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“Reality” bites, but risks pay off

A new city leads to a dream job for COM grad

Lindsay Chottiner (COM'04) moved to Atlanta without a job in the hopes of getting hired at Turner Broadcasting Systems. After months of freelancing, she was hired by the Cartoon Network.

What really happens in the first year after college? Three members of the Class of 2004 share their stories — and tell new grads what they wish they’d known at Commencement. Check BU Today on Monday for next week’s story.

Lindsay Chottiner had no idea how dull reality could be until she worked on a reality television show.

Four months after graduating from the College of Communication with a bachelor’s degree in television, Chottiner (COM’04) found herself freelancing as a production assistant at Single in the City: Atlanta, a show produced by the Women’s Entertainment network. The network describes the show as “the racy, real-life adventures of single women.” Chottiner’s experience was far less stimulating.

“I watched all the footage of women going on dates, and I actually typed them verbatim so that the story editors could put together the stories,” says the 22-year-old. “It was a tedious job.”

Tedium — along with loneliness, fear, and near-poverty — were major components of Chottiner’s first year out of BU, but now, 18 months after Commencement, she’s learned that big risks can lead to big results. Chottiner moved to Atlanta in August 2004 without a job or any knowledge of the city, and after months of freelance work at several different networks, she was hired in February by Turner Broadcasting System. She’s now a production coordinator in on-air promotions at the Cartoon Network, where she helps coordinate the marketing needed to distribute the shows around the world.

“I guess I’m very persistent in what I aim for,” she says. “I just kind of went for it.”

Chottiner developed her determination in college, going after — and obtaining — internships at the Fox network and at WHDH. The characteristic became critical at the end of her senior year, when a job she expected to get with Fox didn’t work out. “I thought I had a job up until two days before graduation, and it was a big blow to my ego,” she says. “I was scared that I wouldn’t find anything; I doubted the industry I chose.”

She spent the next six weeks in Boston, applying for production assistant jobs in New York, but nothing worked out, and she went home to Pittsburgh in July. Assessing her options, she began looking for work in Atlanta because it was home to Turner, one of the country’s largest broadcasting companies. When a media production firm told her there would be a job for her in September, Chottiner decided to take a chance and head south.

“I didn’t know what the city was going to be like,” she says. “It’s a lot different from Boston. It’s all driving — you can’t walk anywhere. It was a huge change.”

Chottiner bought a car and settled into an apartment, but then came the bad news that the production company couldn’t hire her. The next few months provided some valuable lessons in persistence and determination — Chottiner sent resumes all over the city, and “followed up” relentlessly. Her efforts didn’t lead to a full-time job, but she was able to work somewhat steadily throughout the fall — first on Elimidate, another dating-themed reality television show, then on Warm Springs, the HBO biopic about Franklin Roosevelt.

Working in the real world, Chottiner discovered, wasn’t much like having an internship. Freelancing was unstable — she never knew how long a job would last. Supervisors at her internships had been “very nurturing” and went out of their way to provide guidance and education. At her freelance jobs, in contrast, she was expected to know what to do and to do it well. In addition, while the writing and editing skills she had learned in her COM classes were valuable, people skills turned out to be equally important at this stage in her career. “I think everything I learned I can apply,” she says. “But I’m not using everything I learned just yet.”

The challenges she faced as an inexperienced freelancer ultimately proved useful: when she finally got the job at the Cartoon Network, Chottiner knew what a real-world production job required and was ready to handle the responsibilities. As a production coordinator, she now communicates with the network’s five international branches — the United Kingdom, Europe, Latin America, Japan, and Asia and the Pacific — to make sure that all domestic promotional material is dubbed, repackaged, and distributed for international broadcasting and marketing. In the next few months, she will begin shadowing writers and producers so she can get a better look at the creative side of production as well. In January, after 11 months on the job, she will meet with her supervisors to discuss a new placement within the Cartoon Network, based on her interests and strengths.

Atlanta, which once seemed impossibly big and complicated, is growing more manageable as well. Chottiner misses Boston, but she’s getting to know her new city and making new friends by becoming involved in the community. She supplements her income with freelance photography for Emory University, which also helps her meet new people, and teaches children’s Sunday school classes on the weekends. She moved out of her first apartment, which was a little too suburban, over the summer and is living closer to the vibrant city known as “Hotlanta.”

Looking back on the past year, she doesn’t think she would change a thing.

“You definitely will grow as a person,” she says of the first year after college. “You may cry a couple of times, you might have a mental breakdown, but don’t worry. If you want something bad enough, you can get it.”