Jamesport woman takes ‘Today’

Jamesport resident and avid boater Joan Cear takes a moment to relax back on the North Fork after appearing on ‘The Today Show’ last Monday to talk about her work as president of the New York Women in Communications Foundation.

Sitting with Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Al Roker and Natalie Morales outside Studio 1A in Rockefeller Center last Monday, Jamesport resident Joan Cear found herself getting a little nervous before her first interview on “The Today Show.”

“Normally, it’s my job to get my clients interviews,” said the 51-year-old public relations professional. “But the tables were turned on me. You get the butterflies when you’re in that position.”

Ms. Cear is managing director and head of consumer practice at G.S. Schwartz and Co., a New York City-based public relations agency. She is also president of the New York Women in Communications Foundation, a networking organization founded in 1929 for communications professionals in the metropolitan area.

Ms. Cear was interviewed on “The Today Show” along with the organization’s 19 scholarship winners — high school and college students pursuing careers in communication — before heading to the Waldorf Astoria for the organization’s Matrix Awards, where famous women such as rocker Sheryl Crow, “Saturday Night Live” alumna Tina Fey and Google vice president Marissa Mayer were honored.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Matrix Awards, an event that has attracted professionals in the communications and entertainment industries of all stripes. This year’s scholarship recipients also got to meet high-profile journalists Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric and Lesley Stahl at the sold-out event.

“It’s always our biggest night of the year,” said Ms. Cear, a 1980 graduate of SUNY/Oswego and former broadcast journalist.

Though she splits her time between New York City and the North Fork, Ms. Cear has called Jamesport home since 1991. A native of St. James, she has strong family ties to the area. Her grandmother, Agnes Reinhart, owned a liquor store in Peconic, and her grandfather, Howard Reinhart, trucked produce from local farms across the East Coast. She and her husband, James, are avid boaters and enjoy living near the water and beaches.

After her hectic week rubbing shoulders with celebrities, Ms. Cear chatted with a Suffolk Times reporter about her career and volunteer work.

Q: How does one qualify for a scholarship from the New York Women in Communications Foundation?

A: You have to live in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania or be attending a school in one of New York City’s five boroughs. The organization is not limited to women, but obviously by its name tends to attract women. High school seniors and those already in college apply, but other candidates are older and in the midst of a career change. And those careers run the gamut of the communications field, from journalism and public relations to graphic design and marketing.

Q: So you started out as a journalist?

A: I took a job in radio for an NPR station in Hutchinson, Kansas, for a year and a half after college. It was interesting to live in the middle of Kansas for a while. There was a large Mennonite population, and wheat was integral to the culture as a whole.

My first love is news, and I worked for an all-news radio station in Dallas, Texas, where 24-hour news was being broadcast well before CNN and the Internet. But, like they do now, people wanted to know what was going on, all the time.

Q: Are traditional media — print, radio and television — becoming dinosaur-land?

A:Not in the sense that traditional media have, for the most part, learned how to incorporate digital media — they’ve had to. Radio and television stations have websites. I get tweets from my old radio station, letting me know what’s up.

Q: How do you advise the journalist of today to adjust to the digital age?

A:The journalist of today has to be very versatile and very savvy with technology. They need to be able to shoot video and edit video. They need to be able to write headlines with key words that will link up to other sites on the Web.

David Pogue of The New York Times is a good example of someone who’s adjusted. He’s not trained in broadcast, but he went from technology reporter for the paper to doing segments on “CBS Sunday Morning” and blogging. So the next crop of journalists not only have to be smart people who know how to gather information, they have to be able to apply what they’ve learned across the range of technology. It’s very much hands-on.

Q: When did you know you wanted to go into communications?

A: When I heard Alison Steele, the Night Bird, on WNEW. She was one of the first female rock-‘n’-roll DJs in the city.

Q: So the relatively few females in the field when you were younger didn’t discourage you?

A: No, because I had the most wonderful parents in the world. They never set any limits on what I could do. When I learned how to drive, my father encouraged me to change the oil and tires and belts. My brothers cooked and cleaned. We were not aware of any boy’s job or girl’s job. And I never said to myself, “Oh, I can’t do that because that’s a boy’s job.” I think every child should be raised that way.

Q: As a successful professional in communications, do you often find yourself hobnobbing with American cultural icons as you did last Monday?

A: It’s always nice to have the opportunity to meet the icons. Throughout my career there have been many brushes with fame. Are the icons cool to meet? Yes. But so are my neighbors in Jamesport. I think the key to working in this business is being true to yourself and finding what really makes you happy. My passion is the volunteer work I do for the foundation. I love watching former scholarship winners act like mother hens for the new winners. The money helps, but the more important thing is the networking. At the Matrix, people like Tina Fey and Oprah might have spoken only for about 30 seconds, but they all referred to the future of these young people, and that really helps.

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