A month ago, Lauren Orsini, 24, was in an all too familiar boat: She had a graduate degree in journalism and was searching for a full-time reporting job. She was temping and in her spare time, reporting on stories on her blog, Otaku Journalist. Then she landed a guest blog on Susannah Breslin’s Forbes.com blog, Pink Slipped. Just days after the post was published, Orsini was offered — and accepted — a job as a reporter and graphics specialist at the Daily Dot, a new online news venture.
I want to share Orsini’s story for a couple of reasons. Yes, Orsini was lucky that Breslin picked her pitch from almost 50 submissions. But I think Orsini would have landed on her feet regardless of being featured on Forbes.com. Her personal mantra for journalism is “Be curious. Be honest. Be bold.”
I wanted to know more about what inspired this young journalist. Here’s a truncated and slightly edited version of our interview.
Elana Zak: Why did you decide to apply for the guest blog spot on Breslin’s blog?
Lauren Orsini: I entered Susannah Breslin’s contest for young female journalists after I saw Molly Crabapple, an NYC artist I admire, retweet it. I spent the morning reading Susannah’s Forbes blog, her personal blog, and her twitter, and was inspired to pitch her an article. I was nervous since I didn’t try for a “hard news” pitch and I figured something like that would win. But I think Susannah liked that I reported on what I wanted to even though nobody was telling me to do it or paying me.
EZ: Your post ended up being about how to be a journalist in 2011. Can you talk more about how a journalist should go about making their own opportunities?
LO: It’s harder to make opportunities for yourself as a journalist if you think about it as a second job. You could say journalism is my lifestyle choice. If I didn’t give myself personal reporting projects for my free time, I would feel unfulfilled. And how to find these opportunities? For me, it means looking through the Washington Post Going Out Guide and scanning my Twitter feed for events and communities I care about reporting on.
I think it’s best to choose a reporting topic that interests you and keep building your portfolio whether you are getting paid to or not. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can write up an article and publish it for cheap or for free. If you keep it up, people will take notice of your self-published reporting and you’ll become a legitimate journalist in your own right. Waiting to get employed by a traditional newspaper is not the only way (and not the best way, I’d argue) to be a journalist.
After “How to be a journalist in 2011” ran, I was internet-famous for about two days before my life returned to normal. I got fan mail, hate mail, and two job offers! I was on Boing Boing, which was maybe the highlight of my entire life, thanks to Susannah and Xeni being good friends. My blog enjoyed a 1000% traffic spike for a day. I felt like a celebrity whenever I got on Twitter. Of course, I didn’t have time to get a big head because it was over before I knew it. I wrote a post on my blog, How to be lucky, about that. There have been some longer lasting effects, like getting a job at the Daily Dot, but I’ve learned that in the age of the Internet, you have to have much more than just one big break to stay relevant.
EZ: How did you get your new job at the Daily Dot?
LO: The day after my article ran, I got an email from Owen Thomas titled, “Not sure I agree with you about a lack of journalism jobs.” I had already heard about Owen from my days as a Kotaku (Gawker Media) intern and from reading about him on Penelope Trunk’s blog, so I was definitely interested. We had a phone interview, I gave him my references, and accepted the job on Thursday. The Forbes article didn’t “help” me get a gig with the Daily Dot, it was the major catalyst!
EZ: What advice do you have for other young journalists?
LO: It’s so weird to be answering this question since I think of myself as a young journalist. I just gave some advice to a young journalist on my blog and in an email though. She’s an intern at Kotaku, just like I was last year, and she made a mistake and misjudged her audience, just like I did last year. You can read all about both of us here. My advice to her was to learn from her mistake and to ignore troll comments. And the best way to learn how to do that is in the wake of a big mistake. Now when I get mean comments on my articles or blog, I hardly even notice.
I think my most important advice to young journalists is to be truthful, both to their audience and to their subjects. You have to remain neutral and stick to the facts, even if you’re interviewing really fascinating people. In our age of SEO, it’s tempting to exaggerate facts and titles to get more website hits. But if people find out you’re not an honest journalist, nobody will read your stories again. Dishonesty is a disservice to everyone around you and actually makes your stories worse in the long run. People can call my reporting trivial or weird if they want, but I will never give them a reason to call it fake.