Feature Story: The Scoop On Music Critic Melissa Ruggieri

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Photo Credited to: AJC.Com & Jimblackman.com

Infamous music critic and feature writer, Melissa Ruggieri has made a name for herself in the entertainment and writing industry. She has interviewed many celebrities from John Boyega (Starred as Finn in the Star Wars), Warren Beatty (Stars in Rules Don’t Apply), Norah Jones, Stevie Nicks, and many more. Even she couldn’t get a sign stating she was part of the print crawl at the Country Music Awards. She says in a joking manner, “This is where 20 years in the business get you, no respect, no one cares.”

It is no secret that during the history of news media: journalists, reporters, and other media professionals usually get the bad end of the stick. On the contrary, media serves as the watchdog and medium for the public. If media were to never exist, then how would the public get their news? The real question left to ask is why do people give media such a hard time? Many bother to ask that question and never truly receive a definite answer. In order to work in the media, then one must have tough skin and an eagerness to work. However, the many hurdles that journalists, reporters, music critics, and others must face can become overwhelming.

Ruggieri explains her experience she has in the media profession and gives a few insightful tips to journalism students. She explains that it is important to make contacts and network with different people. “Even if it’s a job you don’t want to take, you never whose card you going to get, whose twitter you get, you want to make connections with people.” Constructive criticism is going to be apart of the media profession and one has to have tough skin, is quite cliche, but according to Ruggieri it’s essential. She gives an example of how she wrote a music review and ended up writing a better piece, because of the constructive criticism she received back from her mentor. She quotes, “The review I wrote last night on Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders, since Deb went with me, I did send it to her at two o’clock in the morning saying hey can you read this for me. She read it and had a better word choice. I’m not like oh I don’t like that I want it my way, I’m like no, she’s right.” Not only does one deal with the pressures of deadlines, making sure all dates and facts are correct, but it’s important to be able to withstand critique.

Ruggieri talks about her first opportunity at as a music critic/reporter and her gratitude towards her mentor Deb. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Florida International University, but before she became an alumni, she worked in the library. “ I was working in the library as a clerk. I took the job because it got me an introduction, but I also use to read the pop music critic who was the columnist for the Sun Sentinel and she was the person I wanted to emulate.” Ruggieri goes on to further explain how she continued to work in the library, until she got the courage to walk up to her future mentor Deb’s desk. “ I introduced myself and she was very kind and asked me what I wanted to do and I said I want to be you.” From then on, she went to concerts with her mentor and shadowed her around for some years and Ruggieri says it really immersed her in the world. “I got to meet promoters, I got to meet artists, I got to go to venues and how that whole thing works. I’m very fortunate to have found a mentor”, she says. Her big break happened during unfortunate circumstances, her mentor’s child became ill. However, Ruggieri was given the task to continue doing her mentor’s work in the meantime. She’s goes onto say that is not easy to become a music reporter and there is only between 40-50 nationwide. “Call it luck”, she says.

Ruggieri has been blessed with many opportunities of travelling the world and meeting profound musicians. She currently works with Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The Media Versus Gays

Throughout the history of news media the LGBTQ community has been slandered, stigmatized, and defamed. Organizations such as The National Gay Media Association and GLAAD (known formerly as Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) have sought to protect the LGBTQ people in the media against the stereotypes, negative portrayals and defamation that society may often associate with being gay or lesbian. The LGBTQ people have had their fair share of problems concerning the media.

However, there were many men and women willing to stand up for justice and were simply tired of the negative depictions in news media. One of those men happen to be Ross Murray, the Programs Director of Global and U.S. South for GLAAD. When talking about the distorted and misrepresentation of LGBTQ people in news media and the film industry he quotes, “We came to solve the problem, it is a problem.” He and many of his colleagues are promoting not only media equally, but equality globally especially in national and international media. GLAAD’s advocacy is to aid the LGBTQ community and concoct a strategic plan for men and women to be portrayed appropriately in society and media.

He further goes on to talk about how these negative representations can affect children. When children watch violence against gays in the media, it can possibly instill fear of them wanting to come out or admitting to be gay/lesbian/or bisexual, long-term effect would be them suppressing their identity.

Looking through the course of media as a whole such as the film and television industry, there were very few gay characters if any in the 90s’, but that started to change by the year 2000.

Exposure to gay and lesbian communities had a positive impact among the youth. News media has a major influence on social change and has the power to correct stereotypes of LGBTQ people, yet we constantly see movies such as “Meet the Spartans”, “The Forty Year Old Virgin”, “Meet the Fockers” and the television show “The Big Bang Theory. These movies use offensive language like faggot, queer, gay in derogatory manner while normalizing these slurs. GLAAD’s organization was created to fight against bias like this. “Having HIV or Aids was known as the gay’s man disease in the 80’s” says Murray. GLAAD’s mission and purpose were designed to aid in defamation against gay men and women in the media.

However, media figures that are LBGQT and made their decision to come out has shined a positive light on the comfort of their identities and forced a space in news media. The influence of these media figures can be portrayed as positive and negative GLB media figures overall. One of my classmates were asked what would they like to see more of in the media in terms of its depictions of GLB characters and someone answered the reality of what gays face and the hardships they undergo.

Media and LGBTQ community have not always got along or seen eye to eye. There have been many cases and examples of interviews or news media outlets that have been unfair or unjust when it comes to the coverage of them. An example would be “conservative” Fox News, who some may say has anti-homosexual agendas. I think it’s best to question the media. Where is the diversity at in the news outlets? How many producers, writers, editors, directors or media specialists in news outlets are women, openly lesbian or gay or a minority? To represent a group equally, the must be different communities and a diverse number of members in news outlets. Does news media tend to hold certain groups of people to one standard while using a different

standard for other groups? An example would be gay men being stereotyped as overly promiscuous and justifying rape among them. News coverage usually fails to focus on the important factors giving a pass to prejudice. Coverage of hate speech against gays and lesbians often fails to mention increases in gay-bashing and how the two might be related. GLAAD organization somewhat acts as a mediator between media and the LGBTQ community.

“I simply encourage folks who has done work GLAAD to volunteer” says Ross Murray. Although, there continues to be bias and misrepresentation of gay men and women in news media and media as a whole, there has been a momentum of progression. In the case of the Media versus Gays, I find favor of the LGBTQ community.

Tia Berger is a senior currently enrolled  at Georgia State University. Her major is Journalism with a concentration in Media & Society. Follow Tia on Instagram @TiaCassan.