Alum Profile: Judy Rakowsky
Judy Rakowsky (Honors Journalism and Political Science BA, 1980) is as energetic and enthusiastic now as she was as an undergraduate playing on the men’s water polo team. (She tried to start a women’s team, but couldn’t get anyone to come to practice. “[Playing on the men’s team] was a blast!”) Since graduating, Rakowsky has worked at five newspapers, including the Providence Journal and Boston Globe; was a correspondent for People magazine; taught journalism as an adjunct at Boston University; advised the student newspaper at Bentley University; and is currently the Director of Crisis and Strategic Communications for Liberty Square Group, a boutique public relations (PR) firm in Boston headed by Scott Ferson, a former press secretary to Ted Kennedy. Prior to joining Liberty Square Group, Rakowsky started her own entity, Rakowsky Communications, which focused on litigation PR with a wide range of content and research consulting.
“I love this work and am building a robust practice,” Rakowsky shared. “Crisis communication is a great way to harness the depth of my experience in journalism. It’s gratifying to help people by repurposing my journalism experience. When you’ve been in the media, you know how things are going to go – it’s not going to work to hide under a rock. I work with schools, companies and individuals who find themselves in the media glare and help them get their message across.” Rakowsky cites her time as a reporter for the Michigan Daily and the Honors Program as formative experiences that helped launch her career.
About the Honors Program, Rakowsky shared, “The Honors thesis was a wonderful opportunity to delve into a subject and produce a significant piece of work.” She wrote her undergraduate thesis on insurance redlining in Detroit, comparing the media coverage in The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press of legislation going through the state at the time. The thesis topic was inspired, in a way, by a course she took on campus. “I have always been pragmatic and loved scholarship – like the political sociology course I took that looked at the Detroit riots – that has practical application for making the world a better place. “
Rakowsky started at the Michigan Daily as a sophomore and she spent a lot of time there throughout her years at Michigan. “Stories took me to events and areas of campus I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise and I started a career I loved for decades. I learned a lot from the upper class members … teamwork and a commitment to high standards of ethics and professionalism. I feel fortunate that, as an undergraduate, I got a head start on my career and learned the tenets of great journalism from Ann Marie Lipinski, one of my first editors, who went on to become the editor of the Chicago Tribune and Jim Tobin, an author and professor.” Rakowsky went on to become an award-winning journalist herself. Highlights include:
- 2010 Luce Award-Public Service, First Place tie – People team coverage of bullying*
- Media Award for Sensitivity to Crime Victims – Massachusetts Victim & Witness Assistance Board
- First Place team coverage of Domestic Violence – New England Associated Press
- Best News Story Statewide, First Place – UPI Ohio
- Ohio Associated Press – Column and Community Service awards
*Links to this series of articles can be found at the end of this profile
Another well-known story that Rakowsky covered for People was Captain Richie Phillips’ homecoming in Vermont. (http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20277123,00.html, http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20276992,00.html) “I’ve always loved breaking news. Get it first, get it right!” said Rakowsky. However, there are aspects that are not always fun. In her career, Rakowsky has covered a lot of legal affairs and crime, including priest pedophilia in Providence in the 1980s and the Craigslist killer in Boston in 2009. “The question, ‘how could they?’ can be very consuming. The features for People were a little more heartening,” Rakowsky shared. Also heartening is Rakowsky’s love for her alma mater. “I love Michigan and will always continue to love Michigan! We had a Michigan Daily reunion a few years ago and we had a little ‘Big Chill’ moment.” Finally, Rakowsky wanted to add her advice to current undergraduates. “Follow your academic interests to sniff out your passion and pursue extra-curriculars that capture your imagination and help you build something.”
Links to People series on bullying: