For as long as I could remember, all I wanted to do for a living was write.
After I finished reading my very first chapter book (kudos to you if you ever read “A Very Special Secret: Angelina’s Diary” by Katharine Holabird), I told myself I would be an author. Now, I do write for a living, but not as an author. Working in journalism means I get to interview people from all walks of life, research and analyze data, package content in a way that is accessible and engaging to all audiences, and write stories that have the potential to make an impact. It’s my dream job, and I have loved every second of it.
However, I am also the first in my family to be a journalist. I grew up in a Filipino household in a predominantly Hispanic and Asian community, where opportunities in journalism were scarce. So, I had to push my way into the media industry, tackling barriers that manifested as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and classism. There were many times I wanted to ask someone in the journalism industry for advice — someone who has a similar background as me and can understand the challenges I’ve faced — but I felt as though I didn’t have anyone I could trust for a long time. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve gained some insights along the way.
Here are five things I wish I had known before working in journalism:
It’s all about who you know and who knows you, not just what you know.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before: when it comes to finding a job, it’s all about who you know, not only what you know. But I think that’s only half-right.
When I was a high school senior committed to majoring in journalism in college, one of my dear mentors corrected me when I first said that maxim. He said, “It’s about who you know and who knows you.” And that has stuck with me ever since.
It’s one thing to have a mentor as you navigate your career. Still, I believe it’s another thing to have that mentor be a fierce, unwavering advocate for you and have the ability to confidently attest to your skills, achievements, and experience. That’s why I’m such a huge proponent of staying close to your mentors, even long after you meet them.
It’s a lot easier said than done, though; we’re all busy, we forget about the people we met at networking events and conferences, and we get carried away with our own lives and jobs. But checking in with your mentors and updating them regularly on your goals and achievements will strengthen your relationship and reassure them that you don’t just talk to them when you need something. Instead, you trust their judgment, respect their viewpoints, and genuinely want to build and keep a connection.
You’re going to be rejected — a lot.
And probably a lot more than what you’re expecting. This is something that I still deal with to this day, and it stings. But in the wise words of Dusty Baker, my friend and former weekend sports anchor at KSBY, all you need is one yes.
I’ll admit that when I was in college, I assumed job hunting after graduation would be a piece of cake. I already had two years of experience producing newscasts and a solid resume, so landing a job after college would be pain-free. Right?
I couldn’t have been any more wrong. I have an email folder of rejections I’ve received so far, and there are nearly 50 messages (and that’s not even counting the companies that never got back to me!). Every time a new rejection email would reach my inbox, I’d hastily drop it in that folder and keep pushing forward. Whether that means applying to more roles, revamping my resume, reaching out to my mentors or former professors, or making more connections on LinkedIn or Twitter, I would find productive and healthy ways to channel my emotions. The most important thing is to keep going. You can take breaks, but keep at it. Hope is never lost, even if you get a hundred rejection emails.
You are more than your job.
One day, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a tweet that made me stop and reflect. It said something to the effect of, “Remember to have a life outside of journalism.” I thought about the hobbies and interests I used to indulge in as a child or teenager that I put on the back burner as an adult — like painting, running, dancing, playing with makeup, and baking — and considered ways I could incorporate them back into my life.
As young professionals, it’s very easy for us to get carried away with our jobs. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course. If you love your career and you want to do it 24/7, that’s awesome! But for many of us, burnout is a real and unhealthy result of overworking, not taking care of our mental health, not getting enough sleep, and not making time for activities that give us joy or add meaning to our lives. So, if that’s you, see if you can reconnect with old hobbies and interests. And better yet, explore your community for ways to do those things with other people.
For instance, I used to be on a dance team in middle school and high school and I loved taking PlyoJam classes at my university’s Rec Center. So once I moved to Oakland, I searched for places that offer dance classes. Eventually, I found a dance and fitness studio filled with friendly, energetic, and supportive people who share the same values and music taste as me, and I’ve stuck with them ever since! Yes, it can be intimidating, especially if you’re new in town or don’t have anyone to accompany you to your first class. But stepping outside of my comfort zone was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself as a Bay Area transplant, and I would recommend it to everyone.
As a woman and/or person of color, you will face some unique challenges that more privileged colleagues may not understand.
This is for all my fellow young women and journalists of color who have experienced (or have yet to experience) discomfort, microaggressions, and outright discrimination from others in the workplace, classroom, or elsewhere. This also applies to people with other marginalized identities, including disability, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, etc.
You may meet colleagues who have a preconceived idea or opinion about you simply based on how you look, the way you speak, the person/people you love, or the beliefs you hold. Never let those people hold power over you and your work. I cannot stress this enough. With the exception of your loved ones, close friends, and mentors, what others think or say about you does not matter and should never dim your light in the newsroom or office.
When other people saw me as “lesser than” because of my age, skin color, etc., I had a tendency to shrink myself to fit their expectations of me. This would manifest itself in several ways: I would avoid speaking up during meetings, laugh whenever offensive jokes would be said around me, cry in the bathroom during my shift, and convince myself that they were right about me. One of the most vivid memories I had while working in TV news was being told by someone I admired that I had to choose between my mental health and my career because it was negatively impacting their decision to hire me. After that conversation, I wept in the break room, only stepping out 30 minutes before the end of my shift to finish my work and get out.
At first, I only told this story to a few people I trusted because I feared how my reputation as a journalist would be affected. I kept telling myself that, perhaps, there was some degree of truth to what that person told me. Maybe I would never build a thick skin to thrive in this industry. Maybe I needed to quit, to pursue a completely different career path than the one I had worked so hard to forge. Maybe they were right.
Now that it’s been some time since that incident, I can retrospectively say that I am so much more resilient, talented, and badass than that person made me feel. I spent countless days and lost many hours of sleep replaying that conversation in my head to try and understand why they would say that to me. I finally realized that they were wrong, and by not hiring me, it was their loss, not mine. Even though it took a lot of therapy and soul-searching to come to that conclusion, I still have to make a conscious effort every day to remind myself that I am an asset in any newsroom and that the right company will give me the time and grace I need to take care of my mental health. Call it foolish optimism, but I’ve always dared to dream big. Like bell hooks once said, “What we cannot imagine cannot come into being.”
You belong in that room.
As an extension to my previous point, know that you are qualified, deserving, and worthy of every opportunity that comes your way. If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. If you’re hesitant to speak up during a meeting, raise your hand with the confidence that your input is valuable. If people think you’re aggressive, keep being assertive. Boldly take up space wherever you go, and surround yourself with people who honor and celebrate your presence. At work, don’t be afraid to say phrases like, “I’m not finished talking,” “That’s inappropriate,” and “No.” Not once do you need to apologize for feeling certain emotions, vocalizing your needs, having boundaries, being in a room, or asking questions.
I will close with a tweet from Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist whose work I deeply admire: “I am from a no-name town in a fly-over state, the daughter of a probation officer and a bus driver, the granddaughter of sharecroppers and an intrepid Black woman named Arlena who had a fourth-grade education but left the feudal South and made it possible for me to be. I’ve been underestimated and dismissed my whole life. I am built for this.”
And so are you.
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