Being in a newsroom teaches you how to be a reporter. But it takes a supportive and encouraging network of peers, colleagues, sponsors, and mentors to help you navigate the industry.
The sixth and final webinar in Quartz’s business journalism series this year focused on career building. Quartz’s seminars are geared towards early-career reporters and editors, and focus on the fundamentals of business journalism, how the industry is changing, and how to make the field more accessible to both journalists and audiences.
Panelists Stephen Wisnefski, an assistant managing editor of talent at the Wall Street Journal; Josée Rose, executive editor at Insider; and Emma Carew Grovum, founder of Kimbap Media shared their thoughts in a session moderated by Jackie Bischof, Quartz’s Talent Lab editor.
“Your first internship, or journalism school, will teach you the value of a nut graph but not necessarily the value of networking,” Bischof said. Here are the panelists’ thoughts on how to build and nurture those relationships.
How do you build a career network?
The first step is finding a work friend, peer, spouse, or someone you admire to mentor or coach you early in your career, Carew Grovum explained. It could be as simple as saying, “I saw you at this webinar, I thought what you had to say was really interesting, do you mind if we keep in touch?” Or you could follow up on meeting a recruiter at a job fair by sending your clips and asking for feedback. It’s about the constant follow-up—the same approach you would use to build your source list, said Carew Grovum, who is also the co-author of the OpenNews column Sincerely, Leaders of Color.
And if a person is too busy, don’t sweat it. “If you get shot down by a potential mentor or colleague, it’s not the end of the world,” she said. Don’t “fixate on the person, but on your goals and where you want to go next.”
How has the journalism job market changed?
Journalism has a reputation of being a place where you need connections to gain entry, or to succeed and move up the ladder. Bischof asked Stephen Wisnefski, who has had a long and distinguished career at Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, if he thinks that has changed.
While the fundamentals are still required, the universe of skills has changed, Wisnefski said. Over the past few years, the Journal has taken steps to hire more people that can go beyond traditional reporting, writing, and editing roles, and work with audio, video, graphics, and live journalism. The newsroom is essentially looking to hire people who can engage audiences in new ways and create communities around the content.
“Our understanding of what’s required to serve our audiences and our digital practices have evolved quite a bit,” Wisnefski said. “What I’m looking for is people who are smart, capable, [and] agreeable.”
How do you know what skillset to pursue?
That’s a potentially overwhelming array of careers to explore, Bischof noted. Whereas journalists used to only have to decide if they wanted to work in print, broadcast, or digital, there are now a ton of avenues to pursue in one sector and even one publication.
A mentor will help you see things in more expansive ways. You might have an idea out of journalism school of the type of reporter you’d like to be, but the interim steps you take might look quite different. Mentors can help you be open to different pathways, while sponsors within your company can identify and even connect you with those opportunities.
Insider’s Joseé Rose started out working on pagination at the Wall Street Journal. She told her boss that she wanted to learn more about what was being laid out on the pages; eventually that helped her transition to the Dow Jones newswire. She tries to keep in touch with people that she’s met at previous jobs. “Always make sure the bridge is there, because you never know how you’re going to connect or cross later,” she said.
What is your advice in terms of focusing versus getting as many skills as quickly as possible?
It’s important to slow down and master the things you are hired to do, advised Rose. She recalled worrying that she would be passed over if she didn’t learn how to do everything when she was younger. Instead, she counsels patience: In the first quarter, you’re going to mess up, the second quarter, you’re going to get it, in the third quarter, you’re going to really feel confident—so just keep that timeline in mind. “When you feel really confident, you can start asking to try new things and people will allow that,” she said.
“The desire to do more is a great thing, but you really have to master what you’re hired to do, and once you show that mastery, people will trust that you can take on a new challenge,” added Wisnefski. Knock out what you’re asked to do, and at some point you will get the stretch assignment you want, he said.
Crovum added that smaller newsrooms offer the opportunity to raise your hand and acquire skills and experience in a range of areas quickly. This is particularly true for people who come with solutions instead of complaints. “The ability to solve problems is always going to serve you in this industry no matter what kind of role you’re seeking,” she said.
Over time, you will be put in touch with other people. Keep a list of those names, and in three to six months, when you have the right foundation, then explore branching out a little bit, Rose said.
What should I do to stay competitive?
Work on sourcing and extracting exclusive information. Know your topic inside and out, and marry that expertise on subject matter to get the right info you need. People can move from one beat to another if they’re able to source, said Wisnefski.
Rose agreed: When the time is right, and if you’re ready to transfer to a new opportunity, people will be looking at your ability to source and write. You can easily apply these types of transferable skills to the role you’re aspiring to.
Hiring managers are looking for an array of experiences, educational backgrounds, and ethnic backgrounds—each of which can bring a refreshing perspective to a role, and which you can highlight in an interview. “There’s room for people to tailor their story in a way that is legitimate and can be compelling to the hiring manager,” said Wisnefski.
The cover letter is also a great place to tell the story that your resume doesn’t, Carew Grovum advised.
Rose added that she tried to keep questions open-ended when she is hiring, as she’s more interested in knowing how a candidate thinks.
Keeping journalism networks open
One of the biggest ways journalists can insure that the industry doesn’t remain a closed loop is to intentionally let people in by offering advice or making connections. If you’re at a point of your career where you feel good about where you are and want to give back, consider putting a couple hours of week on your calendar to chat with people, Carew Grovum said.
“The number one thing we can all be doing is just be available,” she said. “Where are the gaps we see in our industry and in our hiring, and how do we fill them? Saying, ‘I done this and let me walk you through it.’” Rose said she has created an open door policy for people at Insider, and also reached out for chats, so people feel comfortable with her.
Opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship, and career development support will manifest in different ways over the course of a journalist’s career, Bischof said. Sometimes they’re regular and ongoing, and sometimes they’re contained within five minutes of advice. Journalists can do a lot for the industry by extending a hand to others.
Catch up on previous webinars in this series here. Have ideas for a future discussion? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.