Career Day: Working media professionals discuss Journalism as a "cool career"

The day started fast on Thursday morning, inside the spacious walls of room 117 in The Letters and Sciences Building, for the "Cool Careers Speakers Forum," which was hosted by Journalism Professor Saul Rubin and moderated by Career Services Department representative Cristina Garcia. Students were seated, papers were passed out, introductions were made, and the proceedings began. The panelists included, Alice Short, Features Editor for The Los Angeles Times, Damien Newton, Executive Director LA Street Blog, Nancy Solari, host of “Living Full Out”, a national radio show, and Robert Meeks, a video and multimedia journalist for The Los Angeles Times.

The first question that was about the panelists educational background and their initial pathway into the media business.

Solari, who is legally blind and has enjoyed careers in television journalism, the music industry, and real estate, mentioned that she completed eight internships while attending the University of Oregon, including a high powered internship with Good Morning America which resulted in a job. She was quick to mention that communications is a very competitive business and that internships are key for building connections. She mentioned that the key to obtaining a great internship is not be intimidated by the process and to believe that you can obtain one.

Short, from the LA Times, started her career early when she reported her first story in the 4th grade. She grew up in a household of news junkies and seems destined to have become a journalist. She relayed a story about joining The Daily Bruin, as a young college student at UCLA, and how she persisted in an unwelcoming environment by continually showing up and turning in stories, while others got frustrated and dropped out. Apparently it was a good formula because she later became the Editor and Chief and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

Newton, LA Street Blog, is an accidental journalist. His background is in public advocacy and he began his career as an environmental lobbyist in Washington D.C. shortly after 9/11 in what was a very turbulent period on Capitol Hill. He mentioned that he sometimes navigated his way through protesters by telling them that he was an environmental lobbyist and not a war racketeer.

Meeks, Video Journalist for the LA Times, was once a community college student. He got into journalism because the school didn’t have a film department. His mentor at the campus newspaper gave him this valued advice, 1) Write well. 2) Get it in on Time. 3) Be Accurate. She also mentioned that if he ever had to sacrifice any of these sacred ingredients it should be writing well, he said with a laugh.

Much of the conversation was focused on the current state of journalism and the difficulties and constraints that exist in the current marketplace. In her opening remarks, Short said that journalism has become an “All News all of the Time” business with little if any break from the constant tension of having to deliver in a world where you can never get up early enough. “I’m up at 5:30 in the morning and the first thing I’m thinking about is the news cycle," she said. She attributes this to the current age of global media where stories are reported as they happen and competition exists to get information posted online first. She was also very candid about the difficulties of the online business model saying that there is a lot of data and initiatives but also the acceptance that they haven’t really figured out how to make it more profitable.

The LA Street Blog is a local non-profit, which combines journalism with public activism, so Newton isn’t under the same pressure to deliver the news cycle, but he indicated that it is also no cakewalk. “Sometimes I get tired of being the scrappy underdog.” He said that after doing it for eight years he sometimes wonders if the pastures wouldn’t be greener writing for Hollywood.

There was a consensus that one of the real metrics for success was competence and dedication to the craft of writing. Newton said that he was shocked to see how often he received resumes and cover letters that were poorly constructed and filled with inaccuracies. “It’s really important to write good clear sentences,” he said. He also mentioned that there are no small stories and that the people we’re covering are important and that they care that we get it right.

Short relayed a story about a young female journalist she seemed impressed by who had completed an internship at The Baltimore Sun telling her that her credentials would only take her so far. “It doesn’t matter how great your skills are or where you’ve worked, people want to know what you can do," she said.

Meeks stated that one of the most essential skills that a journalist must have is the ability to reason and think critically. “I’m always thinking about how to interpret things visually and how those interpretations can be constructed into visual stories," he said. He also talked about having to make on the spot decisions like when he requested cell phone video from a friend who was traveling through Asia for a breaking political story in Myanmar Province.

Newton said that he felt compelled to mention some of the awards that he’s received from the LA Press Club and The LA Weekly in his introduction not because he’s an egomaniac but to illustrate his commitment to quality reporting in a forum which also includes interpretation and opinion. “The difference between us and propaganda is that we get the facts straight," he said.

Panelists seem to indicate that the ultimate ingredient for success might be passion. Short said in her introductory remarks that despite the constant pressure one of the rewards was getting to spend her time with some of the smartest and most engaged people in the world, and that she couldn’t think of another job where she could engage with so many people that knew so much about various fields of knowledge.

Meeks talked about his decision to leave the O.C. Register, where he began his career as a print journalist, to go back to school at Cal State Long Beach to study multimedia production at age 35, at a time where there wasn’t even any official curriculum on the subject. He later served a three month unpaid internship at The Long Beach Press Telegram where he convinced the editorial department to create a position and hire him on full time. One of his keys for success was the ability to over deliver. In most of her remarks, Solari mentioned something that had to do with the power of positive thinking mentioning that it was important to follow your instincts.

Newton talked about opportunity and said that it’s important to be ready when it knocks. He alluded to the tragic shooting that took place on campus on June 7th, 2013 when armed gunman John Zawarhi took the the lives of four people just one week before graduation. He mentioned that some of the best reporting that was done on the story nationally came from staff members of The Corsair. The consensus was that the business is tough and that it’s hard to earn anything much more than a modest living but that if you really love reporting and telling stories that it’s also possible and that opportunities do arise and that the greatest reward in the business will never be money but in the satisfaction that occurs when a job is well done.