Being a journalist means “fighting for the right side of things and wearing the white hat.” These values form the basis of Medill Alum Don Finefrock’s career path and aspirations. Finefrock graduated from Medill in 1983 and, after leading an exciting journalist’s life for 20 years, has served as Executive Director of the South Florida National Parks Trust for the past decade.
After graduation, Finefrock began his professional life as a newspaper reporter. He believes that Medill instilled a hands-on approach to learning, a key element to developing his journalistic skills. He fondly remembers a course taught by a Chicago Tribune and SunTimes reporter where he got the chance to report on legal proceedings from the courtroom, located so close to the Medill Chicago Newsroom. “The feeling of seeing your work the next day in the paper was always great. Medill was great,” he said.
He also spent a quarter in Medill’s Washington D.C. newsroom and, after graduation, joined the Richmond News Leader in Richmond, Virginia, as a reporter. After four years, Finefrock moved on to report for the United Press International in Miami, Florida.
His longest stint with a media organization came with The Miami Herald where he worked for 10 years. The Herald won a Pulitzer for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 – a story Finefrock worked on. In 2000, two major stories Finefrock covered were the government seizure of Elian Gonzalez on Easter weekend and the Florida recount of the 2000 presidential election. He recounts these stories and the Herald’s Pulitzer win of the story as the incredible parts about being a journalist. “As a newspaper man, you learn how to create quality work, master stories and topics, perfect your communication, build a network of people and all these skills come in handy,” he said.
It was a natural progression in his career to do something more with his life when he decided to join Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust as an investigator. This was a stepping stone toward his move to the non-profit world and he joined the South Florida National Parks Trust four years later. As Executive Director, he was the one responsible for setting up the non-profit operations and procedures and everything he learned from his experiences helped him with his new direction. Now, under his wing, the organization has grown in ten years and is making a difference.
Yes, while working in the non-profit world, at times Finefrock says he misses the newsroom and camaraderie of working long hours side by side with amazing, talented people and those twenty years were some of the best years of his life. But now, he loves the hard working people dedicated to non-profit causes. “What is most important is the fact that you are making a difference and keeping things fresh by continuing to reinvent yourself,” he concluded.