Four alumni returned to the University on Tuesday, Nov. 18, to discuss the changing face of new media journalism. Jillian Weinberger ’07, Eric Lach ’08, Gianna Palmer ’10, and Zach Schonfeld ’13 fielded questions from the audience about their professional experiences.
Professor of English and Chair of the English Department Sean McCann, who served as the moderator for the panel, stated that the English Department hosted the event to help students interested in the field learn how the industry is changing.
“My colleagues and I have been aware for some time that many Wesleyan alumni have pursued successful careers in traditional print journalism, but also in digital media and public radio,” McCann wrote in an email to The Argus. “We wanted current Wesleyan students to have a chance to hear about what it is like to work in the changing profession of journalism and to learn from accomplished young veterans of the business what kind of skills and strategies are needed to succeed in it.”
Weinberger, a producer for the nationally broadcasted Center for Investigative Reporting radio show “Reveal” and WNYC’s show “The Takeaway,” discussed her transition from print into the more relaxed environment of radio journalism and her recent move from New York to San Francisco. Lach, previously a reporter at the political web publication Talking Points Memo, currently holds a fact-checking job at The New Yorker. His articles have been published by Salon, The Awl, The Daily, and GlobalPost, among others. A television and radio producer for the BBC’s business reporting team, Palmer used to work as a reporter for The New York World. Her work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal online.
Schonfeld, meanwhile, is the former managing editor of Wesleying, and after leaving an editorial fellowship at The Atlantic Wire, he took up a position as a reporter for Newsweek on culture, music, and entertainment. He stressed that new forms of journalism require more practical skills than formal education.
“You don’t need a degree or certificate or formal training to do [new-media journalism],” Schonfeld wrote in an email to The Argus. “It’s not like becoming a lawyer or doctor. If you can write and report and throw facts together, you can be a journalist. I haven’t been to j-school [journalism school], and there’s a decent chance I won’t ever go.”
Schonfeld’s employer, Newsweek, has taken a unique trajectory within the recent industry. After going out of print in 2012, the publication existed only online until IBT Media, which also owns the International Business Times and the Latin Times, bought the company and brought the print magazine back into circulation in the spring of 2014.
Schonfeld commented on the perceived decline of journalism as many publications move away from print.
“There used to be lots of gloomy talk about journalists going extinct, [and] now it seems like there are new sites and new media outlets springing up every week,” Schonfeld wrote. “More and more legacy journalists are making the jump to digital—places like Fusion, Medium, The Marshall Project, BuzzFeed, Vox, etc, etc.”
Schonfeld said that the openness of new media journalism is a mixed blessing for those interested in it, as the number of paid journalist positions has decreased.
“The Internet has broken lots of barriers and made it so much easier to become ‘a writer’ or ‘a journalist’ (though, arguably, it’s made it harder to make a living as a writer or journalist),” Schonfeld wrote.
Simon Korn ’17, host of Argus News Radio (ANR), said he spoke with Weinberger after the panel about her experience building a radio show from scratch.
“Her expertise is particularly relevant to my experience at ANR; even though it’s been around for a few years, there was pretty much a complete staff turnover over the last year and a half, and there’s a lot of room for rebuilding,” Korn wrote in an email to The Argus. “I wanted some guidance in my quest to find out the best way to achieve that.”
Korn added that hearing from University alumni who were successful in the field was encouraging in terms of his own goals.
“Before, in my mind, some abstract form of the post-Wesleyan broadcast journalist had existed, but now I feel like I’ve been shown proof of that conception,” Korn wrote. “It’s reassuring, whether or not journalism ends up being something I want to take further, that Wesleyan graduates actually go on to do these things in the real world.”
Schonfeld stressed that his main advice for aspiring journalists is to begin working in the industry as early as possible.
“I would advise students not to wait until graduation; start writing and pitching now instead,” Schonfeld wrote. “This could mean starting your own blog, or writing for campus media, or looking up editors online and pitching stories/op-eds/blog posts that you’re capable of writing. Figure out what you want to write about and start doing it. Don’t be deterred by rejection.”