Career, Lifestyle

Career Pivots: How I Broke Free of the Trappings of My Degree

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

In college, I majored in mass communications with an emphasis on broadcast journalism. From sophomore to senior year, my class put on a daily 30-minute newscast. Taking on the roles of field reporters, anchors, and producers, “working” 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. once a week, we all rotated roles to get the show on the air. 

This curriculum wasn’t taught through hypothetical exercises. We learned by experiencing real-life breaking news and working hands-on. Some days, it was the new traffic roundabout in town. But once in a blue moon, in this small market in Minnesota, it was something serious. 

I’ll never forget the day I was producing the show when divers finally recovered the body of a missing young college student from the Mississippi River. We raced to edit the footage and get the voiceover story on-air at the top of the 5 p.m. With just 15 minutes to spare, we rolled the tape, the only broadcasters with the video, and we broke the story. When you’re a news person, you feel amazing when you make the deadline and do a good job… even with heartwrenching, mindbending, soulshaking subject matter.

At age 21, during my senior year, I held the coveted position of news director. My class and I entered and won a College Emmy Award for Best Newscast. We were shipped out to Los Angeles to accept the award at the Emmy Awards Gala: gown, red carpet, celebrity sightings and all. 

My broadcast future was bright.

After graduation, I started work immediately in Minneapolis, a DMA #15 television market, as a web content producer. The news director told me I was the first person the station had ever hired into a producer position that didn’t have professional experience (an internship or associate role was the standard pre-requisite). I wasn’t on-air — a behind-the-scenes position was the only one anyone could get in a big market — but that was OK. Aside from the non-small market salary, there were other perks. I requested (and received) press passes to attend fave musicians’ concerts and sometimes interview the musicians (hey, remember me, John Legend?). I also attended the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul as a roving web reporter and videographer. 

After about a year and a half in Minneapolis, and also after receiving a Regional Emmy Award with my team, I moved cross-country to work in Phoenix, a DMA #11 newsroom. There, they told me I was the first person they’ve ever made an offer to over-the-phone just based on colleague endorsement. Movin’ on up, as they say — this role came with a 25% salary increase and better weather. I wrote/produced for the website and mobile app and helped launch the station’s social media channels. I eventually pitched and perfected my very own on-air segment, “Facebook Talker of the Day” — where I anchored buzzy, talked-about stories that didn’t fit anywhere else in the newscast and got our Facebook followers “talking.”

Most days were monotonous, but there were some days where I LOVED what I did, where I felt the RUSH, and those were the breaking-news days — and more often than not, those were the heartwrenching-subject-matter days.

I didn’t like how news de-sensitized me. I didn’t like the sensationalism. I didn’t like the ol’ boys’ club and the sexism in the workplace. I didn’t like the crappy hours, the working on holidays, the you’re-not-allowed-to-take-vacation-three-months-of-the-year rule (during sweeps).

I also didn’t like how the newsroom was stuck in the old ways. In 2012, a reporter berated me for “scooping” her when I broke her story on the newsroom’s Twitter handle — she wanted to be the face and name on the story in a couple hours on the 10pm airing. Ain’t hindsight 20-20?!

So I job-hunted. I applied. I interviewed elsewhere. I made it to the final stages of interviews. But each time, the hiring managers wouldn’t take a chance on me.

Thanks to Hollywood’s bogus portrayals of the news industry, news biz skills were, at best, seriously misunderstood, or at worst, outrageously imagined. (“That would NEVER happen” became my running commentary on every movie with a newscast scene.)

And it wasn’t just me. Back then, it was notoriously hard to break out of the news biz. The easiest thing, the route most people take, is to segue into media relations or external communications. I wasn’t really interested in that. I wanted to escape the news industry — I didn’t want to work the other side of the same coin! I wanted to produce content and to dive more deeply into social media, the communications channel of the future. 

Eventually, in 2013, I found the perfect role, or perhaps, the hiring manager found me. This hiring manager was actually looking specifically for writers and former journalists — someone who knew how to weave together words, graphics, videos, and interactive web pages — to tell a story and influence action. This guy was ahead of his time. (Kudos to you, Larry!) That opportunity cascaded into several more perfect roles for me. 

I’m thankful for my years in broadcast. Without them, I wouldn’t thrive under deadline like I do. When it comes to Facebook Lives and my YouTube channel, years of talking on camera have come in really handy. “HTML” and “CMS” are not just buzzwords for my resumé. And as far as I’m concerned, I AM living my degree. Everything I honed in the newsroom has been put to work elsewhere — managing deadlines, attention to detail, excellence, integrity, and truth. And, ain’t it funny how once-fringe skills like video editing and livestreaming — the skills that had no place in traditional marketing — are what employers most covet today?!

Bottom line: I’m very fortunate for all my “career pivots.” I was deliberate about passing on certain jobs and accepting others. I probably didn’t know it at the time, but there was a bigger purpose for me. So my advice to you: Be persistent. Be forward-thinking. Embrace the pivots. Chase what you enjoy and what you’re good at. You’ll end up where you should be.

Comments? Let me know!

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