JMU Alumna Paints NYC Purple and Gold

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After graduating from JMU in 2011, Us Weekly web editor Rachel McRady moved to New York City with one goal: To become a celebrity and entertainment journalist.

It was a passion born during her college years. As a media arts and design major she found there were no classes devoted to entertainment writing. In an effort to gain experience she began a blog called Honest Unmerciful to critique films, which she still runs today.

“I found that I didn’t have enough money to go to all of the movies constantly while I was in school, so I started covering entertainment news,” she said. “I would read Entertainment Weekly all the time. That was like my bible. It just really fascinated me.”

While not typical of her workday, McRady has had a few chances to rub elbows with celebrities like Adam Levine, Tyler Ferguson, Joan Rivers and stars from the hit MTV show, The Hills.

“It’s some of the best interview experience you can get,” she said. “Not only do you need to have good questions, but you’re also talking to people you may have only seen on TV or in a magazine. So it’s a high-pressure situation.”

When Wetpaint requested reporters and photographers for a special red carpet event she jumped at the chance.

“I sort of snuck into a Beyoncé documentary premiere as a member of the ‘paparazzi,’” McRady said. “I mostly just went because I wanted to see Beyoncé in person, but I ended up pretending to be a professional photographer. Let me just say, the paparazzi might be some of the meanest people on the planet, but photographing Beyoncé on a red carpet is an experience I’ll never forget.”

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McRady took advantage of the opportunities JMU and Harrisonburg had to offer. She worked for JMU’s newspaper The Breeze, interned with Parade and went on to start Port & Main — a 5,000-circulation, quarterly publication. These experiences helped her quick promotion to Wetpaint’s assistant editor within four months of her hiring.

McRady’s former Breeze co-worker, Mary Claire Jones, called her “one of the most driven people” she has met.

McRady has been Us Weekly’s web editor for nearly a year-and-a-half where she writes and edits stories, working steadily Sunday through Thursday. On Sundays, she runs the entire site solo — writing, editing and managing the social media accounts. Above all, the chance to express her creativity is what enjoys the most about her job.

“Sure, we have the run-of-the-mill fashion articles, breakup stories, and wedding posts, but the other day I got to write some fake fan fiction about Christoph Waltz and his cheeseburger at a Golden Globes after party,” McRady said. “I love it when I get the chance to step outside the box with those types of articles.“

Living in New York City expanded McRady’s opportunities beyond what she was able to gain in her small hometown.

“I met a contact that said no one would hire me if I still lived in Virginia,” she said. “You get these kinds of opportunities [in New York City] you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

McRady had to adjust to frequent change while working in the industry.

“Different publications require different things,” she said. “There are very different audiences and styles. You want to have your own voice as a writer, but you also want to make sure that it’s appropriate with the tone of the magazine or the website or newspaper that you’re writing for.”

McRady emphasized the importance of networking in the industry, something she wished she had gotten more instruction on before graduating from college. She always took the time to reach out to others to make connections.

“Moving to New York without any contacts is a very scary thing, something I would not recommend to everyone if you’re not ambitious and a hard worker,” she said.

In the future, McRady sees herself moving back south.

“As much as I love the city, it’s not the place I’d like to raise a family,” she said.

She hopes that the experience and connections she makes there will lead her to opportunities to become a freelance writer full-time.