Recent EMST grad wins a top award at Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition

Jonathan Hyman (AB ’20), a recent graduate of the Entertainment and Media Studies (EMST) Department at Grady College, has received high recognition in the 2023 Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. His script for a feature film titled “Freaknik” has been named one of the festival’s three winners.

“To win a competition like this is just awesome for Jon,” said Matthew Evans, an assistant professor in EMST, who worked with Hyman to help develop the script. “To put it in perspective, the Atlanta Film Festival gets thousands of submissions—so it’s extremely competitive. It means that Jon beat out a lot of really good scripts.”

A quote car that reads: “I think the best thing about Jon’s screenplay is that it’s authentic. It’s authentically funny. It’s authentically sweet. And it’s authentically fresh, in terms of its point of view,” said Evans. “But more important than the recognition is the industry support and mentorship that Jon will get as a winner.” Hyman’s script takes readers to Atlanta’s Freaknik festival during spring break of 1993 and follows a tight-knit circle of friends that matures over a weekend full of parties, love and drama. 

“Being one of the feature winners for this year’s Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Award feels a little surreal,” said Hyman. “For the most part, though, it feels like a challenge to keep pushing forward. There’s so much about the craft of writing itself and the entertainment business as a whole that I still have left to learn. I am very grateful and appreciative that the script was so well-received by the Atlanta Film Society, and my hope is that one day I’ll be able to share ‘Freaknik’ with audiences as a feature film.”

His whole life, Hyman explained, has been full of stories from family and friends about how exhilarating Freaknik was. That, along with a desire to center his writing around Atlanta-based stories, inspired Hyman to write his award-winning script. 

“There were other ideas that I had (and still have) in mind, but Freaknik had yet to be explored in film, and I had a treasure trove of stories from my family to pull inspiration from, so it felt right,” said Hyman. 

The origin story for Hyman’s “Freaknik” goes back to the fall of 2019, when he asked Evans to supervise an independent study. In early January of 2020, Hyman brought three feature film ideas to Evans, “Freaknik” being one of them. Over the following months, Hyman wrote a synopsis, then an outline, and then each subsequent act, piece-by-piece. Evans provided thoughtful feedback and honest critique each step of the way, Hyman explained. 

“I think the best thing about Jon’s screenplay is that it’s authentic. It’s authentically funny. It’s authentically sweet. And it’s authentically fresh, in terms of its point of view,” said Evans. “But more important than the recognition is the industry support and mentorship that Jon will get as a winner.” 

For his award-winning script, Hyman will receive a cash prize and accommodation at the festival, plus an all-access badge, invitation to the exclusive Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriters Retreat and an opportunity to take part in a staged reading of an excerpt of his winning screenplay during the Atlanta Film Festival, conducted by Atlanta SAG/SAG-Aftra actors. 

“These are the connections that can help take Jon’s career to the next level, such as finding literary representation and getting ‘Freaknik’ read by producers,” Evans added. “Those are the first steps to getting this movie made. Anybody who wins a competition of this caliber will definitely be seen as a new writer to pay attention to, so lots of people are going to want to read this script. And ‘Freaknik’ is a spectacular calling card.”

Ryan Lavner: Staying the Course

Not everyone gets to live out their dream job, but for Ryan Lavner (ABJ ’09), being an Emmy award-winning golf writer seems to suit him pretty well.

Augusta National. St. Andrews. Pebble Beach. Though his home base is Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, each year Lavner travels to about 14 tournaments around the world as a senior writer for the Golf Channel. He spends his week interviewing players, talking to tour officials, and, sure, sneaking in a few holes when he can.

Ryan Lavner (left) interviews Adam Scott, winner of 31 professional tournaments, including the 2013 Masters.
Ryan Lavner (left) interviews Adam Scott, winner of 31 professional tournaments, including the 2013 Masters.

“I’ve really enjoyed being able to tell the backstories of guys who worked their way up through the mini-tours, as well as these can’t-miss players like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who I covered as junior golfers and everyone just knew that they were going to be fantastic,” Lavner says. “Everyone has a different backstory to reach the pinnacle of the sport.”

Lavner, 35, grew up in Canandaigua, New York, a world away from the hot Georgia summers. Being a sportswriter was always the plan, and Lavner knew he wanted to live in a completely different environment, with big-time athletics to cover. So the University of Georgia was a natural choice.

