Jay Mullen and Austin Crosier sat next to each other, each holding a notebook. Across the room was one of New York’s candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, waiting for one of the recent Castleton University graduates to ask the first question.
Not long ago, these two reporters sat together in the media and communication department computer lab, bright and early on a Sunday morning, designing the Castleton Spartan student newspaper. Mullen would be laying out the sports section while Crosier finished writing his story for the game he covered the night before.
They each felt the heartbreak when Castleton University shut down in early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending their final moments of senior year on campus. They probably never thought their lives would cross paths again.
But they did.
And this time around, they weren’t just peers.
They were colleagues.
Writing the waves of success
Mullen stood behind the counter. Mentally, he was lost.
As a recent graduate of Castleton University, he found himself working 40 hours a week at Dunkin Donuts with little time to freelance for The Post-Star, his local newspaper in Glens Falls, New York.
He took his phone out and typed a message to his former professor, Dave Blow, asking him if he had any inkling of an open journalism position.
And he did.
Blow instantly gave Mullen a contact for Matt Saari, former editor at Manchester Media, now known as New York Vermont Media, which publishes of the Granville Sentinel, Whitehall Times and Lakes Region Free Press.
Just three days later, Mullen had interviewed and was offered the job.
He was walking around the town of Warrensburg, New York waiting for his car to be done in the shop when he received the call.
“It honestly felt like a huge weight, a weight that I kind of put on myself, was just lifted,” Mullen said. “I get to like hone my craft and invest in myself in terms of my career. It was a really great feeling.”
Just a couple months later, Crosier was breading fish at his summer job at Gene’s Fish Fry in East Greenbush, New York.
Since graduating, Crosier said it had been a “very upsetting and very challenging” time for him. Not only was his opportunity to walk across the stage taken away by COVID-19, but he then applied for a total of 75 jobs and only heard back from five people.
He started to worry whether he would be able to find a job in the field he was so passionate about. But as he prepared the food for the day, he received a phone call from New York Vermont Media editor Jared Stamm.
He was offered a job.
“I started to tear up and I was overwhelmed with joy. It was a relief, and it was just so exciting,” he said.
When their college careers came to an end, Mullen and Crosier never thought they would see each other in the newsroom again. But just six months after the shut down and four months after graduating, they were back at it.
Only this time, they weren’t college students anymore. They were both embarking on a new journey.
The start of their careers.
Mullen and Crosier used to sit in the same classroom together, hearing the same lectures from Blow in their journalism classes. They both spent time writing stories for the Castleton Spartan, and the connections they were able to build proved to be beneficial in their professional careers as well.
They now work for the same publisher at New York Vermont Media. Mullen writes for the Whitehall Times and Crosier writes for the Granville Sentinel, and working together is not uncommon.
“We were both kind of coming to the same place, so leaving college and both getting the same jobs that we got, it kind of feels like a book or a movie,” Mullen said.
Their paths in college were quite similar. Both were sports reporters who expanded into different styles of writing later on. Jumping into a weekly paper, they each faced new responsibilities, writing a wider variety of stories, designing pages for print and posting stories to the website and social media.
“It’s always something new every day. It really makes you be on your A-game 24/7, and I love that kind of challenge. It really pushes me to be better, both in work and outside of work,” Crosier said.
But despite similar paths, each bring their own personalities and unique style of writing. Blow said they are two “completely different characters.”
“Austin is more outgoing, and always has that big smile, and Jay’s a little more subdued and cerebral. But they’re both very talented writers,” he said.
Mullen called the two of them a “two-headed monster,” saying Crosier put it best in a text message.
“Our strengths complement each other’s weaknesses,” he said.
And they both praised each other as writers and as friends.
“I can’t tell you enough good things about Jay. Jay is a very, very talented writer,” Crosier said. “There’s never a complaint with that guy. You ask him to do something and he goes out and does it, and I love that.”
Mullen said having Crosier around makes the job easier. His favorite moments are when he, Crosier and Stamm are all in the newsroom together.
“He really is a hard worker,” Mullen said. “He’s extremely passionate about what he does. It makes it fun, even on days where … it’s all kind of piled up on one day. We just kind of go through it together. It’s a really cool experience working with him.”
Stamm, who reviews the stories and each newspaper for both Mullen and Crosier, said the “camaraderie” between the two has been beneficial. He said it was important for them to already have established a relationship. They know each other’s styles, and they can reach out to each other with questions and ask for help without feeling any sense of self-consciousness.
