Young Alumni Profiles

Zach Tomanelli 11Zach Tomanelli 11
Online Coordinator at VPIRG

By Alyssa C. Frey '14

The Park Center for Independent Media is a national center for the study of media outlets that would otherwise be considered small or independent, run out of Ithaca College’s Park School of Communications. The Center helps journalism students interested in a different type of media career path find internships in independent media and other fiscally sustainable ways to distribute news media. Professor Jeff Cohen, the Center’s director, teaches special topics journalism classes that encompass the many different angles of alternative media.

For Zach Tomanelli ’11, it was the Center and several classes covering non-traditional media that spurred his interest in alternative media outlets and encouraged him to start a path in the field as an online organizer for Firedoglake, an independent news and activism community.

Tomanelli directly attributes his current job path to the Center, its annual speaker series and the classes he took under the direction of Jeff Cohen and others in the journalism department. He noted that the Ithaca College journalism faculty understand the “media environment is changing” and there is more than simply the corporate path.

“As a student, I was encouraged to explore alternative and independent media outlets. These outlets are producing in different and innovative ways. These places are growing, and therefore, they are the places you can often find your first job,” Tomanelli said.

Tomanelli’s current responsibilities include coordinating various activism campaigns on “health care reform, the social safety net, drug policy reform” and other politically stigmatized issues. As an online organizer, Tomanelli writes e-mails to the site’s 400,000 activists, blogs about the site’s activism, sets up petitions and maintains the technical side of the site and online store.

As a student, the Center helped Tomanelli find two internships at alternative media outlets. His first internship was at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a “national media watch group” that offers criticism of media bias and censorship. Tomanelli also interned at Democracy Now!, a daily independent news program broadcast on hundreds of radio stations across the country. Tomanelli said the Center encouraged him to investigate these options.

“Between the PCIM speaker series and their internship program, I was really encouraged to explore alternative media possibilities,” Tomanelli said.

The classes Tomanelli chose within the college’s journalism department also helped him decide to go into independent media. In 2008, Tomanelli took a special topics class called “Covering the National Election” with Professor Cohen, a class that compared corporate coverage of the 2008 election to independent media’s coverage.

“It explored how both legacy and independent media covered the presidential election that year, as compared to how the U.S. media has covered presidential elections historically,” Tomanelli said.

Professor Cohen also teaches a special topics class every semester that encompasses many, varied facets of alternative media.

Tomanelli, a graduate of the Park Scholar program with minors in history and theater, was also involved with a multitude of media outlets while at the college. He was the sports director at VIC Radio, a DJ for WICB and a reporter for Buzzsaw Magazine and Imprint Magazine. He also volunteered for four years at South Hill Elementary School and was a part of the on-campus group Water for Sudan.

To current journalism students, Tomanelli advises to be creative and flexible as the job market continues to shrink but the opportunities to create content rise.

“Being innovative is what will separate you – especially in this evolving media environment. If you’re nimble and creative, this may actually be the best time to enter the media industry,” Tomanelli said.

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