The other day at work I got into a motor boat with a couple of scientists to take algae levels on a small pond on Cape Cod. The scientists were researching a natural parasitic predator of the algae that causes Red Tide.
Fumbling around with my microphone and recording kit, I tried to piece together a logical string of interview questions. My goal: get the scientists to explain what they were doing in a way that myself, or any other normal human being, could actually understand. And it occurred to me: How did I get here? Would I ever have thought that I would be doing something like this when I “grew up”?
I’m a producer and reporter for "Living on Earth" on Public Radio International (www.loe.org). We’re a weekly show that covers environmental, health, and emerging science stories.
Before coming back to Boston to join Living on Earth, I interned for the summer at NPR in DC. And that summer I was a sponge. All I did was ask questions, follow people around and learn. The media world is a small one and the radio world verges on incestuous. But this is a good thing because once you’ve done an internship or two, you’ll probably have met someone who knows of a job or a contact somewhere that might actually be able to give you a paycheck.
I came pretty close to being turned away from journalism at the door. Professor Feinman Todd almost didn’t let me into her Journalism 101 class during the fall of my sophomore year. I had no experience whatsoever in journalism, but I knew that if I didn’t do something fast, my comparative literature major was gonna get me stuck in the ivory tower indefinitely.
I’m too young to have any magical tidbits of advice on how to get a paying job in media fresh out of college. I think we’re all supposed to flop around a bit. But my best advice: ask for help when you need it and then say thank you, and, more importantly, report the stories that interest you personally.
Wonder is contagious.
By the time I took Media Techniques with Professor Feinman Todd, I knew I wanted to go into the media world but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do or how I was going to get there. As it turns out, I’m still not exactly sure what I want to do, but I have learned a good deal about what it takes to get there. For one, it is never too early to start gaining media experience -- and the Georgetown Journalism program is an ideal place to start. Second, the last person to give up on trying to get their dream job is the one who gets it.
I thought I might want to go into publishing/editorial work in my sophomore year, but I had absolutely no publishing connections through family or friends. So, at the advice of a friend, I bugged Professor Feinman to get advice about where to look for a summer internship (which I recommend that everyone do!). Even though I had never met her before, she gave me a great lead and I had a summer editorial internship at “Where” Washington magazine within weeks. Though it isn’t the most glamorous magazine, it served as vital experience for me, especially since I wasn’t on the staff of any of the Georgetown publications. After I moved to New York and started applying to publishing jobs, I learned that gaining media experience in college (and, most importantly, making contacts as a result) is vital to having a chance at getting that dream publishing job.
Even with my experience at Where, it was no cakewalk to get a great publishing job in New York. After 2 months of working nights writing copy for an ad agency and applying and interviewing for dozens of jobs, nothing promising had come through. I sent some exasperated e-mails to every contact and half-contact I had, ready to give up and apply to an investment bank, but I received enough encouragement to keep me going for a bit more. In fact, it was Professor Feinman who gave me just the kick in the ass (and advice on finding contacts) that I needed. I ended up getting a very cool temp job at Routledge, an academic press, which I worked for 2 more months (unfortunately it paid next to nothing so I was also working nights writing for the ad agency). I was continuing to gain contacts and apply to new jobs, and I was holding out hope.
As it turns out, one day I got a call from Time Warner Book Group to be a full-time temp, and was promoted within weeks to be editorial assistant to the Warner executive non-fiction editor. So these days, I am reading proposals, engaging in fascinating editorial meetings, and working on books with people like Ted Turner, Tiger Woods, Jon Entine and Jerry Seinfeld. I am also meeting agents, having power lunches and within a few months I will be looking to acquire and edit books of my own. It’s quite a change from working till 2 a.m. writing ad copy! Though I am also considering becoming a literary agent and am still trying and failing to get my freelance writing published, all these possibilities are much more realistic now that I have my foot in the door. And it only took a few months to get here.
So the moral is: never give up on your dream job, try to gain any bit of experience you can, and hang on to (and use!) every contact you make, even if you feel awkward about it. Though that editorial job at the New Yorker or that production job at Dateline may seem like an impossible dream, SOMEONE is working there—and the hardest part is going for it and getting your foot in the door.
And you already have a leg up: Not only were the journalism professors that I met at Georgetown an great resource while I was an undergraduate, but they have been invaluable sources of encouragement and advice as I have begun my career in publishing. My classmates, too, not only provided peer review in classroom workshops, but they also have shared advice, job openings,and encouragement as we have slowly become colleagues in the New York publishing world – which is pretty cool. These advantages—caring teachers and an array of classmate contacts—are unique to Georgetown and only a few other schools, so definitely take advantage of them.
P.S. If you want to go into book publishing, publishersmarketplace.com is essentially the only online job-posting site you need to look at (if you don’t have personal contacts). That’s something I wish I knew when I moved to New York.