Failed Eye Exam Creates Journalism Legend

Aliasger K Ezzi

Freshman, Engineering major

sOrlando
Image Source: http://www.urel.ufl.edu

“He is the face of publicity for UF. He always knows what to do and how to make us look good.”

  -Kristy Spear, UF Honors Advisor

Who is responsible for making sure the Gator Nation is always in the spotlight for all of the right reasons? The answer is a truly underrated and humble man: Stephen Orlando. In 2001, he became the Associate Director for the University of Florida’s (UF) News and Public Affairs, and in 2006, the Director for Print Media. Orlando has been the official voice for UF in a wide spectrum of events: from when UF was ranked as the number-one party school in the nation to the nationally renowned “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” incident.

This Journalism Legend wasn’t always planning on being a reporter. When he graduated from UF in 1986, he was on reserve status for the Navy and was planning to be a pilot. However, due to a failed eye exam, he found himself making a drastic change of career. The next year, he came back to UF with his eyes set on becoming a journalist. He gained inspiration from his news-focused family and the coverage of the Watergate Scandal and the Vietnam War.

When Orlando returned to UF to pursue a bachelor’s in journalism, his talents were instantly recognized. Within a year, the Tampa Tribune awarded Orlando an internship, followed up by a full time job.

With only a semester of post-baccalaureate work under his belt, Orlando began to cover a variety of stories from the Gulf War to the lives of the city cops. In fact, Orlando only received his first journalism degree, an MA in Mass Communication in 2007— 20 years after he began his exciting life as a journalist.

Although he missed out on the experience the Navy gave some of his friends, he was able to see the exhilarating events the world has to offer while documenting them. After 10 years of living the dangerous life of a reporter, Orlando decided to return to the Gator Nation.

”By that time I had 2 young children, and being a reporter is not really helpful to having a family as you work a lot of long hours… It was fun while it lasted, but I got into it at the right time, and I got out of it at the right time.”

Even though he is not in the field, he still feels right at home. Everyday he works with many reporters and collaborates with news stations that want UF to be their cover story. Even during this interview, he was getting a phone call from CNN.

As the journalism world began to change, Orlando’s job became more interesting. In 2007, when Andrew Meyers was tased while questioning Senator John Kerry and screamed, “Don’t tase me, bro”. Orlando was the first line of defense against people from all over the world who attacked UF. Normally, Orlando would have a day or two to prepare for TV stations bombarding the university officials with questions; however, a viral video of the incident caused an instant nationwide backlash against the university. News stations were on the university’s campus the next day. “It caught us [Orlando and his coworkers] by surprise”. The incident now known as “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” signaled the changing of journalism. One thing that Orlando jokingly remarks about his experience as a spokesperson for the university: “I am not paid to have an opinion.” Therefore, he must always be mindful of what he says when talking to any reporter on behalf of the university.

When discussing his involvement with The Independent Florida Alligator, Orlando comments that although there have been some changes, it is more or less the same since he was live on the beat. He went on to signal some of the key changes in journalism since he left, specifically at the university.

“There aren’t as many students interested in journalism as back then, so editors have a smaller pool to pull from to get good reporters—and good editors. I think that’s a challenge for them.“

“Some journalism students aren’t as aggressive as when I [Orlando] worked at the Alligator. Student journalists when I was there were far more likely to question people in authority…”

Beyond solely University of Florida student journalism, the realm of reporting has had to struggle to make money off of its art as most articles can be found online for free. Orlando has his own comments about the struggle newspapers face: “It’s really tough out there… There used to be a lot of jobs out there… It’s going to be okay, but it’s going to be a tough transition, which is better left to people younger than me.”

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