Tracy Samantha Schmidt '06
As a journalist for some of the country's top media outlets, Tracy Samantha Schmidt '06 quickly got used to being on the front line of breaking news. Now she's on the front line of the entire journalism industry, leading media and business professionals through the digital age.
As director of social media strategy and consulting at Crain Communications, she has trained thousands of people both in and outside the media on a range of topics such as social media, blogging and search engine optimization.
"I get asked probably every week, 'Is print dead? Is journalism dead?' And my answer is no! It's absolutely not dead at all!" Schmidt says. "It's just evolving."
As a student, Schmidt worked closely with John Jenks, professor of journalism, and her classmates to create early news blogs covering campus and local communities. She also served as an editor of Dominican's student newspaper, The Star.
After completing several internships while at Dominican and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Schmidt put herself squarely at the nexus of traditional and new media while reporting for Time magazine, where she worked from 2006 to 2008.
In April 2007, while working in Time's Washington, D.C. bureau, Schmidt and her colleagues received reports about the shootings at Virginia Tech University. After a long drive to campus through the Appalachian Mountains, she had just 36 hours to find eyewitnesses to the shootings. Teamed with a Time colleague, she used Facebook – at that time still an emerging social media tool – to track down a student who'd escaped the shooting unharmed.
"Reporters weren't able to find that student because he'd left his cell phone in the room, so they had no way to contact him," Schmidt says. "I found him through Facebook, and he sent us a very graphic first-person account of what he had seen."
Time ran an exclusive on its website, and other outlets followed in interviewing the student. The report was one of the most moving stories of the tragedy, and Schmidt became recognized as one of the first journalists to leverage social media for reporting breaking news.
She took her understanding of social media with her to the Chicago Tribune in 2008. After a year of working at the Tribune's community news service, TribLocal, she helped lead the creation of the company's groundbreaking social network, ChicagoNow.com. The network of more than 350 local blogs was named one of "five innovative websites that could reshape the news" by the Poynter Institute and Mashable.com.
From there, it was a natural progression to start sharing the lessons she'd learned with her peers and the public. She started teaching classes to readers and advertisers of the Tribune, a role that evolved into a new position as manager of educational programs for the Tribune Company.
"I learned a lot about blogging and about social media, and I also taught journalism at DePaul University and here at Dominican," she says. "It was a combination of knowing how to run a social network as well as knowing how to teach."
In 2012 she took her current position at Crain—best known locally for its publication Crain's Chicago Business, a weekly newspaper that has been staple reading for the Chicago business scene since its launch in the late 1970's. The company publishes 27 business newspapers and magazines, including Advertising Age, Auto Week and Investment News.
"It’s my job to teach our staff and our advertisers the latest trends in social media marketing," Schmidt says.
While she is always looking ahead to the future of journalism, she doesn't hesitate to remember the close-to-home piece she wrote that first thrust her on the national stage—her master's thesis, which explored the resurgence of young women becoming nuns and was published in Time and covered on the Today Show, Oprah and MTV.
"At Dominican, the sisters are so embracing, and yet they still allow you to be an individual as well. And it's just by being surrounded by their passion for life and their passion for their faith that it rubs off on you," Schmidt says. "It was just remembering what I learned here from the sisters that has really stayed with me."