Fate has led Tara Puckey down some interesting paths in her life.
She’s a wife and mother of two daughters who has spent many months in recent years serving as a pseudo-single mother due to husband Bryan’s U.S. Army deployments.
She’s been a respected journalist writing for military-themed publications for more than three years, even though she didn’t complete her degree work in the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI until this past summer.
And she finished her IUPUI career as an honor student, earning national journalism awards from professional organizations despite having “failed miserably” in her first attempt at college, straight out of Delta High School in Muncie, Ind.
Passion for news
Fate’s biggest role may have come when Puckey picked up an associate’s degree in business from Ivy Tech State College, and decided that wasn’t enough. She checked out IUPUI, and while scanning the list of schools to choose from, settled on journalism.
In retrospect, Puckey isn’t surprised at her choice. “I’ve always liked news, and I love long profile pieces,” she says. “I can’t get enough.” She still wonders a bit at her non-traditional arc—“how do you go from a college dropout to a graduate with an addiction to education,” she muses—but it taught her a lesson she intends to share with daughters Alexa, 7, and Brooklyn, 5. “I want them to know they don’t have to go to college straight out of high school,” Puckey says. “I did that and failed miserably. I needed the time to grow up a bit and get some world experience before I came to value a college education.”
Journalism fit her well, but she wasn’t content with just being a student. In 2008, Puckey launched a media company (tarapuckeyfreelance.com) and unleashed her first-person passion for military-related stories. “I noticed there was a significant gap in military reporting, and asked myself why can’t I do that?” She’s written stories ranging from issues affecting military men and women to feature stories on people like actor Gary Sinese (Forrest Gump, CSI: NY) who have ties to the U.S. military.
Puckey capped her college career with the prestigious Julie Galvan Outstanding Graduate in Journalism Award for 2010, a national honor presented annually by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), an organization of which she is a member. The SPJ award is especially meaningful, because it comes from peers and because Puckey worked hard to build a chapter at IUPUI.
Puckey is a two-time recipient of the Hortense Myers Scholarship for superior scholastic achievement, awarded by the Women’s Press Club of Indiana (WPCI), received the WPCI’s 2010 Kate Milner Raab Award for continuing excellence and professionalism, and also is a member of the organization. Puckey also earned first place for news writing and two seconds for feature writing in the National Federation of Press Women’s 2011 national contest.
School becomes new ‘family’
"I noticed there was a significant gap in military reporting, and asked myself why can’t I do that?”
Professional connections have helped her build personal relationships with people whose work she admires. “I looked up SPJ on line and signed up; I looked up the Women’s Press Club of Indiana and signed up,” she says. “I figure if you’re going to do something, go all out and do it.”
James Brown, dean emeritus of the journalism school and one of Puckey’s teachers, seconds that note. Puckey is one “who sees a need and creates a solution, a natural leader.”
That passion characterizes most of the facets of Puckey’s life. “One of the things I’ve loved about journalism here is its size—it has become a family to me,” she says. “I have loads of students—and faculty—who have become my friends.”
Journalism “… gets me involved in a person’s story,” she adds. “I have to record all my interviews because I get so involved in the conversation that I forget to write things down. But that’s what sets this profession apart!”
Maggie Hillery, another former journalism instructor who now is the news editor for the United Methodist Church’s news service, considers Puckey’s enthusiasm a natural extension of her “sense of fairness and compassion. Tara has an exceptional ability to communicate, whether in text, audio or video,” Hillery says.
Bryan occasionally “teases me that I work too hard,” she laughs, “but I think I have a great handle on what’s important.” She is grateful that her husband “has been so incredibly supportive, because a lot of the costs for my website and for travel related to SPJ and other things have been out-of-pocket for us.” It means a lot to both of them that her work is able to highlight what life is like for military people and their families. “In a way, he’s invited me into his world, and I always want to respect that,” she says.
Dramatic changes in journalism have changed the news business, but Puckey is undaunted. “There are always going to be stories to tell, and people who want to know what’s going on,” Puckey says.