Switching Careers From Academia To Journalism

Switching Careers From Academia To Journalism

I remember counting down the hours as I sat at my desk thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. I was working a 9-5 job and had it “made”, with a mid-level position and a master’s degree. However, one thing was missing…passion. I had a consistent dialogue in my head that I believe resonates with everyone who switches career paths, “You should be grateful, why leave something that is safe? You worked this hard already, why leave?” This internal dialogue was on top of the worry of how I would pay my bills, being broke once again, and the uncertainty of the unknown if I decided to leave. My job was also slowly becoming toxic due to many reasons, and I was consistently on edge. I had a decision to make: stay somewhere where I was consistently unhappy and try to make it work, or leave and figure it out.

I chose the latter and left, but it was not easy. I remember crying in my car on the way home as I got my last check and a very cold goodbye from my former employer as they asked for my ID card. What was next? I felt like a failure as I “couldn’t tough it out”, yet I also saw the bravery in what I did and chose to see it as something positive. I worked odd jobs like driving for Uber and Lyft and even at a Liquor Store. I always liked Journalism, but thought I couldn’t do it, I was too late to the game at the age of 26. I would be making up for too much lost time and would be competing against “wonderkids” that started publishing newspapers in the 2nd grade. I looked into the options and found out about the Newhouse School in Syracuse.

Being from Los Angeles, it was definitely a stretch given that I was almost 3,000 miles away. I was also taken aback by the prestige of the school — how could I get in? I did not run my high school’s newspaper or intern at ESPN when I was 12. The one thing that gave me the courage to apply was how the application was inclusive and holistic. They wanted people who were different. After emailing back and forth with professors and viewing some of the work students published, I decided to apply. I got in! I was stunned as I reviewed my acceptance letter but was elated to envision a new and bright future.

When I began what we so fondly call Boot Camp I thought to myself, “no worries, you’ve done academic work in the past so you’ll be fine.” Boot Camp was something else. I’ve written 130 page papers in the past but this was even more rigorous. While academia pushes you to the limit to find many solutions and come up with critical thoughts and expound on them, journalism is all about effective communication and simplicity. EVERY WORD MATTERS. This is where I struggled, I was used to writing 20 pages on one subject and was now asked to write on the same topic in three sentences for a 15 second story. As anyone who pursued an advanced degree in Academia can also tell you, I was guilty of using academic language and jargon that would confuse any lay person.

As boot camp carried on I remember feeling like I wasn’t cut out for this, I thought I was a good writer, I thought I was a smart guy, but early on I just felt dumb. However, despite my doubts I carried on. I spoke with my professors and they told me to just keep working and to listen to their feedback, it’s all about simplicity. I tried to unlearn my style of writing and be more simple…that was the wrong approach. I began to utilize my critical perspective to find interesting stories and tell stories in a way that my classmates couldn’t while remaining as simple and concise as possible. If you were a businessperson prior to arriving at Newhouse, who else can write a better story on business than you? If you were a teacher prior to arriving at Newhouse, who else can write a better story on low teacher pay than you? If you were a lawyer prior to arriving at Newhouse, who who else can write a better story on media law issues than you?

Coming from a different background is more of a strength than a weakness, as you have a fresh and outside perspective that others don’t. Yes, it can be challenging to learn something from scratch while a majority of your classmates have had four years, if not more of practice, but Newhouse is able to level the playing field very quickly. I wrote over 15 stories and produced multiple radio newscasts. By the end of boot camp we were all very proficient in what we did. I had doubts whether I could do this, and some classmates of mine who came from different careers outside of journalism felt the same emotions of doubt, uncertainty, and fear, however we stuck together and pushed on.

The last thing I learned is to find a support group and to work with professors and tell them your concerns. I found friends that came from a different background other than journalism and we pushed each other while also giving each other an opportunity to vent when things got tough. The professors at Newhouse want you to succeed, listen to their advice! Lastly remember that you were accepted for a reason. Newhouse is incredibly selective and you got in! You’re different, embrace it, use it to create original stories and add flavor to everything you learn here.

Jose Cuevas Jr