After graduating from Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, he went to work for a small newspaper in Sebring, Florida.

“It was a two-man staff, so I did everything from writing to shooting, editing to page design,” he says. “It was an all-encompassing job, and I absolutely loved it.”

In 2010, he got the opportunity to write about a women’s amateur golf tournament called the Harder Hall Invitational. Lavner covered it with the same dedication and energy as if he were at the Masters, writing six to eight stories a day, with detailed features and his own photos.

Ryan Lavner is a writer at his core, but he makes frequent on-camera appearances, like here at the British Open.

Lavner’s passion caught the eye of a senior writer at Golfweek magazine, who was also covering the event. They swapped information, and a week later, a job opened up as though it were meant to be. Two years later, Lavner signed with Golf Channel, and he’s been there ever since.

Now, in addition to his award-winning writing, Lavner also does live hits for “Golf Today”, “Golf Central”, and “Live From,” and works on longer-form TV features. As modern media has evolved, he has also moved on to producing digital videos and podcasts. Often, he’ll join TV segments from the comfort of his home office, broadcasting through a live camera feed. The different formats allow him to talk about golf in different ways and with a variety of people.

“I think I’d get really bored if I was just doing one thing – if I was just writing stories, or if I was just doing TV, or the only thing I had to worry about was the podcast,” he says. “I like the versatility and doing a little bit of everything.”

Lavner met his wife at UGA and has been married for nearly a decade. Together, they have two young children, and though they’re not quite old enough to pick up a putter, Lavner looks forward to the day when they can be out on the course with him and fall in love with golf the same way he did.

“Being able to combine my two passions, golf and writing, into a career,” he says, “I can’t ask for anything more.”

The above feature was originally posted by UGA Today and can be found on the UGA Today website

Eight Grady College alumni to be honored at 2018 Bulldog 100 Awards

Eight graduates of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication representing seven businesses will be honored by the University of Georgia Alumni Association at the 2018 Bulldog 100 awards ceremony in January.

The annual program recognizes the fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni.

To be considered for the award, a company must be in business for a minimum of five years, have verifiable revenues of $100,000 or more for the calendar year 2014, and operate in a manner consistent with the Pillars of the Arch and in keeping with the values and image of UGA, according to criteria set by the UGA Alumni Association.

The following Grady College alumni and their businesses will be recognized:

The final rankings—determined by a compounded annual growth rate over the last three years—will be released during the ceremony.

The public, including UGA alumni and friends, is invited to celebrate the Bulldog 100 honorees Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. The evening will begin with a reception, followed by dinner and the awards ceremony. Registration is open at

Grady College holds memorial tribute to Don Carter, commemorates Endowment for Journalism Excellence

Grady College faculty, alumni and friends celebrated a memorial tribute to alumnus Don Carter (ABJ ’38) and commemorated the Don E. Carter and Carolyn McKenzie Carter Endowment for Journalism Excellence Oct. 12, 2017, in the Peyton Anderson Forum.

“Today we are privileged to remember Don and gather with people who will testify to his hope for journalism and for the students who will follow him at Grady College,” said Dean Charles Davis.

(l.-rt.) Kent Middleton and Terry Readdick reminisce about their friend, Don Carter.

Kent Middleton, professor emeritus of journalism and friend of the Carters, spoke about Don’s hopes for journalism’s enduring values.

“For Don, excellent journalism was simple. It was truthful, timely information delivered by smart, curious reporters in clear sentences,” said Middleton. “He reminded students and board members regularly about the importance of getting the story right, naming sources and explaining the importance of journalism to the community.”

Continued Middleton: “Don trusted the Grady College to employ his and Carolyn’s gifts to perpetuate factual, ethical and fair journalism. And, of course, there’s never been a time when the public has needed that kind of journalism more.”

Janice Hume shares the vision and plans for the Carter Endowment for Journalism Excellence.

Janice Hume, head of the Department of Journalism and Carolyn McKenzie Carter and Don E. Carter Chair for Journalism Excellence, discussed the vision and plans for the Endowment for Journalism Excellence.

“Our mission is to use this transformative gift to pass those values along to our students and to strengthen our industries,” Hume said.

