Young, Successful Journalists Tell ONA Sleep is Overrated

Lauren Rabaino and Sam Sanders field questions after their panel. Photo by Joe Grimm
By Joe Grimm

“Workin’ It,” a panel at the Online News Association’s 2011 conference, put four young journalists front and center to talk about how they landed jobs that make them the envy of their generation of journalists.

Here’s how they responded to two of the questions put to them by Douglas Mitchell, moderator of the Sept. 22 panel.

Mitchell: “What do you think was the key thing to get you the job you have now?”

Juana Summers

Juana Summers

Juana Summers, national political reporter, Politico: “I am a really big nerd. I live, sleep and breathe politics.” She joked that this did not help with her grades at the University of Missouri, but it helped her get the experience valued by Politico, which wants people who are “intensely interested in politics.” Summers was a Chips Quinn intern and worked at the Austin American-Statesman in the summer of 2009.

Sam Sanders, assistant producer at NPR’s national desk: “I think, as young people, a lot of us will make friends with people our own age who like the things we like, but a lot of times the people we meet are not in a position to help us.

“As young people, we have to not be intimidated by people who are older than us and senior to us.”

Every time he got a job, Sanders said, it was because someone who was senior to him in another company called one of his older professional friends or mentors.

Lauren Rabaino, associate producer, The Seattle Times: “Being willing to take on a ton of side projects … and being able to go without sleep,” launched her career. Rabaino proudly tells people that she zipped through college in 2.5 years and told the ONA audience that her last semester of college included at least 12 more credits than she was supposed to take and lots of side work.

“Not worrying about losing sleep for a few months or a year” helped her succeed, she said.

Andy Boyle

Andy Boyle

Andy Boyle, newsroom web developer for The Boston Globe and “I would spend Friday and Saturday not at home dorking out and building stuff.” Staying home instead of socializing “helped me build stuff and build skills. You can still go out and have a good time with your friends, but every once in a while you have to stay home to maintain your skill set and learn new stuff.

“If a boss knows you can teach yourself something, they’re going to love that.”

Mitchell: “What is your biggest fear now professionally?”

Boyle: “Not having managerial support in doing what you were hired to do, especially in developing new technologies. My big fear is the fear of complacency.”

Rabaino: “I’m afraid of falling behind. It is really easy to fall into the group think and the habits that are traditionally embedded in newsrooms.”

Sanders: “I’m worried about being typecast.” When Sanders blogged and wrote opinion columns for his college paper, he was worried about being seen as an opinion writer. He worried that coming from a newspaper would keep him from working in radio. And when he worked in radio, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to work on the web. Now that he is on the web, his goals are “to learn video and to code seriously.”

Summers: “Burning out. I worry that, after 2012, there is always 2016 and there is always something else. I wonder when the not sleeping will catch up with me.”

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at since 1996. Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.