Tag Archives: New York Times

“Eat Your Fear” For Your Career

“Eat your fear and go for it,” Maria Hinojosa of CNN and public radio fame advised the crowd at the recent Journalism & Women Symposium conference in Texas.  It’s good advice. And advice was what was on hand in the buffet of career suggestions offered at the panel I moderated, “Portfolio Careers.”

Journalists are no longer able to survive with singular specialties. What is required is affinity for change, a mega-nimble approach to adapting to the marketplace and a willlingness to shape your talents to the needs of media outlets and organizations. All of this was evidenced by the panel of superstars who quilt together professions highlighting different interests and passions.

Roberta Baskin, a broadcast investigative journalist with 75 illustrious prizes to her name, has moved from the post of executive director for the Center for Public Integrity, and is now senior communications advisor at the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services. Her years in Chicago and Washington, D.C., working for ABC’s “20/20,” CBS’ “48 Hours” and “CBS Evening News,” as well as “NOW with Bill Moyers,” prepared her for a shift in career where her skills as an investigative reporter help uncover fraud, scams and crimes that harm the American public on a grand scale.

 Arnesa Howell advised the audience to manage time efficiently, as she moves from her posts as full-time freelancer, editor and consultant in Washington, D.C. writing for People, Uptown, Heart & Soul, USA Weekend and adjunct speaking gigs at Georgetown University and American.  

Charreah Jackson is doing it all out of New York as a writer, speaker, editor and family life educator. She is associate editor at Heart & Soul and a social media editor at Siren PR, as well as head of her own communications company, Studio Social.     

Linda Kramer Jenning is the Washington, D.C. editor for Glamour and an adjunct at Georgetown in journalism. A former Associated Press reporter, she has worked as an editor for People as well as in stints in broadcast outlets. She juggles editing as well as freelance work.

Gone are the days of journalists spending 25 years in a single media job resulting in a gold watch, gold pen or party with champagne in the newsroom with a single layer cake. You do what you can for outlets who will contract with you for your efforts. And you make it all work because you need to make it all work.

You eat your fear.

When I was a student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the 1970s, every instructor spoke with great reverence about how we should all aspire to be reporters on the national desk for the New York Times. It seemed a noble goal, but I also looked around and decided that if my class that year had 150 students in it, and every class all four years had 150 or more students each, then 600 students every year were told to get the same job at the New York Times.

Chances are they had been telling students for the last 10, perhaps 20 or 30 years the same thing. So anywhere from 6,000 to 18,000 people were right now trying for the same job. And the one person in that job wasn’t leaving.

I learned before my writing career even began that I would make my own way and craft for myself a challenging and fulfilling career out of writing that satisfied me and met no one else’s idea of success.

Now I teach at that journalism school.  In the last 30 years, I have worked on staff as an editor at three magazines and one major daily newspaper. I have freelanced regularly for dozens of daily newspapers, magazines, websites and written for radio. I have written thousands of articles appearing in hundreds and hundreds of media outlets.

I even branched out to non-traditional writing experiments. About 15 years ago, I wrote health briefs for a new company whose idea was to have health tip annoucnements every morning on voicemail at different subscribing companies. Forward thinking we all thought. But not forward thinking enough. Even laughable right about now.  

I am a journalist, but do not have one journalism job. I teach journalism, have published three books, am revising my fourth and brainstorming on a fifth. I have a bi-monthly magazine column, three websites, two blogs. I have three sons and am right now paying two college tuitions. I just finished paying for the basement reconstruction after a flood.  

 I write for money. I write because I love to write, but also because I love to pay the mortgage.

I give speeches. I give writing workshops.  For clients, I have written brochures, slideshow scripts, photo exhibit captions, annual reports, and for a little bit in the 90s I was the parenting columnist for Kellogg’s monthly newsletter, The Best To You. And I am not ashamed.

  As my friend and colleague Lisa Shepard says, journalism is undergoing a revolution. And the rate of change is volcanic.  

Success looks differently in 2010 and far beyond, than it did even 10 years ago. For sure, very, very differently than it did in 1975. There are new ways to get to work. New ways to share your multimedia journalism skills, new ways to produce content and put food on the table and non-sensible shoes on your feet, money in your account and books for your kids.  Ways to brand yourself. Ways to prove your worth and get out there. Ways for people to seek you out.

There is no one right way. Not everyone gets on the national desk at the NYT.

One thing that was so striking about all the women on that panel is that they appeared fearless. They are striving ahead in many different areas, all by choice. 

As Maria Hinojosa said, it is time to eat your fear. Bon appetit.

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The hubris of paid content and the humility of good journalism

     The New York Times announced yesterday it will begin charging in 2011 via a metered system for some online content. You would think New York fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Every media pundit is posturing about what this means for the future of journalism. Take a listen to what Jay Rosen of NYU had to say:

\”NPR Story on NYTimes Paid Online Content\”

      Here’s my take. When I was a journalism student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in the 1970s, my professors told all 100 or so of us freshmen that our goal should be to work on the national desk of the New York Times. That was the pinnacle. That was what we all should want. And if we didn’t want it, well, we were just plain wrong. 

    I nodded. OK, I’ll try.

     A few weeks into classes of Basic Writing, it dawned on me that if everyone in the freshmen class of 1975 –and every year before and after–is told to shoot for the same job, then one heck of a lot of us won’t make the cut. Just how many jobs are there are on the national desk of the NYTimes? And what is the turnover rate?

    Yes, NYT is an outlet for elite journalists. It is undeniably a well-respected legacy instituition, but one struggling to be successfully heard above the cacophony of voices and background noise that is today’s media landscape. But can it expect people will pay for it? Isn’t there a generational prejudice of an expectation for free content?

        Television used to be free. True, it was a handful of narrow networks, but it was free. At first observers scoffed at the thought of cable television and monthly charges for access to far fewer than the gabillion channel and content options available today. People paid. And paid. And they have not stopped.

      My notion is the reporters and multimedia journalists who contribute to the New York Times content must be certain their storytelling is enterprising, value-added and not what an audience can derive from 1,000 other outlets. Or even 10 others. No “official source stenography” and no ranting columnists; the blogosphere has 184 million of of those. That’s worth paying for.

     In the 21st century, it’s humbling and exalting to be a writer. I know. I write for newspapers, magazines, websites and also publish books. As an author, publishers want a guarantee you have an audience before you sign the contract. No more chasing the audience after the pub date, but establish the need before you deliver a printed or kindled word. No more agent lunches with the editor and a contract by 3 p.m.

   A similar shift is true in daily journalism. There is no guarantee your content will be read, your audience loyal.  No one needs to come to you for the news that happened yesterday, unless you will offer some fresh, original take, added to  enhanced, engaging alternative storytelling that will seduce readers/viewers/clickers to stay with you from the lead to the last line. The audience is fickle becuase it can be. There is a lot of real garbage out there, but there is a lot of great, evocative narrative journalism. And much of it on sites and from outlets that are not the New York Times.     

It is hubris to think people will pay for the New York Times just because it is the New York Times. New sites, nonprofit enterprises and blogs emerge regularly offering content that is valuable and free.  No matter where you work or post, as a journalist it is worth the effort and energy to produce excellent, authentic, poignant, humanistic and compelling journalism that informs, edifies and exposes.

However the business model shakes out, it is always the goal to expend the talent to deliver stellar journalism. You just can’t expect people will pay for the brand. Just like you can’t expect as an 18-year-old that you will graduate from college and get a job on the national desk of the New York Times. Along with 100 of your closest friends.

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