Radio Producer Doug Mitchell Speaks about Careers in Public Media and Beyond

September 30, 2012 | CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

By Erin Horan
Class of 2012

Veteran public radio producer and media consultant Doug Mitchell joined students for two days of career coaching, lectures, and panels. The workshop started off with a talk called “Getting into Position to Start Your Career.”

Mitchell, who developed NPR’s Next Generation Training Project and the online radio program Intern Edition shared his experiences training young professionals. He also introduced students to former interns, who have made the journey from newbie in the newsroom to staff reporters and producers.

“You have to be willing to take a lot of risks,” said Mitchell. “You have to own your own decisions, assess your situation, and your network. There is no magic wand,” he added. Mitchell also emphasized the importance to being active, and building relationships with other professionals in the media industry. “Who do you know, and who do you need to reach out to?” he asked the audience.

One strategy Mitchell recommended was to talk about current projects or stories to potential employers. “Come up with a tag line,” he said. “Talk about the things you can do, the skills you want to invest in, and the ideas that you have.”

The panels featured reporters from national radio programs and publications, such as NPR’S Planet Money, APM’s Marketplace, The Takeaway, Time magazine, and the start-up website Dominion of New York.

The goal of the event was to teach students how to prepare for the changing job market, take advantage of internship opportunities, and build their reputation as solid journalists and dependable employees.

Planet Money Producer and Reporter Zoe Chace started out as an intern at NPR. While there, she decided to “pretend” to be a reporter, specializing in the pop music industry. Chace’s advice to students, “Be the person you want to be. Act like a producer, act like a reporter, know a beat,” she said.

Chace played the part so well, editors eventually began asking her to contribute stories.

Mia Lobel, a radio professor at the CUNY J-school, was impressed with this ambitious approach. “Zoe Chace’s message of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ really resonated with me and my students. There are so many situations in journalism when you have to dive in and think fast – and the first semester students really feel that from the beginning,” she said.

Arwa Gunja, a senior producer at The Takeaway, had a similar message for students: “It’s about becoming indispensible. It’s about becoming really, really versatile, and being able to be the person who people say, if anyone calls out or anyone quits or moves on, you can slide into that spot.”

Joining in on the discussion, Kayla Webley, a Time magazine staff writer, suggested students pitch stories and contribute to web content during their internships.

“I just started pitching stories, and that’s really important. That’s something a lot of our interns don’t do from what I see in our newsroom,” she said. Webley started off as an intern, and now manages the education beat.

Stacey Vanek Smith, a senior reporter at American Public Media’s Marketplace, recalled the challenges she faced when switching positions within the company where she’d been an editor. “You hear a lot of people say well it’s just so hard to become reporter, it’s impossible to become a reporter, and I heard that from my employer, who eventually hired me as a reporter, and it IS hard. It’s a hard jump, because it is hard for them [employers] to find editors and producers,” she said.

Kelly Virella, founder of Dominion of New York, decided to make a fresh start for herself in journalism and become an entrepreneur. “The thrill of going in day after day, it’s very hard, but it’s satisfying,” she said. Her recommendation to students: “Have a sales pitch ready,” before going to a career fair. “Be confident about selling yourself. Who you are, and what you can do, and what you want.”