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Alum trades Vt. for NYC ad job

By Brigitta Gough
On November 15, 2017

Castleton alumna Sky Barsch moved to New York to work for The Nation as Advertisement Director. Photo courtesy of Sky Barsch. 

During the first snow of the season, 36-year-old Castleton University alumna Sky Barsch started sobbing on 9th Avenue in New York City. Someone approached her and bought her a cup of coffee to help calm her down. Now he is her “Instagram BFF.”

This is a rite of passage in New York city.

“Apparently everyone in New York has their first public cry because you can’t hide anywhere here,” Barsch said with a laugh.

Moving to New York after living in Vermont for 17 years was an adjustment for Barsch. In Vermont she worked for multiple publications as a writer. She was a reporter for the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, Burlington Free Press, and was a freelance writer for publications like the New York Times and Cleveland Magazine. She later owned Vermont Sports Magazine and became a publisher for Vermont Life.

In Vermont, she lived a very outdoorsy and active lifestyle that included mountain biking, skiing and hiking – none of which can be found in New York City.

She still remains active with her dog Siena, however, taking her on an hour-long walk every morning before going to work at her current position at The Nation magazine, as advertising director.

“You also walk so much here that you stay in good shape. I probably walk four to six miles a day just commuting,” she said.

And she still goes back to Vermont twice a month to see her boyfriend and go mountain biking.

When Barsch moved to New York, she learned some hard life lessons – like don’t park within 17 feet of a fire hydrant.

“Your car will get towed to a place on 12th Avenue you never want to go,” Barsch said.

She also had to adjust to how close everyone was to each other all the time as well, especially on the subway.

“When I first started commuting on the subway, I was like ‘I’m doing this wrong, like I keep getting bruised. People just like shoved past you,” Barsch said.

She loved what she had been doing in Vermont, but she wanted to work for a bigger publication, which is what prompted the move to the city. Now, at The Nation, she works in advertising, which she had some knowledge of from her time as owner of Vermont Sports Magazine and associate publisher of Vermont Life.

“I kind of just had a knack for it,” she said.

She said it’s different than reporting, but in some ways it’s similar.

“There are a lot of reportorial skills that are involved in advertising. It still uses that part of my brain, just kind of in a different way,” she said.

She still has to research a lot and match the advertisers to her audience at The Nation.

“By coming to them with at least a general understanding of their organization, what their goals might be, you can offer that service or help them,” Barsch said.

She said she struggled to fit in at The Nation at first because she was used to knowing everyone in Vermont and knowing the people she worked with. She’s now tight with her co-workers, but said she wasn’t at first.

“It’s much quieter, it’s much more serious. Everybody’s heads are down and they’re doing their work. It took a long time to kind of make friends here, but now that I have and I’ve gotten to know people, they’re amazing,” Barsch said.

In her time as a reporter, she wrote some pieces she easily recalls. One was about a woman who was breastfeeding her infant before take-off on a Delta Airline plane.

She was asked to cover up, but she refused and was kicked off the plane. She then sued the airline and won because it violated a Vermont civil right that allowed her to breastfeed in public.

Barsch wrote the story and was shocked by the responses.

“I didn’t expect there to be so much push back. There were some really nasty comments,” she said.

She also spoke of how difficult it was to write about the funerals of soldiers who had died in the Iraq war. She said the families were grateful that she put the time in to write about the deceased in ways other than their time in the war.

Recently she wrote about her own loss, of her father who passed away suddenly a few weeks ago. He had been in the Air Force in Vietnam and when he came back, he wasn’t ever the same.

She hadn’t spoken to him in years because of their “complicated” relationship, but she knew she had to write about him when she visited the spot where he taught her to fish.

Emotions flooded her and the words came easily when she went to write.

“I felt like I had honored him in a way that was honest and truthful and mostly positive. I think he would have liked it,” Barsch said.

This experience made her realize that she wants to get back into writing more.

“That’s what I feel is in my heart, it’s what I want to do with my life and maybe this was a way to bring that to the forefront again,” she said.

Professors who worked with her recognized her talent as a writer.

“The thing about Sky that set her apart from other students of the time is that she actually CARED about things. She went to that first anti-Bush rally when he won by Supreme Court, not by election. Did a great story about it too,” said Robert Gershon, one of Barsch’s professors.

After only teaching Barsch in one class, News Media Ethics, Professor David Blow recognized how much potential Barsch had to excel in the journalism field.

“She’s truly a star and someone students and faculty at CU can look up to,” Blow said.

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