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What Does Being a Journalist Mean?

During interterm, Smith senior Lindsey Rowe was one of 15 students who traveled to New York City for a three-day insiders’ tour of print and broadcast news organizations. Six alumnae working in the journalism field served as hosts, and students met many notable news professionals along the way. When Lindsey returned to campus, NewsSmith asked her to reflect on her experience:

It was the aspiring journalist’s dream: a full-paid three-day stay in the Big Apple to meet staff at The New York Times, Time magazine, CNN, Jane magazine, Reuters America LLC and ABC. I consider myself a city-girl and a writer, so when the Smith College Career Development Office (CDO) offered this opportunity, I put my honors thesis about novelist Thomas Hardy on hold and bought a round-trip ticket to New York City.

The program, called “Get the Scoop! Breaking into Journalism,” was a first for the CDO. They had taken students to New York to meet alumnae before, but not with the themed focus of this journalism excursion. All 15 of us were fully prepped beforehand on business attire, the art of networking and information gathering. We were housed and fed by generous alumnae willing to share their luxury condos and townhouses and accompanied by two of the CDO staff who had organized the trip.

We arrived at The New York Times that first morning looking smart in blazers, button-up shirts, slacks or skirts, and heels, eager to impress. Dinitia Smith ’67 greeted us and escorted us up the elevators and past a wall covered with Sept. 11 photos taken by Times photographers. In the office, some reporters intensely conducted interviews over the phone while other desks were empty, reminding us that much of journalism involves reporting from outside the office. The most beneficial part for all of us was talking with Smith about the realities of a journalistic career. “It’s always the weekends, always the nights. And when you’re not working, you’re always worrying about it,” she said.

Later that afternoon, our next stop, Jane magazine, was completely different. Katy McColl ’99 introduced us to a young, hip and humorous staff dedicated to producing a somewhat offbeat magazine for 20-something, fashionable and street-smart women. New staff members gave us plenty of advice and the senior editor invited us into her office to look at next month’s magazine.

That night as we ate spaghetti in an alumnae’s Brooklyn flat, I noticed that after only one day the group seemed divided. Newspapers and international reporting, with the possibility of broadcast media, excited some of us, while magazines and feature writing attracted others. After reporting for a Seattle newspaper my sophomore summer, I knew I was in the magazine half. I wanted more time to research and write, and a longer word count. Seeing the difference not only in writing but also in atmosphere between the New York newspapers and magazines banished any last doubts about my preference.

The second day, we were crammed full of information at Reuters America, a division of the world’s largest international news and financial information agency. Jennifer Pollock ’94 organized a session on reporting and writing advice, and gave us a tour of the newsroom. Before we left, she snuck us into a Reuters news screening on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For all the glamour that we had observed in the field of journalism thus far, the screening was a sobering experience. Every day, Reuters reporters and photographers embedded in areas of conflict risk their lives, putting together news reports of the chronic violence in the Middle East, sometimes most wrenchingly captured in photos like the ones we saw of the dismembered bodies of victims.

At our last stop at ABC, Kate O’Brian ’80 gave us advice that seemed to apply as much to the danger of international reporting as to the competitive nature of the business. She declared that we should be passionate about what’s going on in the world and that success in a journalism career often depends on “how hungry you are.”

As a group, we gleaned three main pieces of advice from our trip: get experience, be persistent and fuel your work with passion. Dinitia Smith advised us to begin with a small newspaper and freelance on the side. Jane Magazine staff members suggested networking with school alumnae and appealing to staff members for internships. All agreed that a liberal arts education—rich in history, literature, finance, languages and government—was valuable and possibly gave us a step up over communication school graduates. As one Reuters staff member said; “When you’re thrown into a story, you have to know a little bit about everything.”

As a senior with graduation looming ahead, I knew that I had to get going on future plans. Journalism was obviously a tough field—whether you’re risking your life in Israel or trying to break into the competitive world of glossy magazines.

Sitting on the plane home to Seattle, I tried to imagine what my career path would be and where I would end up. I remembered what Dinitia Smith said that first morning: “Many of the people who get here are self-starters, they’re very ambitious.” That sounds like a Smithie, I thought to myself. That sounds like me.

Also an intern for the Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Lindsey Rowe ’06 has found her passion and is doggedly pursuing it. With an English major and a biology minor in hand in May, she’s ready for her next adventure.

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