Speaker: "You can't find a more satisfying career"
Reeves Wiedeman is living the dream of so many aspiring journalists: He interviews interesting people to write unique stories for New York magazine while living in Brooklyn and going to the same pizza parlor as Beyonce and Jay-Z.
But Wiedeman didn’t always have the coolest job. The product of Lincoln Prep Junior High and Rockhurst High School wasn’t allowed to sign up for a journalism class at Rockhurst because his mom wanted him to continue to play percussion in the jazz band. And multiple times after that during his career, he was rejected, insulted and struggling to keep his career going.
Still, he kept pushing until his hard work and a stroke of luck started his career rolling.
Wiedeman had four tips for students:
#1 Stop worrying about resume fodder
Wiedeman noted the irony of downplaying awards while speaking at an awards show, but encouraged the students to “just do the work” without a focus on recognition. The joy of the work itself, and the impact the work has on others, can be the reward. As a kid who looked up to Kansas Star Star columnists Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock, Wiedeman badly wanted to be a sports writer. But as he grew up, he found what really interested him was interesting people.
Awards today are not a guarantee or requirement for jobs tomorrow. Likewise, students do not need to get into a top college journalism program. Wiedeman said he was rejected by all of his preferred colleges and ended up at a college with no journalism program at all. He is grateful he was a “big fish in a small pond” because he was able to start writing for the Boston College newspaper nearly immediately and was editor-in-chief by his sophomore year. And while he’s applied for a lot of jobs since then, “no one has asked me for my academic credentials.”
#2 Be Flexible
While Wiedeman has steadily worked as a writer at magazines, one of Wiedeman’s former fact-checking peers at The New Yorker has had a variety of jobs since then: producing podcasts, turning stories into movie scripts, producing a nightly TV show, and now publishing a book. Flexibility has been a necessity in her career.
#3 Get used to rejection
Rejection will constantly happen to journalists. Wiedeman failed to get an internship. He was eventually working 60 hours a week for no pay and living in an aunt’s basement in New Jersey and spending two hours each day on a bus. And even today his ideas get rejected by his bosses.
#4 Get lucky
Finally, Wiedeman admitted that despite all of his hard work, it still took a series of flukes for him to get an interview at The New Yorker magazine. An old friend of his mother’s worked at The New Yorker and stopped by his mom’s store in Brookside.
That got Wiedeman in the door for an interview as a fact-checker, but he still had “many rounds of interviews” before getting the job.
“The unfortunate reality is you’re going to need some dumb luck. There is no secret sauce,” he said.
But those years of work plus the bit of luck has led to being published in Rolling Stone, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Journal and Popular Mechanics, plus others, before his job at New York magazine now. It led to him hanging out with Mike Tyson and his pigeons and taking 7’6” basketball legend Yao Ming to the zoo. He’s talked to bourbon thieves in rural Kentucky, Bieber fans in New Jersey, pot-smoking soccer moms in Colorado, and Kansas City people in New York.
And when the Royals won the World Series in 2015, the sports-loving Kansas City kid was on the field as the team celebrated.
Wiedeman said if you don’t really love journalism, there are plenty of other good jobs that pay well.
“But if you do really love it, you can’t find a more satisfying career.”
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