“They work so well together, and I love working with them too,” he said. “They just feed off of one another, so I think that they’re really well suited. I feel very lucky that they’re both at the paper at the same time.”
He mentioned the series of videos the three of them did during election season, interviewing candidates for their district’s U.S. House of Representatives, the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate. Stamm said it could have been a lot more intimidating for them without the pre-existing chemistry they had as reporters.
“It made it a lot more accessible, I think. And a lot more fun,” he said.
Mullen said Crosier texted him the night before the first interview saying he was nervous, and Mullen felt the same way. But they were able to talk about it, and Mullen tried to ease his anxieties.
“I was also pretty nervous because it’s your first time interviewing someone like that. It’s weird to think we’re getting this really great experience fresh out as well,” he said.
When the first interview was out of the way, both felt more at ease. Afterward, the two former writers for the Spartan collaborated on the follow-up story.
Mullen said the byline stuck out.
“It’s funny to see ‘By Austin Crosier and Jay Mullen’ for a paper that’s not the Spartan,” he said.
Mullen and Crosier aren’t the only Castleton graduates who found their start working in Granville.
In fact, the professor who taught them how to write a good story also landed his first professional journalism job at the Granville Sentinel, commencing his 30-year career in journalism – after graduating from then Castleton State College.
“That’s what flooded all the memories back. They’re doing, 30 years later, what I did,” Blow said. “And yeah, the scene has changed, technology has changed, but I’m telling you the shoe leather journalism has not.”
Michael Talbott, chair of the media and communication department, said Blow serves as a “role model” for his students. He went to Castleton, graduated from the same program, and ultimately built a successful career from it.
“He lives and breathes local journalism,” Talbott said. “His students are able to look at him and see that he went to Castleton and jumped into this job, and they see that they can do the same thing and follow the same path.”
And a role model he was for both Mullen and Crosier. They each told stories of moments in their short careers when Blow had indirectly inspired them.
Mullen was only with Manchester Media for just over a month when former editor Saari said he would be leaving. There was a two-week stretch before Crosier was brought in where Mullen had to cover both the Whitehall Times and the Granville Sentinel.
Right at the same time, there was also an unexpected flood in Whitehall. He had to cover the story the next morning.
“Before I left, I was like crying at the desk. I never had to do anything like this at school. You can only be prepared so much,” he said.
But he said what kept him going was the fact that he knew Blow would be “living for this.” Mullen kicked into gear, going on Facebook Live the night of to share the little information he had. He posted updates on social media and was able to get all the reporting for his story done the next day.
Crosier said he was at the Granville Police Department speaking with the chief of police so he could write his police beat for the week when Stamm called him. He asked if Crosier was still at the police station because an individual from the popular Netflix TV show, “Tiger King,” had just been arrested in Granville.
“I felt an adrenaline rush,” he said. “Immediately, I just kicked into full on focus … I ran back to the office, literally sprinted in through the office doors, threw my bag on the ground and wrote up a story.”
He was able to speak with the arresting officer right away and had a story up two hours later. The story received 300 reactions on social media in under 30 minutes.
Crosier said the whole time, he heard Blow in the back of his head telling him the techniques to writing a good story.
“I seized the opportunity and did my job the right way,” he said.
Both spoke highly of their former professor and said they no longer consider each other as students and professor, but as friends.
“Dave was always there to provide guidance and a clear voice for me to figure out what’s important right away and what’s important in the long term,” Crosier said. “He always says that he’s our biggest supporter, and nothing makes him happier than his students succeeding. It really does feel good to be one of his students because he really does care about all of us.”
Mullen said it was Blow who truly inspired him to be a career journalist.
“When I transferred into Castleton, yeah I was doing the journalism concentration because I kind of wanted to be a sports reporter, but I did not expect myself to fall in love with journalism the way I did,” he said. “And that’s all because of Dave Blow.”
Blow said he was “very excited” when he heard both of his former students had gotten the job. He said he considers the world today an “imperfect storm,” citing the pandemic and political upheaval, but hearing the news about Mullen and Crosier was the “perfect storm.”
“It was something I needed, I think. It was something they needed,” he said. “In a world where every day you’re confronted with negativity … to get this double whammy of good news – these two guys telling stories for the place I used to tell stories for – that’s just a gift. A really cool gift.”