On the record: Alums recall path to success in journalism

Photo by: Sam Pianello.
Photo by: Sam Pianello

2010 was, to put it bluntly, one of the worst years to graduate. The job market was lacking, and prospects were looking grim. Emma Carmichael ’10 joked that she was literally the posterchild for unemployment: A Getty photographer captured Carmichael at Commencement and news sources used the image to accompany their articles about the hopelessness of job opportunities for the recent grads. Since then, Carmichael and her fellow Vassar alums have come a long way. On Friday, April 10, The Miscellany News hosted a panel discussion for five recent graduates who had found careers in different fields of journalism, from print to broadcast to online. The success the panelists have found for themselves made journalism seem like a viable career path even for people like me, who have only hopes for the future.
The room was packed with students and professors alike, hoping to hear words of advice and encouragement as well as insights on how journalism is evolving as a medium. The panelists seemed equally eager to share their experiences getting to where they are now. While a couple of them wrote and edited for The Miscellany News, not all paths to journalism were straight or smooth: Some opted for day jobs right after Vassar, while others went to grad school. And, what’s more, their stories of internships, successes, failures, near-firings, were not, in fact, from that long ago. They could vividly recall what it was like to be fresh out school, just starting out, balancing minimum-wage jobs with freelance writing. Still, even after breaking into journalism one way or another, they still laughed about the mistakes, missteps and particular challenges that come along with careers in writing and editing. But at the end of the day, they agreed, the byline is worth it.
—Julia Cunningham, Assistant Features Editor

Emma Carmichael ’10

Emma Carmichael ‘10 had no initial intentions of going into the field of journalism. She is currently the Editor in Chief at Jezebel, but she started at Vassar as an Urban Studies major, and also worked on The Miscellany News as a sports writer. As she mentioned during the panel, Sports was the way to get short blurbs out, and she wanted to write about the Aikido club and cover her basketball games.  “No one else wanted to cover us at the time. We were really bad,” She explained. She moved up as a Sports writer, columnist, and went on to become a Features editor alongside fellow panelist, Kelly Stout, ‘10.

“At some point my senior year, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and I spent a summer student teaching in the city, and I kind of thought that would be something I would return to when I had a little bit more life experience and confidence,” She said. “I had a chat with a professor, Kiese Laymon, who encouraged me to be selfish in my year after Vassar, to go after what I wanted to do, which was journalism. And I’m really glad I did that.”

Many of the internships she held during her summers did revolve around journalism. “The most interesting article I ever worked on was, my editor at DeadSpin at the time was about to fire me because he thought I wasn’t pulling my weight and he challenged me to go undercover to the Gathering of the Juggalos, which is interesting,” she said. “And I had clown makeup on and I hung out at the Gathering of the Juggalos for 24 hours, and that was a weird one. But also, not out of character for Gawker.”

Jeremy Kaplan ’96

Jeremy Kaplan ‘96 started at Vassar as a double major in English and Psychology, or, as he put it: “Twice the fun!” He came to the panel as the Editor in Chief at Digital Trends, which is a technology lifestyle website. During his time in academia, he was especially impressed with the Stanford Prison Experiment. “Everything about the Stanford Prison Experiment still blows me away -the fact that someone conducted such a test, what it says about human nature, and how little most people know about something that speaks so deeply to who we are as people,” Kaplan wrote in an emailed statement.
From his early stages, however, Kaplan was not as easily impressed with every piece of work that passed in front of him. During his freshmen year, one of his literature professors arranged to bring the New Yorker reporter Jane Kramer in to read from her book The Last Cowboy. “We met Ms. Kramer as part of the class, and she asked me what I thought of her book,” Kramer wrote. “Taken by surprise, I answered honestly: I really didnít like it. She autographed the book for me: ‘I’ll try harder next time.”
One of Kaplan’s biggest mistakes occurred during his time at Ziff Davis, a publisher of PC magazine. One of his larger assignments involved a piece about multi-million dollar printer companies. “It sounds horrible, but it was really big deal,” He said. “The magazine comes out and we start getting these phone calls. And it turns out that the 800 number for Cannonís help line is exactly one digit off from a sex line. So you think we would have checked that, right? But we didn’t. And the worst part was that we reprinted the error in a ‘Best Of’ issue, and it was still a sex line!”

