While the journalistic craft can appear narrow with its heavy focus on writing and producing for the print or broadcast news media, there’s no question that as a college major it helps equip students with a diverse skill set that carries weight in countless careers. As a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism who realizes traditional, hard news journalism isn’t for me, I used to find it difficult to imagine realistic and alternative career paths.
But I don’t feel that way any more.
Last month, during Time4Coffee’s first-ever Caffeinated Career Mini-Summit at the University of Maryland, five journalists— some of whom have worked for a variety of news outlets, in print and broadcast — shared their lessons learned as to how they used their experience on the job to fine-tune important skills that are transferable to a range of professions.
#1) STORYTELLING: Journalism degrees and working as a journalist teach you how to tell compelling stories.
Jon Barrett is a veteran of the magazine journalism world, having worked at Conde Nast, Hearst and Entertainment Weekly after he graduated from Idaho State University with a Mass Communications degree in 1991. Today, Jon is Editor-In-Chief of Bloomberg Cities, a blog owned and operated by a philanthropy, Bloomberg’s Government Innovation program that focuses on public sector progress.
But Jon didn’t advance directly from his magazine journalism career to Bloomberg Cities. In the interim, he dabbled in the corporate communications world as Starcom Mediavest Group’s VP Content Publisher for Global Brand Marketing & Communications and TD Bank’s VP of Content and Digital Platforms.
Of his experience with magazines and communications for PR companies and in the financial services industry with TD Bank, Jon said he used the effective storytelling skills he honed while he was a graduate student getting a master’s in Journalism at Northwestern University.
“My resume isn’t as erratic as it sounds…there are transferable skills I learned in journalism school,” Jon said. “I was a storyteller and editor in each of those places.”
#2) EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS: Journalism training teaches you effective communication skills, which is the baseline for many different careers.
Evan Glass made good use of the skill sets and knowledge he gleaned studying journalism and political science at American University as a political producer at CNN where he spent a dozen years.
Evan landed a job at CNN’s tape library out of college and eventually moved up the corporate ladder into a producing role. Before leaving CNN Evan was a Congressional Producer traveling around the country with CNN’s Dana Bash covering the 2012 presidential campaign.
After his tenure at CNN, Evan broke into the communications and nonprofit worlds before he decided to run for public office. Today instead of covering politics as a journalist, Evan is an elected Councilmember-at-Large for Montgomery County, Maryland where he uses the sense of journalistic ethics he’s developed to represent his constituents. Since he’s been elected, Evan says he asks very pointed questions of public officials to ferret out the truth for his constituents and writes a multimedia newsletter titled “The Glass Gazette.”
“There are a lot of transferable skills from journalism, such as learning how to be silent and let someone answer your question and networking,” Evan said. “I’m a politician who doesn’t think the media is the enemy — I return your phone calls in time if you reach out because it’s about integrity and letting people know you care.”
Although there’s a clear difference between covering politics and working as a politician, Evan said effective communication is foundational in both professions and one of the main reasons he led a successful campaign in 2018.
#3) BRAND BUILDING: Journalism teaches you how to build an effective brand for yourself.
Nicki Mayo, the multimedia journalist behind Nicki Mayo News, LLC, a digital consultant for Crisis magazine and a producer for cable television network TV One, said her journalism career has trained her to develop her own personal brand.
After graduating from Syracuse University, Nicki hopscotched the country working as a local news TV reporter in Baltimore, Johnson City, Tennessee, Sarasota, New York, DC, Buffalo and Philadelphia. She said one of the most valuable lessons she’s picked up along the way is the importance of building your own brand and staying true to it.
“As your career progresses, stations will change and management will change, but your brand needs to stay the same,” Nicki said.
A brand should showcase and highlight your strengths and serve as a consistent reminder of the value you bring to a company, Nicki explained. As part of Nicki’s brand, she lives by the mantra “On Air, On Time, Online.”
#4) CURIOSITY: You can use the curiosity you’ve cultivated as a journalist to inform your business decisions and ask the right questions if you move into the private sector.
Marcus Brauchli, co-founder and a managing partner at North Base Media, an investment firm that builds journalism, media and technology companies in the world’s emerging markets, is the former executive editor of The Washington Post, as well as the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.and former WSJ correspondent in Asia and Europe.
In his current role, Marcus said he finds that he identifies interesting business ventures the same way he’d identify an interesting story or story pitch when he was a journalist.
“Life outside of journalism is like a long, extended reporting trip,” Marcus shared about his career after he left the reporting and editing worlds. “You’re always cultivating knowledge and asking questions.”
#5) HARD WORK & GRIT: Journalism careers demand long hours, hard work and grit to get ahead — qualities that are vital in many different professions.
Aimee Cho, a multimedia journalist for NBC Washington’s Channel 4 TV who graduated from Cornell University in 2016 with a B.A. in English, said journalism teaches young professionals how to work hard and develop grit and drive in order to advance their careers.
As an undergrad, Aimee set her sights on an internship in NBC’s news department. But it wasn’t a straight line to get there. Instead Aimee became a fellow at the Emma Bowen Foundation, which recruits and places minority students into paid internships at the nation’s leading media and technology companies.
With the foundation’s help, Aimee secured three internships at NBC during college: the first in human resources, the second in sales and traffic and the third in news.
Although Aimee was “frustrated at first waiting to get into news,” she said she had a strong understanding of the company’s day-to-day operations by the time she finally secured the news internship due to her previous two summers of exposure.
Aimee also encouraged aspiring student journalists to practice writing and producing stories outside of the classroom. For example, Aimee said during her free time at Cornell she turned around packages for her personal YouTube channel and then emailed journalists she admired to ask for feedback on her work.
If you’re eager to hear more insights from Jon, Evan, Nicki, Marcus and Aimee, tune into the CCS livestream on the Time4CoffeePOD Facebook page!