you actually trying to say? What is the nut graf of this business session?’ It always seems so convoluted and really tricky. I think what interests me about business is when you strip it down, it’s not super complicated. But it’s almost like the power of different businesses resides in the people that understand this set of terminology. And so I feel like if I could be a person that is the bridge between the creative and the business, and I can like see both sides, I think there’s some really cool power in that. Because you can hear the creative vision, but also hear like: ‘okay, but we need to do X, Y, and Z to make sure we can still financially afford it.’ I think, as a leader, it’s a really cool and important place to be in where you can see both sides.
Q: Are you like allowed to talk about the pitch that you’re doing next week?
A: So the pitch is a one-minute pitch, basically, what is the business? Who is your target audience? What are you trying to do? How will you make money? Almost like the who, what, when, where? Almost like a nut graf of a story. What’s happening? Why should I care? But for a business. So learning the art of the pitch has been really interesting because I didn’t really understand how you’re supposed to do all of that in one minute. It’s almost like taking, you know, journalism skills, public speaking skills, and then knowing some business jargon, and putting them in a blender. It’s like: ‘okay, now present it.’ And so it’s been very interesting to know that I can do that. I don’t think I ever thought I was a business person, which is why I never did a business degree. I was just like, that’s too complicated. I will never be able to succeed at that. And so proving myself wrong has been very cool.
Q: What’s the best part about your personal experience exploring business in journalism?
A: I think the best part circles back to the tie of the emotional, artistic and business. Because what I’m learning is that a lot of people hear business jargon all the time. People get like mass emails all the time. And what really cuts through the noise is when you can get personal or when you can write from a place that is more entertaining or engaging. So it’s almost like business jargon can only go so far. You need that human piece. If I would have majored in business, I don’t think I would be where I am. I think not doing business every single day made me more interested in business. And I love writing, and I’m excited to write and maybe freelance. But I think the business is so interesting to me because there’s so much money and power with business. And I think if the right people could move into those leadership roles and actually put money into things that are sustainable, that are, you know, women- founded… Basically if people in power could move money into places where it’s benefiting the world in positive ways, I think things could change in a really good way.