Journalism grad returns home to NYC to cover nation’s biggest news stories
Derek Major ('08)
Derek Major works in the city he was born: New York City. However, he says learning and working in small towns across the country made him into the man and journalist he is today.
Major is a digital editor at Black Enterprise, a multimedia company that covers African American politics and business issues. He started the job in March and before his second week, the company told employees to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was there for four days and then New York City shut down,” he said.
Just because reporters were working from home, the news didn’t stop. In fact, it was one of the newsiest years in recent memory, and Major covered many of 2020’s biggest stories from Black Lives Matter protests and counterprotests to the presidential election.
“Black Enterprise readers are really focused on Black issues in business and finance, as well as politics,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”
"If I had gone to any other school, I would have regretted it. Everything from the professors to friends to random people on the street, State College is not a place you want to leave.”Derek Major ('08 Journ)
Major’s interest in writing started at a young age. He was inspired by his father who is a travel writer and editor. Today, Major’s dad is managing editor for digital publications & guides/Caribbean for TravelPulse, a travel news website. In high school, the younger Major played three sports and had his eye on becoming a sports reporter. After he graduated, he attended Penn State Hazleton for two years before finishing his journalism degree at University Park.
“It was without a doubt the most amazing experience of my entire life,” Major said. “The years I spent in Pennsylvania were paramount in being who I am today. If I had gone to any other school, I would have regretted it. Everything from the professors to friends to random people on the street, State College is not a place you want to leave.”
Major used his time in college to try new things. He enjoyed the rural surroundings of Pennsylvania. He also worked for two years at CommRadio, the internet-based station housed in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. At the beginning of his career, he gained experience in local sports before transitioning to politics and current events.
Mike Poorman, lecturer and director of alumni relations at the Bellisario College, taught Major sports writing. He remembers Major developing his writing skills and always showing his New York roots.
"Derek had a passion for writing with a strong point of view for telling stories that were as much about people as sports,” Poorman said. “He wore his love of the Yankees on his sleeve and on his ever-present ball cap. These days, he's covering the biggest and most meaningful stories in our country, and his passion still shows. As his former instructor, it's me who is tipping my hat to him these days."
Major’s road back to New York City to cover national and citywide issues ran through a number of towns across the country. He said he looks back fondly on the journey, which after graduating in 2008, took him to towns like Lewistown, Pennsylvania; Martinsville, Virginia; and Portales, New Mexico. Some of the positions tackled sports, while others were government related.
“The best thing about sports reporting is that you’re not in the office all day,” Major said. “At a certain point, you have to go out and cover a game. It could be weeknights or weekends and you go out and watch live sports. It’s something I've always had a passion for because I consider live sports to be the only true reality television.”
Transitioning from sports to regular news was not much of a challenge, according to Major. Thanks to the “do a little bit of everything” nature of local news, he often covered town and school board meetings – even though his official title was sports reporter.
“My job was sportswriter,” he said, “But I always had two or three other jobs too.”
At Black Enterprise, his beat is more focused, and Major appreciates the opportunity to be a voice in some of the biggest news stories of the year. Journalism has changed a lot since Major graduated from Penn State. He says journalists are being extra careful about what they say and do as they battle attacks and a deep mistrust in the industry.
“News is an invaluable source, and it seems like people are getting fatigued with hearing about the news that's happening in the country,” Major said. “My reply would be: Stories don’t write themselves and we don’t fake these stories. These things are happening in our country and once you stop paying attention, things will get worse."