|2013 MSU Texas graduate Orlando Flores part of Pulitzer Prize-winning team|
Orlando Flores Jr. believes his time at Midwestern State University had him ready for a jump into the journalism world. He learned skills as a writer, reporter, capturing video and adapting to an ever-changing digital world.
Those skills he honed at MSU are among the many reasons the 2013 graduate (Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication) believes he’s where he is today.
Flores is in New Orleans where he is part of a team at The Advocate, which recently was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Flores serves as digital content editor for the newspaper and contributed to the series “Tilting the Scales.” The series led to a change in Louisiana law making unanimous juries mandatory. After being informed of the unfair laws, voters passed a constitutional amendment by a 2-1 margin.
The scales began to tilt in Flores’ favor when he transferred from Baylor to Midwestern State. He then worked at the Times Record News in a variety of roles before leaving his hometown area, he attended Burkburnett High School, for New Orleans.
Flores said he felt prepared for that challenge. “At MSU with The Wichitan and how it was set up you get your hands on every aspect of reporting,” Flores said. “Here at MSU they make sure you’re well-rounded and it makes a (journalism) job a lot easier to handle. Some places, like when I was a Baylor, it’s a little more specialized.
“When I think about college I remember editing and getting the paper out on Tuesday nights. And the friendships and bonding with people there.”
The honor for one of his own brought back a good memory for Dr. Jim Sernoe, the chair of the mass communication department.
“One of Orlando’s required classes was in mass communication history, and one of the requirements in that course was each student had to give a presentation on a photo that won a Pulitzer Prize,” Sernoe said. “A few of the photographers were in college or their 20s at the time, and I always said things to students like ‘this could be one of you.’ It is really exciting that it actually happened. I don’t think I could be prouder.”
LONG DISTANCE CONNECTION
The connection Flores had with his MSU Texas family wasn’t limited by being in the same city or state he learned. He made a big move going to Louisiana but said he never hesitates to reach out to his former professors or a Wichitan teammate in the business.
“Orlando was part of the staff when I started here at Midwestern,” Associate Professor Bradley Wilson said. “Indeed, Orlando and Brittney Cottingham, the editor of the The Wichitan at the time, were two of the finest college journalists I’ve worked with.”
Flores wasn’t surprised when he heard from his former teammates and faculty from MSU Texas. They’d always been there, he said. “The faculty are some of the most hard-working people and they really pour their all into the students, not just for the subject matter, but they’re always there with a word of encouragement or advice. Even today (Dr. Jim) Sernoe will send out emails to me, maybe about a job I’d be interested in. They’re involved from the time you get there and even after you’re gone.”
Wilson said Flores would work the midnight hours to make sure The Wichitan was produced as planned and recalls a first-place award Flores won for a page. “Besides when he got married, maybe the happiest I’ve seen him was when we created a page on a Justin Timberlake album he reviewed in 2013, ‘It’s good to have Timberlake back in the music world’ he wrote.”
Flores remembers being the sports editor at The Wichitan and also handling arts & entertainment and helping edit the publication. At the same time he was working as a sports correspondent at the TRN. There were lots of hats to wear simultaneously, but he believes learning all those roles helped him find his fit professionally when he hit the job market.
And Wilson and Flores agree a connection with graduates and faculty is a win-win situation. “Orlando has been helpful over the years to the department even since his graduation. He presented at the first Social Media Day and our Media Monday,” Wilson said. “As a reporter for the Times Record News, he was always willing to help our students out individually or as a staff. Clearly his time at MSU had a positive impact on him, and he wanted to make sure the opportunities MSU gave him were also available to other students.”
For Sernoe it was confirmation of what he already believed about the excellence at MSU Texas. “I always tell people that our students can compete against any in the nation,” he said. “Orlando didn’t need to go to Harvard or Berkeley to be prepared for a career in this field, even if their names tend to be more recognizable than Midwestern State. Our students are just as solid as anyone else’s.”
PAYING OFF WITH DIVIDENDS
Flores feels blessed with his opportunity to work alongside talented journalists like Gordon Russell, who was also been a part of a Pulitzer-winning effort for Hurricane Katrina coverage.
“It was pretty special honestly,” said Flores, who didn’t want to get his hopes up too high that winning a Pulitzer was a reality. “I’m working with some high-caliber reporters and Jeff Nowak (digital team) and I had a lot to work with creating the graphics and the timeline. Obviously, it was the biggest project I’ve worked on, but I enjoyed it. It was really fascinating looking back at the laws years and years ago and why they were done that way.”
Because of The Advocate’s effort the law was changed. Louisiana Gov. (John Bel Edwards) and a Pulitzer committee took notice with some high praise. Edwards commented in a tweet that The Advocate “had helped shine a light on an injustice in our state.”
And the honor was a chance for Flores to take stock about his career and what got him to this point.
“It definitely made it feel like the nights, even at the TRN and all the time I had spent giving up a lot of outside obligations, was worth it,” Flores said. “It was really scary moving somewhere I’d never been before and you’d hear about stuff going on back home and wonder if it’s all worth it. Then you get the payoff and all the work and this project has been worth it.”