The Carter gifts have been used to establish a course in journalism credibility, fund faculty research, support an intern at The Brunswick News—Don Carter’s hometown newspaper, launch a “Best Summer Stories” student contest, fund student travel for training and networking, and help to send students to cover the Paralympic Games in Rio, with much more to come, she said.

Terry Readdick, another longtime friend of the Carters, shared some of his fondest memories that illustrated the couple’s shared sense of humor and zest for life.

“(Don) and Carolyn loved life, more than anybody I think I’ve ever met,” Readdick said. “I discovered they traveled to every continent. They traveled to all but a handful of countries…they had so many friends and they did so many things.”

Among those in attendance at the memorial tribute were members of the Grady Board of Trust. Member Jim Zachary devoted a column in the Oct. 15 issue of The Valdosta Daily times to Carter, which he titled “Walking in the shadow of journalism greatness“. The piece is published here with permission.

Don Carter was a truth teller.

He died at the age of 99 and was still telling the truth right up until his death.

He was a journalist.

In fact, Carter was a journalist’s journalist.

At the Grady Board of Trust meeting held on the campus of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia Thursday, we listened to stories about Carter and his love of Grady and for journalism.

A Grady grad, Carter found himself at The Atlanta Journal in the early 1940s and that is how he found the other love of his life, Carolyn McKenzie, who competed with him for coverage while she was reporting for the Atlanta Constitution.

Their rivalry was more than friendly, it became a lifelong love story, and they were married for more than 60 years.

Don was always — and first and foremost — a reporter.

By the end of his illustrious newspaper career, he was vice president of news for Knight-Ridder.

For many years, he sat on the board of directors of The Red & Black newspaper that serves the University of Georgia campus.

As chairman of the board that Carter shaped for so many years, it is impossible not to feel the weight of his shadow and to be humbled by it.

Don Carter is newspaper royalty.

When he spoke, people listened.

Carter believed in the importance of factual and unbiased reporting.

He thought it was absolutely essential that hard news reporting and editorials be clearly separated.

He died at his beloved home on Sea Island and left behind an incredible legacy and large endowment for Grady College and the educating of future journalists.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted President Jimmy Carter at the time of Don Carter’s death, “Rosalynn and I mourn the loss of my cousin and lifelong friend Don Carter. Don and I grew up together in Plains, and he supported me throughout my political career. He will be remembered not only as a superb journalist and newspaper executive, but as an advocate for the important role that journalists play in our democracy.”

Newspapers have a rich tradition as the Fourth Estate, providing a check on government while serving as a public watchdog.

That important role in democracy depends on journalistic integrity.

Journalistic integrity depends on accuracy in reporting, naming sources, correcting mistakes and clearly distinguishing between news and editorials.

Don Carter believed news reporting was about telling readers who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how and not about telling readers what to think.

Opinions are for opinion pages.

News pages are for news — for truth telling — the thing that Don Carter did best.

See more photos from the tribute on the UGA Grady Flickr account.

AdPR Week alumnus profile: Neil Hirsch (ABJ ’00)

In honor of AdPR Week, we are profiling select Grady College alumni who are using their Grady education in the creative industries they serve. In this series, they discuss their career paths and offer advice to current Grady students.

Neil Hirsch, APR, graduated from Grady College in 2000 with a degree in public relations.  He is the director of corporate external communications for the Americas at InterContinental Hotels Group. Hirsch was part of the inaugural Grady College AdPR Advisory Council in 2014.

Grady College: What are some of your everyday duties?

Neil Hirsch: I’m responsible for external communications for InterContinental Hotels Group across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. This includes corporate media relations, issues management and executive visibility.

GC: How did you get your start?

NH: My first full-time role after graduating from Grady was in a mid-size PR agency in Atlanta. It was a great place to start – you’ll never work alongside more PR professionals than in an agency environment.

GC: What skills did you learn at Grady that have helped you throughout your career?

NH: Grady provided me with a solid foundation for my career in public relations. Beyond what I learned in the classroom, it’s what I learned and the relationships I created through my involvement in PRSSA, Grady programs and my internships that distinguished me from my peers.

GC: Is there any additional advice that you’d like to give?

NH: Take every opportunity you have today to prepare you for your career. Ask questions. Make meaningful connections with professionals and with your peers. Have a vision for your future, but also be open-minded about where your career may take you.


