What I learned from Ann Friedman while she was at Mizzou

I got to meet Ann Friedman this week. It was great. For those of you who don’t know, Ann Friedman is a freelance journalist, podcast host, pie-chart maker and also sends out a great weekly newsletter. I was familiar with Friedman from her podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, that she co-hosts with her friend, Aminatou Sow. I’ve listened to the podcast for about a year now and was beyond excited when I heard that the Mizzou chapter of the Online News Association was bringing her to campus.

While here, she spoke in one of my classes and gave a talk about her journey from a staff editor to a freelance writer who has built her own brand, so to speak. Her podcast is great, but the focus is not journalism, so it was really wonderful to hear about her as a journalist, especially as one who has graduated from the school I am now attending. She offered advice about starting out in the industry, which is a prospect that I know gives me anxiety at least once a day.

Friedman’s perspective is realistic. The first step to her becoming a freelance writer was getting fired from her job as the editor of a magazine, and she was honest about that. She said that everything would turn out alright after we graduate, but we’re also going to get fired at some point. Our first job isn’t going to be glamorous and likely won’t be exactly what we wanted. We’re going to have to take on stories that we don’t find interesting in the beginning of our careers. But her message was that we can build on all of that.

One way to build on it, Friedman said, is through building our own brand. A collection of things or issues that editors come to associate with you and make it so they think of you when a story about a specific issue comes in. One of the important ways of doing that is to have a voice, to commentate on issues and to let your personality come through in side-projects.

That goes against everything the J-School has taught me so far.

Objectivity might be the holy grail of journalism. According to my teachers here at Mizzou, it’s definitely up there in the most important qualities of a journalist. And as a news reporting major who would like to work for newspapers, that’s especially important for me. So how does building my own brand fit into that? How do I have a voice and comment on issues when I’m supposed to be objective? There seems to be a very fine line of having a personality and being objective in journalism, and I’m definitely beginning to see how straddling that line will be difficult.

Fortunately, I had the (amazing) opportunity to introduce myself to Friedman after the Masterclass she held this morning for a small group of students, and she gave me some advice. I haven’t really broken into the field of journalism yet. I don’t yet have a vast network of connections within the journalism industry. I don’t know what prospective editors will be looking for when they consider whether or not to hire me. So until I have all those things and have established myself in my career, Friedman recommends that I hold off on building my own brand, to save my commentary for friends and family and be objective in public. Once I have a network and know what is expected of me, I can begin to comment on issues I believe in without risking my future career.


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