Max Kutner ’11

Max Kutner ‘11 was able to take his work straight from the Vassar Bubble into the real world to get his first Newsweek cover story. Coming in as a freshman, Kutner was the creator of Mads Vassar, the first place students could go to get their regularly updated campus news. As a film major, Kutner spent more of his time behind a camera at Vassar, and didn’t get into written journalism until he went to grad school. The summer of ‘09 was when he became interested in the topic that would become his showpiece.
“Farmer’s markets were becoming more popular, now obviously they’re everywhere, but five or six years ago it was still kind of a new, interesting thing,” he said. “And there was this really wet summer and the recession had just happened, and I thought I wonder how these things all affected farmers? So I just drove out east on Long Island where I’m from, and just spent a couple of days with them and did this documentary.”
He went on to say, “And then, I think, a few months later at Vassar, when I read about this farmerís suicide, which was he killed 52 of his cows before killing himself, which is a really traumatic incident, that story stuck with me.” Death on a Farm, his first Newsweek cover story, Kutner wrote while at Columbia School of Journalism. He went on to write another follow up regarding sex trafficking on farms. “My favorite thing is when I have a story idea and then I go to Google it and no oneís ever done it before, which has happened with a lot of stories,” Kutner mentioned. This is exactly what happened for all of his reporting about farming.

Kelly Stout ’10

Kelly Stout ‘10 never would have guessed it, but writing her senior thesis became an unforgettable experience, and not in a negative way. While at Vassar, she double majored in English and Political Science.

For her thesis, she said in an emailed statement, “I would have punched anyone who said this to me when I was working on it, but the chance to do sustained research and thinking on my senior thesis was an immense gift.” Her time at Vassar was full of intensive writing, between her majors and also her time spent as an editor for the Humor and Satire section and later the Features section of the Misc.

Carmichael was her partner in crime in editing Features. “We were disorganized as hell and often ended up just typing articles directly into InCopy at 3 a.m.,” Stout wrote. “We were so tired by the end of closing night, that we sometimes actually got in [Carmichael]’s car and drove home to the THs.” She went on, “We pretty much always listened to Upgrade U on the four-minute drive home, feeling awesome and so tired that we were basically hallucinating. It’s one of my favorite college memories, and I still listen to that song when a closing night at The New Yorker is getting especially rough.”

Stout was able to transition smoothly into the New Yorker after graduation. As the A-Issue Editor at The New Yorker, Stout oversees the close of the magazine each week. “We have a managing editor who works on long-term planning, and I’m in charge of the short-term,” she wrote.

Each issue has about ten nonfiction pieces, a piece of fiction, a cultural listing section, and the Talk of the Town section. Additionally, there are at least fifteen pieces of art and around sixteen or seventeen cartoons. “There’s an art and a science to making sure all of those fit together to make a coherent whole, and that’s my job.” Stout said.

Jasmine Brown ’10

Jasmine Brown ‘10 only worked for the Misc for half a semester before she had to quit to focus more on her other studies. Not working on the Misc didn’t stop her from having a career in journalism, however. While at Vassar, she was a double major in Drama and American Culture before she moved on after Vassar to become the Producer for ABC News Nightline. She has worked on many stories for 20/20, as well. Nightline, Brown explained, puts out content every single night, ranging from the serious, more in-depth investigative type to the obscure. “So I was shooting a story, a union of a birth mom and a birth daughter, which was actually going to 20/20,” Brown said. “But then my senior producer came to me and was like ‘Hey! We want you to book this pregnant model who doesn’t look pregnant!’ And I was like ‘OK!’ So I sent her an email, went through her agent, booked her, and basically went on an overnight flight to LA.”

She went on to say, “And turned out Good Morning America also wanted this story, so we shot with her working out all day and talking about ‘no! I’m in lingerie and I’m taking this photo and I just look great!’” Laughing, she added, “But I went out to LA, shot it in a day, took a red eye back, and then wound up editing it the entire day and then it went on air and then it was crazy.” She added that the model was so fit that their lawyer wanted them to make sure she was actually pregnant. “He was like, ‘are we positive?’ And I was like ‘yes, we went to the doctors and saw the ultrasound.’”

As far as her advice went, Brown said, “At least for me I find that we have to know a lot of things. One night I could be working on a court case that I know nothing about that will be going on that night, and the next day I could be doing a pregnant model. If you’re intersted in everything, you can be interested in everything.”

 

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