More advice for a soon-to-be college grad beginning her career in public radio

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We asked for job advice for a newcomer to public radio, and readers jumped in with plenty of tips. Here’s a selection:

Comments on a post on the Public Media “Millennials” Facebook group:

“Where should you start? Wherever will take you! I applied to 30 member stations a year ago when I had finished up my summer internship and just graduated college. Some of the stations were in places I had never even heard of. But what I learned from interning at Michigan Radio and then NPR HQ was that at a member station, you get to be really hands on and learn so many things so quickly. You’ll learn what you like and what you don’t like, and those things will inform you when you apply for your next job. Don’t be picky about middle of nowhere (I wasn’t but somehow still ended up at WHYY) because you’ll learn so much no matter where you go. And you just might find that bigger stations aren’t always better.” — Paige Pfleger, associate producer with WHYY’s The Pulse

CurrentlyCurious_lrgLOGO“You could be in a small market and be in the big leagues. Having worked in small markets and bigger ones, the best stations are the ones that are innovative and have a staff that encourages you to succeed. I am incredibly lucky to be at a station like that now. When you feel you can’t grow anymore or don’t feel inspired, then that job isn’t right for you…regardless of the market size.” — Sean Powers, producer for On Second Thought, Georgia Public Broadcasting

“Big station, small station, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you find an editor who is actually invested in your growth. That’s the difference-maker.” — Brenda Patricia Salinas, a reporter with 60db

“Would add that anyone going into a job should have a list of goals they want to achieve in first 6 months, year, 18 months, etc. Make sure the place you go helps you achieve those goals. Look for managers who are invested in YOUR growth as well as the station’s. This should be part of the interview process- ask how will I grow here? But it’s on the interviewee to know exactly what they want going in. If someone told me ‘working in a big market’ is the thing they wanted, I’d dig deeper and find out what that really means to them (more resources??, etc)” — Kristen Muller, managing director for innovation, programming and content at KPCC in Pasadena, Calif.

“What this reader’s question seems to infer is that stations in the “middle of nowhere” can’t or aren’t doing amazing innovative work, and as someone in the middle of nowhere Ohio at a small station that does amazing innovative work, that makes me a bit a sad.” — Juliet Fromholt, webmaster/deputy operations director at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio

“whoa! define “middle of nowhere.” I moved from NYC to Rochester, NY for my first job out of college (and I’m still here 2 years later). Rochester is a smaller-ish city, especially by comparison, but there is no shortage of news to cover and stories to tell. also, what is this “big-league public radio game” you speak of? at the risk of saying what’s been said a million times over, podcasting has given smaller stations a platform to reach national audiences. it’s not about who you’re with so much as what you’re making.” — Veronica Volk, Great Lakes reporter/producer with WXXI in Rochester, N.Y.

“Starting in small-market stations can be great in plenty of ways. Most of the time, you learn new perspectives on any number of issues affecting rural areas that fosters multidimensional thinking. You’re also given many more opportunities to write, report, edit and produce stories or projects that would generally be shot down anywhere else. That being said, you have to be good at working independently and potentially forego professional development and training options that bigger stations can help pay for.” — James Dawson, state political reporter with Delaware Public Media

A few tweets…

a comment on our first post

… Coming out of my last internship, I identified at least four pathways to getting better:

1) Report at a small member station.

2) Produce at a big member station or network or podcast or show.

3) Freelance.

4) Make your own thing.

… 2) Produce at a big member station or network or podcast or show.

… Producing a daily talk show at KCRW gave me BEAST-MODE skills that I now use every day as a reporter. We would pitch stories at 8:00 am, get assignments by 9:00, then research, pre-interview and book guests, write a script, coach the host, and be ready to live-direct the segment on-air at noon. Every day. I used to be shy about calling people on the phone. Now, if you picked three random words out of the dictionary, I could have a panel of experts ready in two hours to debate their interplay. I also learned to play to a guest’s strengths, and to see a conversation from 10,000 feet and give it structure and arc and forward motion—all on the fly.

Producing at the fancy narrative shows will teach you plenty too. Planet Money taught me some of my favorite lessons. Sure, I logged a bunch of tape, and it was tedious. It was also a master class in conducting interviews. Doing pitches and group edits and field recording and just plain hanging out with the best reporters in the business blew my mind. I have pages of notes that I still refer to regularly. Always take the opportunity to train with people who are better than you.

Plus, plenty of producers get their own great stories on the air at Gimlet and Planet Money and the like—the blurry line I mentioned. Taking a “producer” job is a great way to get into rooms where you couldn’t expect to be a “reporter” right away, and to then pick up reporting as you go…”

— Ryan Kailath, coastal reporter for WWNO in New Orleans

… and “A Letter to Eliza” by consultant Fred Jacobs

First of all, there is no “right” (or “wrong”) answer here…

That’s why to reduce your question to a “small market vs. big market” question fails to take into account perhaps the most important variable in the mix: people. Rather than look at how one circumstance has advantages over the other due to market size, maybe the more important variable is sizing up the person or team you’ll be reporting to and working with. What are they about? Are they listening to you and your career ideas? Are they giving you indicators that you’ll learn a ton from smart staffers, but also be in a position to test out your skills?

… Sometimes we tend to be overly analytical about our plans, leading us down a path that seems logical, but that somehow fails to satisfy and deliver. And then there are other times where a hunch about a boss or a station can pay off in a big way.

… Developing good instincts is one of the best skills you can acquire.  You won’t get them all right, of course, but some of the most successful people in both commercial and public radio will tell you that it often comes down to making a good call, crossing your fingers, and then making the best of it.

So, in other words, trust your gut.

Submit your own question to Currently Curious in the form below. It could be investigated in a future story.

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