Alumni Spotlight: David McRaney
Name: David McRaney
Graduation Year: 2007
Major: News Editorial
Title: Director of Digital Media
Current Home: Mississippi
What do you do on a “typical day”? For WDAM, I am responsible for all digital communication. That means I oversee the digital media department which is responsible for the website and how we communicate via mobile devices and across social media platforms. I also serve as executive editor of all written content.
In a typical day I'll write and edit several stories, edit photographs, edit video, write code, design web pages, help sales, coordinate coverage with reporters and my news director, work with weather forecasters to establish how we'll inform people of what they need to know, prepare our outlets for sports news, and curate multiple social media platforms before, during, and after each reporter delivers his or her copy and other media.
After my day job, I go to work researching and writing material for my website - YouAreNotSoSmart.com. If I'm working on a book, that's when I'll be hunkered down writing and editing and researching on a deadline.
What led you to this job/career choice? I got into journalism by responding to a flyer. I saw one posted for the USM college newspaper, The Student Printz, that read, "OPINIONATED? WRITE FOR THE PRINTZ!" So, I wrote an opinions piece about Starbucks opening up in our library. The editor printed it, and when I saw my byline and picture in the paper I was hooked. I switched majors not long after.
The book deal came about after writing for my blog for about a year. I wrote a piece explaining the psychology behind brand loyalty. That piece was reprinted by Gizmodo, a popular tech blog. The popularity surge I got from that reprinting led to everything else.
What are some of your career highlights/accomplishments/achievements? I think my team at WDAM saved lives in February of 2013 when we warned the Pine Belt region that a terrible tornado was approaching them and people needed to take cover immediately. I was at home editing my new book when one of our forecasters called me and asked if I could help. I updated Facebook and Twitter from home and helped them to establish a live video feed online. I watched as the tornado approached my own house and kept updating with maps, photos, videos, and as much information as I could throw at people right up until my power went out. Right after that, my wife and I got on our hallway floor and covered ourselves with blanket and pillows. Within 30 seconds our home was split wide, skewered with tress, and our cars destroyed. Knowing that I helped keep people in my own neighborhood and the city I live in alive using everything I had ever learned in journalism and digital media up to that point is something in which I'll always draw a sensation of pride.
Outside of my work with WDAM, being able to write and publish an internationally bestselling book and then complete a sequel is the fulfillment of what I thought was an impossible dream. Now I get to go on speaking tours and book signings too. My first book signing after a lecture in another state, Ohio, featured long lines to get autographs, was catered, and advertised on their local media. That was the moment I realized just how real my book career had become. Now I'm looking forward to events like that in Sydney, Madrid, London, Miami, San Francisco, Cleveland and other places. It's surreal and amazing.
What other jobs did you hold before your current position? I worked as a higher education reporter for the Hattiesburg American and as a beat reporter for The Petal News and other projects with Hattiesburg Publishing. Before all of that, I sold leather coats, owned two pet stores, and piloted a shovel working construction.
Why did you choose Southern Miss? I chose USM out of convenience. I grew up in Sumrall, had moved to Meridian, and then to Hattiesburg. USM was always the college I wanted to attend, and when my wife and I decided it was time to get a formal education we were living a few blocks away from campus.
Did you complete an internship/practicum while at Southern Miss? Yes, I interned with Hattiesburg Publishing. I got lucky because one of their reporters had just quit, so I was put to work in his place. I was able to work a beat and go out on my own for an entire summer before my journalism classes started. It helped me to focus on exactly what I needed and greatly enhanced my experience at USM.
Anything you would change about your college experience? Man, if I had only known how many scientific studies I would be reading now I would have studied much harder for my statistics class.
What advice do you have for students going into your field? You must build a foundation of nuts-and-bolts writing skills. Treat writing like a craft, like learning blacksmithing or carpentry. Get those skills from the professionals offering them. Once you have that, you'll need to prepare yourself with skills from print, broadcast, web, and audio engineering. A modern journalist needs to know how to work with words, video, audio, photos, design, and code in addition to knowing how to use a semicolon and provide proper attribution.
Who are your role models? I love the work of Charlie LeDuff, Carl Zimmer, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Jon Ronson, and Michael Perry. I'm always trying to be half as good as any one of them.
Tell us about your family. I'm an only child, raised in the backwoods of Mississippi by Jerry and Evelyn McRaney. Both my mother and father are retired now. My mom spent many years working in an adult care group home facility for men. My father, a Vietnam vet, was an electrical contractor. I'm married to Amanda McRaney, who works at USM in the digital archival unit of McCain Library.
Any memories of your time at USM you’d like to share? My time at USM was slip in two by Hurricane Katrina. I remember stringing for local newspapers while I waited for the campus to reopen. I loved that, going around to small towns and telling people's stories. That work later earned me a scholarship. I'll never forget walking around campus and snapping pictures of the damage and the flooding. Of course, we used them in the Printz once we got going again. Everyone in the journalism program during that time got a chance to do important, serious work because of that Hurricane. Looking back, it was a very special experience.