See more in this series:

AdPR Week alumna profile: Jackie Herr (ABJ ’82)

In honor of AdPR Week, we are profiling select Grady College alumni who are using their Grady education in the creative industries they serve. In this series, they discuss their career paths and offer advice to current Grady students.

Jackie Herr, a 1982 advertising graduate, is the co-founder of PICFARI, LLC, a website and mobile app “that appeals to anyone who loves to travel and take photos.”

Herr is a longtime supporter of Grady College. She served on the Grady Board of Trust and is part of AdPR’s The Second Century Club, which is comprised of individuals who make an annual contribution to the AdPR Excellence Fund of $1,000 or more.

Grady College: Which courses or professors were most helpful in preparing you to work in the industry?

Jackie Herr: Professor Ron Lane’s Campaigns course was pivotal. He taught us the importance of knowing your audience, how to establish your presence, how to effectively communicate concepts and strategies in a meaningful, memorable and measurable way. This course really tied the ribbon around all the creative, strategy and research classes

GC: How did you get your start?

JH: During college, I worked for a radio station as a receptionist, DJ, copywriter, and sales-kind of a Jackie of all trades! After college, with Professor Lane’s help, I landed a job at an ad agency as a media buying assistant.

GC: What advice would like to give to students?

Engage and stay engaged with key professors, administrators, bosses, clients and colleagues. They form the basis of a very influential network of next jobs, next clients, and next opportunities. This is where you begin to establish your A-list network. I’m not talking about the hundreds you have in your social media networks, I’m talking about those key people in your life who will go out of their way to help you be successful and not just press the button on Facebook or on Instagram. This is usually a small, but very influential group. One of my best job connections came from a chance meeting with a media rep who had been kept waiting for over an hour to see one of my colleagues. I felt sorry for him and a simple conversation turned into a connection that led not only to my next job, but the source for amazing client referrals.

Work hard to get those internships, preferably before junior year. Demonstrate that you have a “go-getter” attitude. The more you engage now, the more successful you’ll be later in life.

See more in this series:

AdPR Week alumna profile: Melina Baetti (ABJ ’07)

In honor of AdPR Week, we are profiling Grady College alumni who are using their Grady education in the creative industries they serve. They discuss their career paths and offer advice to current Grady students.

Melina Baetti, a 2007 public relations graduate, is a manager of brand and business communications at The Coca-Cola Company.

Grady College: What are some of your everyday duties?

Melina Baetti: My role on the Brand PR team, part of our larger External Affairs team in Coca-Cola North America Public Affairs & Communications, is to help tell and amplify the story of our brands through a variety of PR programs and initiatives. That comes to life in many different ways on a daily basis—some days I’m writing a press release and reviewing media/influencer lists to target for our next program launch, other days I’m responding to media calls about a particular brand-related issue, which means drafting a statement, getting internal alignment, and then sharing it with the journalist (as well as following up and tracking coverage). I work with a slew of different internal team members across our marketing/brand teams, content and social teams, legal department and many others. The work changes day-to-day, which keeps things interesting!

GC: How did you get your start?

MB: The summer between my junior and senior year I applied and was selected for a PR internship at Coca-Cola North America. The internship is only offered to Grady College PR students. I spent that summer learning the ins and outs of PR at one of the best known companies and brands in the world. I also met and networked with many people that helped me get my first jobs and additional career opportunities, and eventually found my way back to Coca-Cola after spending five years working at a PR agency abroad (in Paris, France).

GC: What skills did you learn at Grady that have helped you throughout your career?

MB: The classes I took at Grady taught me to hone my writing skills, do research before planning a program, and also the importance of having attention to detail. In addition, being inquisitive and creative and going beyond what was right in front of you to make campaigns—from messaging to design— to stand out and break through. Almost all of those elements are key in my work today, and though our industry is constantly changing, leaning on those skills while continuing to learn and change along with my work has helped make me successful.

GC: Is there any additional advice that you’d like to give?

MB: Take time to build relationships with people around you. It may not seem like some people are connected to your work or will help you in the immediate, but in the long run, people will remember how you interact with them and your genuine interest in them as a person. Take time for lunch or coffee, to meet new people and to get to know them beyond their work.

See more in this series: