Oberlin Alums in Journalism: The Grand Informal Q&A/Advice Post

Did you once sit in an Oberlin classroom, perhaps taught by Anne Trubek, and now work in journalism? We, the students of RHET 306: Writing About The Arts, have many questions for you.

How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?

What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

Internships, yes or no?

Should we all move to New York?

What should we be reading?

Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?

Thanks for your responses! You can leave them in a comment below. Or, if you want to write more and/or privately, email Anne at anne.trubek@gmail.com and she’ll share your thoughts with us via email or in class.

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19 thoughts on “Oberlin Alums in Journalism: The Grand Informal Q&A/Advice Post

  1. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?

    My path was from radio (WOBC > CBS News) to TV and finally to print. The print was only possible because I freelanced on top of my radio/TV jobs. There was no J-School involved, and in fact I learned very early on, via the news director at CBS, to see J-School as a waste of time and money. The pitching/hustling needed to be a freelancer is a better, quicker, cheaper education.

    A note on how I got my freelance gigs going: I wrote on spec. I picked a magazine I wanted to work for, wrote a few articles without an assignment (or knowing the editors) and blindly sent the pieces in. Those pieces were not bought, but the editors were impressed by the chutzpah and started assigning me things. Nobody writes on spec; if you do, you’ll stand out.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

    I would have been able to make a career in public radio—which is what I thought I wanted to do—if I had taken the advice a NPR editor gave me: Go to Arizona. Or some other place with a small station where I can learn reporting/producing. At the time, I couldn’t imagine moving somewhere so small and insignificant. But breaking into public radio in New York is impossible unless you have a trust fund and can be an intern for 10 years.

    Internships, yes or no?

    Over the summer and Winter Term, definitely. I don’t know about after school.

    Should we all move to New York?

    If you want to work in magazines, yes. You should move to New York after school, intern or get an assistant job at Conde Nast or Heart or the Times, make a lot of connections, and then, three years into it, leave. Go to Chicago or LA or New Orleans or San Francisco—a city that magazines want to cover. It is shocking how few people in these cities have connections in New York; it’s also shocking how lazy NYC editors are when it comes to finding writers in other cities. To get national assignments in cities other than New York, the personal connection is everything.

    What should we be reading?

    The New York Times Magazine, The Awl, The Hairpin, NYMag.com, Lucky Peach, Vice, Vogue, Atlantic.com

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?

    Yes, good Qs. I think you should also ask yourself: Is the publication I am pitching to a publication that really accepts pitches? So many national magazines do not. For instance, Bon Appetit will never accept a pitch from a freelancer. That’s not an official stance or anything; it’s just the truth. Don’t waste time pitching and pitching magazines like that. Pitch weeklies and websites; eventually the monthlies will notice you.

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  2. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?
    My path was mostly luck; I’ve found that to be true for many, many people. I met an Oberlin alum just months before she was tapped for a big editorship at Conde Nast. She remembered having met me, and hired me to be her assistant. Right place, right time. I’m a big fan of exploring those personal connections – prior to getting that gig, I had a long telephone call with another Oberlin alum in the business. But do it right: be polite, be engaged, be grateful, and be persistent without being a pest. My apprenticeship, so to speak, at Conde Nast, was where I learned how the business works, and who gets things done. When you do get that first job, pay attention, and really listen. It’s worth it. Instead of getting a graduate degree, I listened (snooped) while fetching coffee and filing expense reports. No regrets.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?
    Don’t be afraid to ask questions; don’t be afraid to try things. You’re not going to know everything at 22 and no one expects you to. If you have the right attitude that matters much more than knowing a lot.

    Internships, yes or no?
    If you can afford it. Yes, you may have to swallow your pride and work for nothing, but if you can see yourself get something else out of it, go for it. And if you are an intern: don’t be a know it all, don’t be a drag. Work hard as hell at it, because people notice, and because the business is so small you can end up with the connection that changes everything a few years down the line. I had a subpar intern at a job not long ago (bad attitude, sort of a liar) and I told the ME that I thought she was not equal to the privilege that had been granted to her. Not to be punitive (I know she made no money, and I would have been crabby too) but because I know there were dozens of other outstanding interns out there who would have sold a kidney for that particular gig.

    Should we all move to New York?
    Not at all. At this point, it matters less than ever before, I think. Honestly, you should probably move to Detroit.

    What should we be reading?
    A lot. The Times, the Wall Street Journal, but also the Awl and Jezebel, Arts and Letters Daily but also Vice, the Smithsonian but also Belt. I am deeply, profoundly suspicious of writers who don’t read.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?
    Here’s a random tidbit: write fan letters. Seriously. Joan Didion might not write you back, but you’d be surprised at who does. Don’t gush and be starstruck, but if you liked what some writer had to say in her cover story for Smithsonian, email and tell her. She’ll be thrilled (there is no writer alive who is not so insecure as to secretly crave this) and if you convey your passion and interest thoughtfully you never know what could happen. A few years ago, I emailed this guy who had a piece in the New Yorker that I just loved; he wrote me back and invited me to apply to be his research assistant. Honestly, you never know what can happen.

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  3. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?
    After graduation, I worked for two years as a bookseller at Book Soup in LA. This was a great job! It paid very little, but it left me time to write (fiction), and I met so many interesting people, and read so many books because they recommended them to me. It was at Book Soup that I met fellow coworker Max, who founded the literary website I now write for, The Millions. We were friends and coworkers, and eventually I started writing for the site–I got in long before it became ‘big’ and so I consider myself very lucky! After two years at Book Soup, I got my MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Once I graduated, I cobbled together many part-time jobs: bookselling at Skylight Books in LA, being an SAT tutor, working at a cheese store, and teaching creative writing. I started my own creative writing school, Writing Workshops Los Angeles, where teachers run classes in their homes/apartments. I started without having any idea what I was getting myself into! I highly recommend that career path–all you need to enthusiasm, naivete/ego, and a sense that you have to pay rent but you won’t sell your soul to do so. I published my first novel, California, last July. I still run WWLA, and I still write for The Millions. I have done a few other nonfiction/book review/memoir pieces here and there, and I’d like to do more.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?
    It took me a long time to publish a novel–at least my 21-year-old self would think so! But you know, am happy I didn’t know how much time it would take–I worry that might have dampened my excitement, my hunger to do great things. At the same time, I like to tell younger writers: Don’t worry, just keep at it, work hard, work harder, it’ll happen, eventually. Rejection isn’t as bad as you think.

    Internships, yes or no?
    I interned as a fact checker for The LA Weekly one summer–between my second and third year at Oberlin. I hated it–I found that facts and I just aren’t meant to work together. I realized I didn’t want to work for a newspaper, which was important to learn. Internships during the summer or winter term are great if you can afford it/get a part-time job. After graduation–I guess…if you can make it work, financially. Otherwise, internships make me feel kind of icky. I mean, why is everyone working for free?

    Should we all move to New York?
    God no–unless you want to! Move where you have a good support system, move somewhere you like living. I know people doing really well in medium-sized cities where the rent is cheap and they have the freedom to devote time to making art and doing the work they love. I also know people who love being in New York. LA was great for me right after school–but I’m from there, so that perhaps made its size easier for me. Wherever you go, try to get involved: start a writing group, go to bookstores, go see writers/journalists speak, etc.

    What should we be reading?
    Well, The Millions and my novel California, of course! Kidding, kidding. Writers should be reading, always, and there is so much wonderful work out there–I really don’t know where to start with recommendations. I suggest you read the form you’re interested in writing, be it novels, or long form journalism, the personal essay, and so on.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?
    Extra tip: Stay in touch with the professors that you really connect with. They will be a life-line to you when your career (or the lack thereof) feels stagnant and out of reach, and they can connect you to other alumni, from various graduating classes, that can help you, or whom you can help.

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  4. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?
    Oh, gawwwd, it was long and winding, to say the least. Until the age of ~30 playing in rock bands was my primary priority. I’m not sure how this came up, but working in journalism seemed a good way to make money. I went from fact-checking on a freelance basis to a position at a long-dead trade magazine; when that magazine became a newsletter, I was basically the only person who wasn’t fleeing for another job (see: primary priority) and became its editor, more or less by default, since I was the only person there who would stand for the tiny salary that was paid.

    Eventually i went to a destined-to-fail magazine (Brill’s Content), where I got fired in six weeks, freelanced (badly, sporadically, at times couldn’t pay rent, went deep into debt, etc.), and thru a strange turn of events ended up with a job at a magazine called Advertising Age as a reporter covering the media industry. That allowed me to focus on one beat, for a few years, which was _enormously_ helpful: it taught me how to be a reporter, how to find and form sources, how to see and anticipate how stories develop, and, above all, to write quickly and cleanly under deadline pressure. I went from there to be a columnist at BusinessWeek, sold a book to Viking that’s coming out in May, did a brief stint running editorial projects for Magnum Photos, and am now the executive editor of Inc. magazine.

    If any of this sounds fancy or fast-moving, I am talking about, roughly, a 25-year timeline.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

    I knew absolutely nothing about looking for work, nor what I was going to do, aside from playing in a fucking rock band. Aside from various aspects of how I conducted myself socially while at Oberlin, I wish I had gotten keyed into the ex-Oberlin-ers who were already making a slash in magazines and media in NYC–Jane Pratt, Adam Moss (the current editor of New York magazine). I didn’t even know about them until I graduated. But I had no idea that I wanted to do what I’m doing now, so there was that.

    Internships, yes or no?
    Yes–but primarily during school. Connections get made, and they’re important. if you do a good job as an intern, you get noticed, and people remember. There are interns I’ve met in my 11 months at Inc. that I will remember forever, and try to hire.

    Should we all move to New York?

    There is no city in America that has the density of opportunity in media as New York City. As tattered as many of the big media companies are now (Time Inc., any newspaper, the Village Voice, etc.) you’re still talking about a city that has:

    — three major daily newspapers
    –the headquarters and primary editorial offices of every major magazine company in America: Conde Nast, Time Inc., Hearst, plus tons of indies like Inc/Fast Company, Forbes, New York . . . I could go on, and for a long time.
    — the headquarters or major editorial outposts of many of the major digital-only media companies: Buzzfeed, Vox, Refinery 29, Business Insider, Gawker, Quartz . . . again, I could go on, and for a long time.
    — the digital headquarters of many major broadcast and cable networks.

    No other city in America comes close to having so many opportunities for journalists.

    Yes, it’s expensive as fuck. But being here is, actually, very useful. Incredibly useful. And, for various financial and other reasons, it’s harder to break in here once you’ve set down some roots in another city than you’d think. (This is a complicated thought, but trust me on this.)

    What should we be reading?

    1. Don’t just read. Dear god, don’t just _read._ Us middle aged journalists are counting on you to invent the next kind of media that will keep this whole damn game going, and it won’t be print.
    2. Print stuff: Vice (all platforms), New York (probably the best major magazine out there, in terms of a _magazine_ product–great design and very smart), The Atlantic if you’re wonky, Wired and BusinessWeek and (disclosure alert) Inc. if you have an interest in understanding business. Men’s Health (seriously) if you want to understand how to effectively package information, which is a _hugely_ important skill. Bon Appetit is a fabulously put together magazine. If you are interested in the news at all, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, obvs., are where you should be starting your day.
    3. online stuff: Buzzfeed, Vice. Politico is not something I love–to put it very mildly–but it’s very instructive to see the way they cover politics so obsessively.
    4. Smart TV stuff: Vice, Last Week Tonight, Daily Show . . . this is killing me, I feel like I’m not choosing interesting non obvious choices. I’m very impressed with how Anthony Bourdain made his show into something that’s much smarter and revealing than it needs to be.
    5. Tune up your Twitter feed to follow journalists and media types who constantly curate interesting stuff that wouldn’t otherwise cross your radar. (I have specific information needs, and my feed is tuned towards that, but among my suggestions: David Grann, Kurt Andersen, Felix Salmon.)
    6. I’m sure I’m forgetting tons of stuff, but keep an eye on new/emerging digital entrants.
    7. Hey, did I mention my book? IT HAS OBERLIN CONTENT AND EVERYTHING.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?
    None that I can think of right now, and I’ve got to stop procrastinating, but I’m happy to answer any other q’s that might surface here.

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  5. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?

    My path was a little weird. I decided I wanted to be a journalist totally last minute senior year, after I realized my concentration as playwriting major probably wasn’t a wise financial move. So I decided to go for the second least financially stable profession in the world, journalism. I spent a year in Oberlin after I graduated as a fellow for the Communications Office, where I mostly worked with student writers and pitched stories to journalists. It was a great opportunity to see the media industry (albeit the northeastern Ohio media industry) from the other end, and I’d highly recommend it.

    Then I went to journalism school at NYU, which I would not recommend for a whole mess of reasons (reason #1: money), where I freelanced for a bunch of publications and interned at Salon.com. I got hired at the Daily Dot, where I currently work as an editor (pitch me!), a month before I graduated in December 2013, so I got extremely lucky in that regard. I’ve been working there ever since.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

    SO MUCH. So very, very much. Like, way more than I have space to write here. But probably the main thing was pitching/freelancing/interning while I was still an undergrad, so I could get my name out there. Getting into the media industry as a 20-something in New York without any prior experience is verrrrry difficult. If you’re 100 percent sure this is something you wanna do, you have to get your foot in the door and build up your resume/clips as soon as possible. I cannot stress this enough.

    Internships, yes or no?

    Yes, but I’d strongly advise against taking one that is unpaid when you’re not an undergrad. And even then, I’d suggest researching the publications that will pay you as an intern, and pay you well. I did an unpaid internship while I was in graduate school, and while I learned a lot and met a ton of great people there, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t strongly affect the way I saw/valued myself. (And frankly, it affected whether or not I wanted to work there full-time when I got an offer from them later on down the road.) Regardless of your level of experience, your work is valuable. Your time is valuable. You should be compensated accordingly by interning at places that actually pay you (like my publication!)

    Should we all move to New York?

    You know, I see everyone above is saying no, but I’m inclined to say yes. I know a ton of writers/freelancers who don’t work in NY (especially at my company which lets you work remotely), but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t complain about feeling like they were at a disadvantage. Some huge media platforms have offices in major US cities, but most of the ones you’ll work at at the beginning of your career don’t. They’ll either let you work remotely, or they’ll be in New York. If you have any interest at all in networking or making connections or getting hired someplace, I really do feel like it’s best to start out here.

    What should we be reading?

    Everything. Seriously. If you don’t use something like Digg Reader already, you totally should. I pull it up to look for stories every morning, and it is a godsend. It also has the advantage of introducing you to new publications that you might not be reading already. I work for a startup that covers Internet news, tech, and culture, so the best pubs in that space are Buzzfeed, Fusion, the Verge, Gawker, Vice, NYMag, Business Insider, WaPo, and the Atlantic. In terms of smaller platforms, the NY Observer is fantastic, as is Vocativ. Mic and BroBible are aimed at millennials, and they’re doing some interesting stuff. And of course, the Daily Dot, where I work, is growing super fast and doing really interesting stuff. My publication, and a lot of the other ones I mentioned, are super interesting because they’re combining both longform thinkpieces/investigative pieces and bullshit clickbait. In all honesty, you should be reading both, because dollars to donuts you’ll be writing both at the start of your career.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?

    USE. TWITTER. Omg, one of the reasons why I hated grad school so much was because no one even MENTIONED Twitter and Tumblr the entire time I was there, and it has become absolutely indispensable to my job. Use it, both to promote yourself and to find stories. Learn it. Love it.

    Also, shameless plug: pitch me!! I just started growing out our lifestyle vertical so I’m looking for personal essays and smart reporting on love/sex/dating/food/fashion/LGBT issues. I would LOOOOOVE to have college students (particularly Anne’s college students) writing for me, and we pay pretty well! Ej@thedailydot.com.

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  6. How did I get from King to my current office? My current office is in my attic – which I actually like a lot — but as with many of the responses above, I took a ridiculously inefficient road, to get there, and there were a lot of potholes. I had no thought of going into journalism at Oberlin — I was a philosophy major but spent most of my last year of school in Warner Main, in the dance department, and at WOBC. When I graduated I moved to NYC and got an arts administration job, and worked in theater, first as an administrator and then as a technician for several years, before a) moving to Chicago and then b) taking a continuing ed class in copy editing and landing a job in academic publishing at the University of Chicago.

    Around the same time I started a zine with another Oberlin alum (a zine=like a blog, but on paper?), which in turn led to some haphazard freelancing for the Chicago Reader, the city’s alt-weekly, which in turn led to a nine-month freelance gig doing, basically, rudimentary editing and data entry for their restaurant finder site (again, this was 1998 … before these things were ubiquitous, before Yelp, etc.). That was a boring, seemingly endless job full of mindless drudge work fact-checking addresses, hours of operation, whether or not they still had the octopus salad on the lunch menu, etc. BUT! At the end of it I was rewarded with an entry-level full-time editorial job.

    I stayed at the Reader for 10 years and learned everything I ever needed to know about writing and editing from a bunch of insanely smart and talented people. I left when the paper was sold in 2007 and since then I’ve combined freelance writing with a series of part-time editorial gigs. I worked on the copy desk at the Chicago Tribune for two years, which was instructive in its own way, but also helped clarify that a big daily was not the right place for me. I worked as an associate editor at a trade magazine, which paid well and on time, but wasn’t terribly challenging. And I took Anne Trubek’s “How To Pitch” class last summer which, in turn, led to my current job working with Anne as the editor of Belt. I also co-edit, for no money, the Sunday page of the website The Rumpus, along with my former zine co-editor and Oberlin roommate Zoe Zolbrod.

    I work from home, mostly. I’m sitting on my sofa with my cat right now. It’s sweet.

    What do I wish I had known at commencement? This will sound weird, since it’s not like I went straight to business school or anything, but I wish I had known that I totally did not need to know everything or be good at everything. I wish I had been able to trust myself a bit more to take risks when I was young — in retrospect I was very worried about being able to support myself and succeed in the “real world” and didn’t give myself enough time to just screw around and figure out what I really wanted to do. Lighten up 20somethings!

    Internships? I am somewhat amazed to say that I have never had one. Or been one. With that bias acknowledged, I’ll say what everyone else says: during school sure, afterwards, only if it’s somewhere you are desperate to work. Otherwise, bartend or wait tables and do your own work on your own terms. Seriously. After I left the Reader I got a bartending job and it paid the bills, gave me a social outlet, and freed up my brain to do the creative work that is impossible to do when you are working on deadline 60 hours a week. Best decision I ever made.

    Should I move to New York? Not unless you really, really want to. Or have landed a job at the NYT. I loved living in NY, but when I moved to Chicago my life improved exponentially. In Chicago (or, fill in the blank city that is not NYC) you have room to mess around and experiment without the whole media world breathing down your neck. Outside of New York, people are less defined by their jobs/the culture is more friendly to polymaths. Which, as a writer, you should be.

    What should I read? The NYT. The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Gawker, Vice, the Awl, all those things. Also Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the international page in general. Read books, read essays. Oh, and read Belt. And the Rumpus.

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  7. lotta good ideas here–but a few more thoughts have been kicking around my brainpan, and I won’t be able to get back to editing the backlog of stuff I got until I jot it down herein:

    1. I cannot emphasize this enough: Make a concerted effort to understand the _business_ of media. It will make you far better and far smarter about what you do. In the not-too-distant past, writers/editors prided themselves on not knowing anything about the business–and when the business changed drastically, many of these writers/editors were utterly unprepared (and taken by surprise) when their jobs or workplaces downsized or changed, and couldn’t adapt their skills to fit the new world. Good guides and sources in this regard: Digiday, Recode (especially Peter Kafka), the newsonomics guy, and, above all, the annual detailed report of upcoming media trends that Amy Webb puts out every year.

    2. Especially when you’re starting out, work in an office and around people. Freelancing full-time is horrible and lonely and economically miserable. And you miss out on the exchange of ideas that make you smarter.

    3. Find the one thing that you can write about and be an absolute expert in–no matter how small–and stay on it. You would be shocked how powerful this can be. My career kind of didn’t start until I got serious about it. It is far harder to get noticed as a generalist than as a specialist.

    4. Think about storytelling in all its forms, not just print. Be able to understand that a Buzzfeed post based around GIFs can be an awesome form, as can a 10,000 opus in the New Yorker. Make an effort to understand, for instance, why Vines are a legitimate storytelling tool. Understand exactly what you can convey with very minimal media forms and very maximal media forms.

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  8. I’ll amend my comment above to say that Jon is correct — freelancing full time is horrible and miserable and unsustainable. If you want to be a writer, I stand by my bartending comment: get a day (or night) job that will free up the writing part of your brain to do good work, rather than trying to make a living writing freelance financial services copy or something. If you want to be an editor, take whatever crappy job you can get at a place you respect and learn everything you can from the people who have been there longer than you. They will make you better, and you will eventually move into one of their jobs and give your crappy job to someone else just starting out

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  9. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?

    I was sitting in King roughly nine months ago so my path has been, in a nutshell, short. As an English major, I had been told by the whole world that my love for reading and writing was effectively useless. I did not think that journalism was for me, but then again I did not think that anything was for me at that particular moment. I took Anne’s class and got the chance to learn some hard truths about my writing, tried to fix them, and fell in love with writing in my own voice without the constraints of academia. One of the essays that I wrote for class (a profile of Aaron Dilloway, the owner of Hanson Records in Oberlin) was well-received and Anne suggested that I submit it to her editor at Belt. She accepted it and it was published a few weeks later. Fast forward to a few months later, I was working (for free) for a small press in Philly when that same editor called to say that my piece had been chosen for their Best of Belt Year One Anthology to be published that summer. Serendipitously, Anne and I got back in touch and I have been writing and copyediting for Belt (online and in print) ever since. To pay the bills, I work (not for free anymore) at the same small press coordinating their writers’ workshop and for the Free Library of Philadelphia teaching little people how to read.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

    I wish that I had taken Anne’s class sooner. I say this not to make Anne feel nice (which I hope it does) but also because Anne was the first professor I had that treated me and my work like a pseudo-professional. She knew what she was talking about and she was telling me that my writing was good enough for publication NOW. Not after I graduated, but now. And she is absolutely right – you are all skilled writers, alternative thinkers, and exceptional learners. Of course, there are a million things to learn, but you will learn them through experience. Try things. Pitch places now while you’re not freelancing to pay rent. Graduating college does not stamp you as a full-formed, finished individual.

    Internships, yes or no?

    Yes, but not only in journalism. Intern where you actually would LOVE to give your free time. Because, let’s be honest, interning blows. Working for free doesn’t make anyone feel valued or good. If you’re going to give your free time, give it where you truly believe that it counts. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to intern (over summer and winter-term breaks) for a wide array of great organizations: arts nonprofits, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, publishing houses both big, small, and academic, and the list goes on. My resume is a noncommittal mess. Did those internships help me get hired? No. I left all my internship contacts in New York when I moved to Philly. But they did make me a more informed person in general. While it still felt appropriate, being an intern was a great way to learn about a new field. That being said, I also had to turn down an internship with WHYY NewsWorks Tonight in Philly a few months ago because I could no longer afford to work for free and I felt that the amount of time they were asking for devalued my potential. It goes both ways. When you feel that they don’t advance your career, you don’t need them.

    Should we all move to New York?

    I really appreciate EJ’s honesty above – it’s true, people will want you to be in New York. The media scene there is outrageous, and any entry level job is not going to let you work remotely. But you can be a writer anywhere. I chose Philly over New York because what I wanted to write exists in every American city: amazing people, a growing inequality gap, and revitalization. I think that they key is finding a way to meet people. The awful truth is that there are just more people to meet in New York. I met Anne in Oberlin and it has opened many, many doors for me and I am meeting folks in Philly who will hopefully do that as well. Wherever you end up, go meet somebody. Ask them questions. Send them your writing.

    What should we be reading?

    Oh man. All of it. My staples: Atlantic.com, Vice, GQ (great feature pieces), Wired, New York Mag, A.V. Club, The Guardian, The Rumpus for books (hi Martha!), The Hairpin, The Toast for fun, loads of NPR, and local outlets. Also, I think it’s really important to also read for pleasure: whether your taste is fiction or nonfiction. Not only does it relieve me from the monotony of short writing, it reinvigorates my love for the written word. Also, as uncomfy as it may be, READ TWITTER FOLKS. If for nothing else, Twitter is an amazing research tool. I tweet occasionally (and I should more often), but I mostly use it to follow writers/publications that I admire, keep tabs on the relevancy of certain topics and trends, and research how successful writers network and communicate with each other.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?

    These are great Q’s in my opinion. Kudos! Feel free to email me if you have any other thoughts.

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  10. This is all fantastic information for us students – thanks to all of you for the time spent! Looking forward to following up on some of these ideas, in the mean time my sincerest thanks to you all.

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  11. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! This is helpful, wonderful, specific, and real advice. It’s always good to know that alums are willing to offer advice.

    One request: can more people share thoughts about remote work vs. office work? How can you still feel productive if you are working at home because a publication doesn’t have an office where you live (or any office at all)? How can you still achieve everything that being around others contributes, like Jon said? Same for freelancing, when you’re also working at home. Martha suggested taking another in-person job. Anything else?

    Also, if you do move up the publication’s ladder into an editor position, how did you like it? Did you still have time for writing?

    -Madeline R

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  12. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?

    Walk out of King toward N. Professor, take a left turn onto W. College, stop when you get the student health building. I’m in Suite C.

    But really: my relationship with the media was there all along but I didn’t realize it until recently. At Oberlin, I blogged obsessively, first on my own and then for Oberlin, and photographed a whole lot. I worked for basically anyone who would hire me to photograph something and even contemplated an independent major in photojournalism (it occurred to me that this was an option far too late to actually DO it, but it’s okay – I did a private reading with Geoff Pingree about it anyways). I worked for the Oberlin Review as a photo editor for three semesters, and visited my friends across the Burton basement at the Grape when the layout nights overlapped (every two weeks).

    When I graduated, I began working as the web fellow in the office of communications in a one year position much like EJ (HI EJ! I miss you!), but my role had little direction beyond managing first-person narratives written by current students and alumni for the Oberlin stories project and running and supporting the Oberlin students who wrote for the Oberlin blogs. What I discovered while figuring out what I was supposed to be doing with my time was social media as a form of storytelling and communication, and I was hired to continue listening, sharing, and telling stories on behalf of Oberlin when my one-year position ended.

    Now, I’m a part of our media team, and together we make the most of every single form of media that we can use to tell our stories on our site, and then distribute them accordingly (mostly via social media). A lot of my job still involves working with the Oberlin blogs as well, and I serve as the editor, agent, and supporter of our team of 25 (!) student bloggers as they tell their own developing stories at Oberlin.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?

    I wish I’d known that I was a writer. I did my cinema studies major at Oberlin mainly because I didn’t want to write but it turns out that I was writing all along and that’s the main part of my job now, both at work and as a way to help further my field. If I could go back and do it again, I probably would have made myself write in addition to photograph for the Review, because that kind of partnered media storytelling was a big part of my blog but I never thought about doing it in print as well.

    Internships, yes or no?

    I don’t have strong feelings one way or another because I never did them myself.

    Should we all move to New York?

    If you want to, sure. In my world: probably not. Two things to keep in mind:

    Cities are expensive, and like most students graduating from college right about now, you probably have some student loans to pay off. Working in a place with a low cost of living with a steady salary meant that I finished my student loans less than four years after I graduated and I have a savings account. (Almost unheard of, I know.) I’m in a better place to make decisions about moving and future work because I don’t have outstanding debt, and that’s a huge weight off my mind.

    While the media world is strong in NYC, there is journalism and storytelling happening everywhere. Your network will move around, in between organizations and publications and places, and while it’s good to have a concentration of people in a major city to jumpstart that sort of relationship building, nothing is stopping you from networking locally and making an effort to connect with other professionals in major cities when you visit.

    What should we be reading?

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say read things that aren’t just the news. I read a lot day to day at work, and there’s a lot of stuff out there and not all of it is good. I’ve found more comfort in reading Good Writing, which usually comes with editing and long-form narrative construction. My advice: read more books.

    If you want some reading of good journalism or about the media: The Nib on Medium, Nieman Lab, the NPR Social Media Desk blog, Narrative.ly, and Buzzfeed’s Long Form section are my favorite places to read good things online.

    Also: podcasts! Don’t forget about them! There’s something about the interviewing format of audio journalism and the editing of stories that expand beyond the human voice (sound effects, transitions, etc.) that has made me think a lot more about the written form as well.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?

    I don’t know that I have questions to add but rather, lasting considerations:

    Write even if you’re not working as a journalist. Twitter made me a whole lot better at this because I had to learn how to convey thoughts/ideas/stories in short form. Twitter is not the only place I write: I have multiple blogs (one of which is getting a copy of the answers to these questions – I restructure and rethink my own content all the time), an email newsletter, and I write a lot of processes to help people tell stories better. I’m practicing my writing craft a lot and it makes me that much more flexible to write more in the future.

    Stories aren’t just written words. Think about how media adds to and supports the kinds of stories you want to tell. Ultimately, multimedia makes your stories more digestable wherever your content will be found in the future (read: social media, search engines, etc.) and gives depth to the stories you’re telling.

    Work that network. This comment thread is this sort of network in action and tasked toward one specific set of thoughts, but proactively connecting with Oberlin alums (particularly in the media, but not just) on Twitter has proven really fruitful for me. The Oberlin connection is already there and it’s more likely that these folks will connect with you because of it. Listen to what they’re talking about, ask them smart questions or talk to them about what they’re working on – they’re like your friends and classmates here, but with more life/world in their rearview mirror. It’s watching stories develop in front of your eyes and you have access to the people who are making those stories happen, and that’s a really magical thing.

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  13. How did you get from King to your current office? What was your path?
    First things first, congratulations on taking Anne’s course! She’s a great teacher and a big reason I pursued a career in writing/journalism, etc. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for Anne hearing my insane, harebrained pitch for a fake Time Magazine cover story on the human soul and actually responding “Uh ok, sure, that sounds cool!” In other words, you’re in great, tough, but supportive hands.

    My path from King to The Christian Science Monitor’s headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay is circuitous. After Oberlin I went home to Evanston, Il. to do odd jobs before leaving for Tarazona, Spain to teach English abroad for a year. One of those odd jobs was interning for a tiny local newspaper called the Evanston RoundTable. It was awesome. Real mom-and-pop, shoe-leather-reporting-type shop. I got to do so much so quickly and learned more about my hometown in the three weeks I was there than I learned in 18 years growing up there. If Anne’s class planted in my head the seed of an idea of writing as a profession, that seed sprouted in my brief time at the RoundTable.

    Then I taught English in Spain for a year and traveled, which – to make a long story short – was amazing. Then I came back home and did a bunch of random things before going to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism’s masters program.

    Medill was a year long and pretty cool and then I spent a not-so-pleasant summer back living at home, working at my old job and applying like crazy for journo jobs. The Monitor offered me a paid internship in Boston so I leapt at it. Moved to Boston, dug my friggin heels in and didn’t let go until they hired me. Which they eventually did. Now I write about energy for them and am working on figuring out how in the world to build a sustainable, 21st-century business model for a 100+ year old newspaper.

    What do you wish you knew/had done before Commencement?
    That it’s called “commencement” because, tho it feels very much like an ending, it is only the beginning.

    Internships, yes or no?
    Yes. Especially if they pay, but maybe even if they don’t. And particularly if you’re still in college. It all depends on who you are, what you want, and what the organization is like and what it wants. I believe there are instances where unpaid internships are worth it, so long as you’re actually learning things, getting clips, and walking away with experience and connections. In many cases, that’s an investment that pays dividends later, and may be even more valuable (in the long run) than a paid internship or entry level job where you’re the guy who makes the coffee runs (the catch, here, of course, is that you have to have enough money saved up, etc. if you are to forgo pay). Bottom line: when deciding on an internship just be vigilant about not being taken advantage of and having there be an equal (or at least somewhat equal) transaction. If it’s not money you’re getting, make sure your getting something else that could lead to money in the not-too-distant future.

    Should we all move to New York?
    No. You should move to Cleveland or Chicago or Buffalo or Milwaukee or Detroit or Pittsburgh or really anywhere else. You’ll save money, you’ll find more interesting stories, and more interesting people, and you’ll see places grow and change. The future is bright for the second-tier American city. Everyone is so fed up with New York, LA, etc. – so bloated and expensive and self-obsessed. They’re finding they can build pleasant, fascinating lives elsewhere, and accomplish things that would otherwise get absorbed in the morass of New York. Plus if you stick around the Midwest you can pitch stories for Belt. Or you should move abroad to some cool city and learn things about a new culture and maybe write from there and learn a new language (which will make your writing stronger), etc. etc. I’ve known a lot of people who have moved to New York. I’ve known very few that have gotten much out of the experience personally or professionally more than just the self-deprecating badge of honor that comes with eeking out a life in the world’s most glittery city. But I’m being cynical here. If your heart lies in New York, you should of course go there – or at least give it a shot. For anyone considering this course of action, read Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” (http://essaysspring13.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2013/04/Joan-Didion-Goodbye-to-All-That.pdf) – one of my favorite essays and a piece of writing that makes me both so glad I never lived in NYC, and also deeply jealous of all those that did.

    What should we be reading?
    Harper’s, because it’s consistently the best magazine writing month after month. Belt, because they do great stuff about undercovered areas and are experimenting with interesting, different ways to fund their work (which is hugely important) – plus you have a great connection there. The Point (http://thepointmag.com/), because it’s another cool scrappy midwestern publication doing interesting things (and, full disclosure, because I have an essay about failure in their upcoming issue). David Foster Wallace (whose work I first read in Anne’s class, tho I didn’t really appreciate it at the time), because he was the most human of all writers and a masterful modern essayist. And, most importantly, you should be reading whatever publications you want to write for. And, not just like an issue here or there. If you want to write for a publication, you should know it inside and out and then demonstrate that knowledge when you pitch them.

    Are these good questions or there others we should be asking, and what are those?
    You have asked great questions, but this one is the best. I finish pretty much every interview I do with a variation of this question and it elicits some of the best, most reflective responses. My only advice would be to be skeptical of my – or anyone else’s – answers to these questions. True fact: nobody knows what they’re doing. So everything you hear from people older and seemingly wiser or more experienced than you should be absorbed and contemplated upon but never digested as pure, infallible gospel. Ultimately, you gotta decide your own decisions and figure it out for yourself etc. etc. Feel more than free to ignore any/all/some of what I’ve said above. I wish you nothing but the best and be in touch if you have more questions! dunger4 [at] gmail.com!

    -David Unger

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  14. Thanks all!! It’s been incredibly helpful to read your comments and advice! If you see this and have any thoughts, I’d be curious to know whether you think that there’s a type of pay-the-rent job that pairs especially well with freelancing. Is it best to go as far away from journalism as possible, to leave room for the creative thinking that Martha mentioned? Or is it better to take a low-level job at a publication you’d like to write for?
    I so appreciate that you’ve all taken the time to write these detailed responses. Thanks again.
    -Monica Hunter-Hart (student & impending graduate)

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  15. Dear responders,

    These are such insightful and encouraging responses. Thank you all so much for taking the time to share your insights with us. I will definitely keep your experiences in mind as I begin to navigate my career path.

    All best,
    Vida Weisblum (sophomore)

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