Profile Article: Journalism

Lisa Mazzarella Lives out the Advice She Gives to Aspiring Journalists
By Julie Wilson
Profile Article
September 16, 2016

“When you make a mistake, make it big and bold.” This is one piece of advice Lisa Mazzarella had to learn for herself and what she now encourages to aspiring journalists.

Mazzarella is a classical music radio host with WVIA Public Media, producer of the television documentary “Our Town” and an adjunct communications instructor at her alma mater, Marywood University. But the journey that brought her here includes a few big mistakes and a few wonderful mentors.

She never imagined herself in a media career because she was painfully shy as a child. Comparing herself to Charlie Brown, she shares that just when she got the nerve to “kick the football” in answering the teacher’s questions, the teacher would take away that chance and just give the answer. It was her hesitation, her fear of making a mistake, that caused her to lose out on many opportunities.

Her journey to the arts began as a child. Her parents were champions for the arts, and this developed her love for music. They often sang together as a family with her father on classical guitar. It was after he passed away that she discovered he had a career in classical guitar before he married and had a family. Today, when Mazzarella chooses classical guitar for her daily radio show, it’s for her dad.

One of her first attempts in the arts was with violin. However, her failure in violin became the mistake that led to chorus class and opened up new opportunities, including a tour spot with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians at age 17. This gave her the surge of confidence she needed in music and other abilities.

Her turning point came during a family night out for ice cream. When her mother ordered her a chocolate cone, she knew she really wanted vanilla and finally spoke up for herself and ordered vanilla ice cream. This was when she realized she needed to be willing to make mistakes to get what she wanted out of life.

Her best mentors were not people in the show business, but people that came into her life at the right time. One such mentor was Sister Loretta Chouinard, postmistress at Marywood University.

At a time when it seemed that life was falling apart, Chouinard stepped in and met Mazzarella’s needs. Her brother passed away unexpectedly during her freshman year at Marywood, and with the expenses, and loss of desire to study and sing, Mazzarella considered quitting. But a work-study program landed her in the campus post office where she met Chouinard, who taught her to pray, gave her advice and became a lifelong friend. During nature walks and prayer she learned that just as nature has a beginning and end, so do people. Through this, Mazzarella found her new beginning and was able to generate new life after her heavy loss.

The start of WVIA’s television series “Our Town” was another one of those moments that Mazzarella will remember forever. She was called into her boss’s office at the end of one workday and thought it was the end of her job because of the loss of state funding for the station. Her mind instantly went to the worst possible scenario of being unable to provide for herself. Instead she was offered an opportunity to produce her own television show. She had come so far from the girl who was afraid to raise her hand in class.

This documentary project focuses on discovering the unique attributes of smaller towns in the area. Each show is as different as the residents of the town. These residents tell deep, heartfelt stories with an emotion that cannot be scripted or memorized. People crave the opportunity to talk about themselves and be heard. This television show provides a connection to audiences all over the viewing area, and it helped Mazzarella truly appreciate where she lives and the surrounding towns.

In her career, Mazzarella says every day is different. There is no such thing as an average day. In broadcasting one must be smooth and consistent for the sake of the audience, even when there is pandemonium in the background. People expect a cheerful routine. It is a privilege for Mazzarella that people let her into their lives via radio on a daily basis.

When the phone rings, then she hears why she does what she does. Connecting with the audience, for Mazzarella it is with the classical music, expands her job description from broadcaster to therapist. People desire the ability to express themselves, and she gives them that opportunity. These comments and encouragement from the audience on a daily basis is what motivates her to do what she does.

Mazzarella encourages journalists to be brave and to be willing to make mistakes. In order to get what they want out of life, they must be willing to express themselves. She says, “You have your own way of speaking and creating and expression. Don’t ever, ever put that under a bushel basket.” One must face his or her fears and conquer them. Mazzarella advises aspiring journalists to be true to their convictions, don’t waver, and be professional all the time.

Mazzarella’s life and career exemplify her final advice, “Don’t be obnoxious in your confidence. There needs to be a level of humility in whatever you do, but not so humble that you don’t accomplish. Do the very best you can with the amount of time you’ve been given.”

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