Thursday, October 24, 2013

Behind the scenes of becoming a journalist

by Veronika Kondratieva
Writing for Mass Media student
SAN MARCOS – Robert Kolker, a New York magazine writer, graduated from Columbia University, but his degree didn’t lead him to his dream job. His dedication and passion for writing helped him achieve his goal. 

“You can’t even have journalism or communications major (at Columbia),” Kolker said. “But I was interested in journalism as I worked on the high school newspaper.” 

Photo by Veronika Kondratieva 

As a guest speaker for Texas State Mass Comm Week, Kolker talked about the struggles journalists face on their career path. 

As a college student, Kolker wanted to become an art journalist because hard news didn’t appeal to him. 

“I’d skip the front section of the newspaper and go to the art section,” Kolker said. “I was intimidated by the idea that I would be one member of a pack that follows around politicians. It never seemed to be my speed.”

After he graduated, the country was going through a recession; journalism jobs decreased in demand, Kolker said. Rejected from several writing jobs, Kolker “bounced around a lot of different jobs:” from a secretary for a non-profit group to a helper with planning political fundraising events.

The desire to see his work in print inspired Kolker to move on and pursue his dream. He started freelancing anywhere he could, connecting with journalism and gaining confidence, Kolker said.

Work at a community newspaper on the west side of Manhattan laid Kolker’s career groundwork. It was here, he received the journalism experience that he lacked in Columbia. 

“It’s a great learning opportunity,” Kolker said. “When you are trying to put yourself in a professional situation even if you are not necessarily being compensated for it; there was a thrill.”

Writing for a local newspaper also made Kolker realize that being an accredited writer means being capable to follow strict guidelines. In addition, whether writing for a magazine or television, having newspaper experience makes you a well-rounded writer.

“You demonstrate that you know how to turn something around,” Kolker said. “And how to do it accurately.”

Likewise, from personal experience, Kolker emphasized the importance of being a part of the launch of a magazine. Working 24 hours a day on something brand new improves work ethic and builds stamina, Kolker said.

“You spend a lot of time working,” Kolker said. “But you are getting a great set of muscle trying to get the new product of the ground.”

It took Kolker seven years to find his spot in the industry. Within that time period, he experienced uncertainty and uneasiness about his future as a writer. Dedication to his work brought him to be a full-time contributing editor to New York magazine and a published author of "Lost Girls," a true story about unsolved murders on Long Island.

Some students found Kolker’s speech inspiring.

Electronic media major Tara Pohlmeyer, 19, for instance, learned there is not a set way to become a journalist.

“It’s scary, but comforting at the same time,” Pohlmeyer said. “On one hand, I think ‘What do I do?’ and on the other, I know I’m not doing something wrong.”

For journalism major Jacqueline Lege, 20, Kolker’s sheer determination as a young writer became an ideal example.

“I’m excited to follow the same path,” Lege said. 

To learn more about Mass Comm Week events see their schedule.

Sources Cited:

  • Robert Kolker,
  • Tara Pohlmeyer,
  • Jacqueline Lege,

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