About Charean Williams: Charean Williams is a writer and reporter who has covered the NFL for 25 years. She has spent the past year at NBC’s digital NFL site, Pro Football Talk, after 17 years covering the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Ms. Williams has reported on 24 Super Bowls and seven Olympic Games, and was the first woman to vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the first woman to serve as the president of the Pro Football Writers of America. In 2018, she won the Dick McCann Award for lifetime achievement in NFL coverage, becoming the first woman to be honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ms. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University in 1986. She returned to school 30 years later to pursue her master’s degree, graduating in 2018 from the online Master of Mass Communication program at South Dakota State University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Charean Williams] I graduated from Texas A&M in 1986 with a degree in journalism. Since then, I have worked in the profession, mostly at newspapers. I earned my master’s in mass communication from South Dakota State in 2018, giving me an avenue for a second career.
When I was in the second grade, I asked my teacher how far it was to Dallas. Cindy Bridges told me about 300 miles, a five-hour drive, and asked why I wanted to know. “Because I’m going to marry [Cowboys quarterback] Roger Staubach,” I answered, wondering why she was asking such a dumb question. The local newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise in Beaumont, Texas, wrote a story on me, with a headline calling me “The Cowboys’ youngest fan.” I mentioned that I wanted to cover the Cowboys when I grew up, which surely was a relief to my parents as my first career choice was as a garbage collector, because I thought riding on the side of the garbage truck looked fun.
I gained experience — and made my share of mistakes — at two smaller papers, the Orange (Texas) Leader and the Bryan-College Station (Texas) Eagle, before taking a job with the Orlando Sentinel. After a year and a half covering NASCAR for the Sentinel, I earned a promotion to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ beat. I stayed in Tampa for six seasons, leaving in the middle of the 1999 season for Fort Worth when the Star-Telegram offered me my dream job. I have covered the Cowboys and the NFL since, with 24 Super Bowls on my resume. (I also have covered seven Olympic Games.)
I became the first woman to vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and was the first woman to serve as the president of the Pro Football Writers of America. The biggest first, though, was winning the 2018 Dick McCann Award for lifetime achievement covering the NFL. It is the highest award in my profession, earning me a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where my name is forever etched on a plaque outside the bust room in Canton, Ohio. I was the 50th receipt, and the first woman.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the online Master of Mass Communication (MMC) program at South Dakota State University?
[Charean Williams] As we all know, newspapers are not headed in the right direction. I turned down the Houston Chronicle in 2015 after the Star-Telegram matched the offer. I knew that my increase in salary put a target on my back and eventually the journalism reaper would come to get me. The day I decided to stay was the day I began considering my options for a “second career.” That entailed going back to school to get a master’s, so I could teach at a college in Texas, likely TCU, SMU or Texas A&M, where I have contacts.
I investigated several online schools, including North Carolina, Nebraska and Northern Arizona. I settled on South Dakota State because it is accredited, and the class schedule appealed to me. In addition, South Dakota State also has three paths to choose from, including taking extra classes (36 hours total instead of 30). I chose this track because I wanted to take two education classes since I have never taught in a college classroom other than as a guest lecturer.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is SDSU’s MMC program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Charean Williams] I am guessing few graduate students enter a program with 30 years of experience in the field they are seeking an advanced degree. So, I wondered how much I could learn in a graduate mass communication program.
I learned something in every class, but the media law class, the crossplatform storytelling class and the media management class were particularly beneficial, considering how much things have changed in 30 years as it relates to the internet, social media and multimedia.
My biggest trepidation was returning to school after a 30-year absence. How would I fit in with younger students? I quickly figured out that I am much better as a graduate student than as an undergrad. I know how to budget my time. I know how to study. I also have a cell phone full of numbers of sources for interviews for writing assignments. For instance, I interviewed three female war correspondents for an assignment in the international media class after a contact connected me with them. In the crossplatform campaigns class, I interviewed a former co-worker who headed the McDonald’s all-day breakfast marketing campaign.
Many of the projects I was able to use in my work, which made the program efficient. In the crossplatform storytelling class, for instance, I did a multimedia project on the Cowboys still being America’s Team, which appeared online for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and as a Sunday centerpiece. In the women in media class, I did a history of women’s athletics at Texas A&M. I sold it as a freelance piece to the school, and it appeared in the alumni magazine.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What were the major pros and cons of pursuing your master’s degree online? What challenges did you encounter throughout your completion of the online MMC program, and how did you address them? On the flip side, what did you enjoy most about completing the degree online?
[Charean Williams] The only drawback of an online program is not having face-to-face interaction with other students and the professor, but I can’t say I often missed that. Some professors do a short, weekly video, and I took one class that required each student to produce a Voicethread PowerPoint presentation, which is audio to go over the PowerPoint.
Time management and a commitment to producing good work are the skills necessary to succeed. What you put into the program is what you are going to get out of it. I am certain I could have skirted by with minimum work, gotten all C’s and a degree, but it would not have been nearly as fulfilling or as beneficial. The biggest challenge is time. The time commitment for a class is anywhere from five to 10 hours a week. Working a full-time job or two or three, as was the case for me in the final year of the program, while trying to do school work during “free” time entails giving up all hobbies for most of two and a half years. It also cuts into vacation time and family time.
Walking across the stage, and then every day seeing the degree hanging on the wall, makes it all worthwhile.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from SDSU’s Master of Mass Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Charean Williams] When I took media law more than 30 years ago, the internet didn’t exist. There was no social media, no cell phones. It was the dark ages. Thus, media law has changed as much as the media business itself. That class proved as beneficial as any I took in the program. But many of the other classes, particularly the crossplatform storytelling class, also caught me up on how to better utilize multimedia and social media for what I do. I now know how to shoot and edit video and do a VoiceThread PowerPoint presentation. Many of the classes, including the professional research methods, better developed my research skills, which are crucial in journalism.
I learned more about PR and marketing in the crossplatform campaigns class, which, with the way journalism is headed, could provide an option for a second career.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the online MMC program at South Dakota State University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at SDSU or another university?
[Charean Williams] What’s your why? Write down why you want a master’s degree and put it somewhere you will see it every day. For me, a master’s provided an opportunity to go teach in college after the journalism reaper tapped me on the shoulder. I saw it as an “out.”
I thought I would finish the program before the numbers on the spreadsheet caught up to me at the newspaper, but alas, it didn’t happen. The Star-Telegram laid me off with five classes left on my schedule. I finished anyway. Although I have yet to use my master’s, I am sure I will one day.
Thank you, Ms. Williams, for your excellent insights on South Dakota State University’s online Master of Mass Communication program!