northwestern university

Ten years later, revisited: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school

Nearly four years ago, and ten years removed from college, I embarked on a project to help young journalists in ways I felt I had missed.

I started the “Telling the Story” blog and used one of my first posts to reflect on my college experience. I titled the entry, “Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school”. I spoke of how my time at Northwestern University did not prepare me for the day-to-day realities of TV news, nor did it prevent me from feeling overwhelmed at my first job. It did, however, encourage me to think big, both about and beyond my career, and I have never forgotten.

Of the hundreds of posts I have written, “Ten years later” remains among the most popular.

Now I have unveiled a new project: a book called The Solo Video Journalist. It also aims to assist young storytellers; it does so by providing a how-to guide to the fastest-growing position in our field. Nearly every broadcast journalist who enters the field today must shoot and edit his or her own stories; many embrace that challenge and turn it into an advantage. My book draws upon my experiences, as well as those of eleven other MMJs, to offer foundations and solutions to the unique challenges of the solo life.

I had not connected the book with this post until I was approached about re-publishing “Ten years later” for the web site School Video News, in conjunction with a review of my book.

But as I re-read the post, I see how true it remains — and how much it informs The Solo Video Journalist.

The post notes how no college experience can stop a young professional journalist from feeling overwhelmed. The book takes direct aim at that problem by working to make that life more manageable. Operating as a one-woman or one-man band can be daunting, especially while also adjusting to adulthood and figuring out the rest of one’s life. I want my book to help ease that transition, all while encouraging young journalists to think big about what they can accomplish in this profession.

As for this post, I am now four years removed from writing it — and 14 years removed from attending J-school — and I completely stand by it.

***

When people find out I work as a TV news reporter, they often ask where I went to college.

I tell them: “Northwestern University; the Medill School of Journalism.”

Then they ask: “Did you like it there?”

I tell the truth: “Absolutely.”

Then, assuming we do not start talking about the always-promising Northwestern football team, they usually say something along these lines:

“That’s a great school for journalism. You must have learned a lot there, right?”

I always give the short answer: “Yes.”

But I always wind up thinking later about how the long answer to that question is far more complicated.

This week marks a big anniversary for me. Ten years ago, I finished my last class at Northwestern. I graduated in June 2003, and I started working at my first TV station in July, but I left Northwestern’s lovely Evanston, Ill. campus in March, carrying all the ambition and eagerness expected of an aspiring journalist.

For a long time after I left, I thought mainly about what I had not learned — what I could not possibly have learned in my four years at journalism school.

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The Telling The Story collection: advice for college journalists

We have reached 18 months since I first launched the Telling The Story web site.

Among the many highlights for me has been the opportunity to reach and inspire younger journalists, particularly those in college.

With that in mind, and with most college students heading back to school over the next few weeks, I wanted to use this space this week to offer a collection of posts that have focused most directly on aspiring journalists in college:

Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school: “Maybe I needed ten years to understand the importance of those four years at Medill. For so long I wondered why Northwestern had not better prepared me for the “real world” of journalism. But here’s the thing: the only place to truly learn those “real world” skills is the real world. And like it or not, you learn those skills very quickly when you start your career.

Instead, my professors and leaders at Northwestern focused on teaching what I would not automatically learn as a professional. Through everything mentioned above, they ingrained in me a sense of the tradition and power of journalism. What we do is important. What we do is valued. What we do is a time-honored touchstone of society. These may sound like bromides or motivational ploys, but I believe them to be critical. Journalism is always changing, but journalists must always remember the importance of what we do.” (more…)

Advice from professors: what college journalism students need to know (Part 1)

A few years ago, a colleague of mine retired after nearly four decades in local TV news. He stood up at his retirement and, amidst a tearful salute to friends and family, said the following about his co-workers:

“I will miss you so much. You are caustic, sarcastic, and extremely sharp.”

He meant this all as a compliment, and everyone else in the room seemed to take it that way.

I felt a bit puzzled by it. My colleague, essentially, was honoring us for our cynicism.

Many would argue journalists need to be cynical. We need to question, probe, disbelieve, and distrust in order to investigate and uncover powerful stories.

But, I would argue — and I think my colleague would, too — journalists need to blend that cynicism with idealism.

So often, the latter disappears over time. A journalist in any medium must combat a whole host of soul-crushing negatives: the drying of industry dollars, the demand to do sensational stories, the declining value of nuance, the importance of ratings and eyeballs at almost any cost.

But deep down, one would think, most journalists begin with — and would love to uphold — a certain sense of idealism about what they can accomplish.

That idealism often gets cultivated in college.

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Ten years later: What I learned (and didn’t learn) at J-School

When people find out I work as a TV news reporter, they often ask where I went to college.

I tell them: “Northwestern University; the Medill School of Journalism.”

Then they ask: “Did you like it there?”

I tell the truth: “Absolutely.”

Then, assuming we do not start talking about the always-promising Northwestern football team, they usually say something along these lines:

“That’s a great school for journalism. You must have learned a lot there, right?”

I always give the short answer: “Yes.”

But I always wind up thinking later about how the long answer to that question is far more complicated.

This week marks a big anniversary for me. Ten years ago, I finished my last class at Northwestern. I graduated in June 2003, and I started working at my first TV station in July, but I left Northwestern’s lovely Evanston, Ill. campus in March, carrying all the ambition and eagerness expected of an aspiring journalist.

For a long time after I left, I thought mainly about what I had not learned — what I could not possibly have learned in my four years at journalism school.

(more…)