Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Column: What watching ‘The Bold Type’ taught me about being a journalist

December 7, 2018
<p>Alexis Stark stands on a cliff at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. <strong>Photo courtesy of Cameron Hein.&nbsp;</strong></p>

Alexis Stark stands on a cliff at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Cameron Hein. 

When I sat down to write my last article for The State News, I wanted it to be a good one. I personally didn’t feel qualified to turn this into an advice column, as I am still a young writer, learning more about myself and the world everyday. 

Instead, I do what most people do — look to those who “adult” better for advice. One of my favorite T.V. shows on ABC Family (I refuse to acknowledge them as “Freeform”) is “The Bold Type.”  For those who have not seen it, it’s a delightful story that follows three women pursuing their dreams in New York City. 

It sounds like a cookie-cutter fluff show where best friends make it in the big city, somehow managing to live in large apartments while working as waitresses. But “The Bold Type” digs so much deeper — the characters deal with identity, race and sexuality, balancing work and personal life and shattering glass ceilings for women in the professional world. 

When I started working for The State News this past summer, I finished season two. Upon further reflection, it struck me how relatable the show was to real-life journalism. I should have taken notes during my binge-watching session.

I did — and now I present to you five lessons I learned from the women of “The Bold Type.”

Do not be afraid of taking risks — or of failure.

If you’re pursuing journalism as a career path, congratulations! You’ve taken your first risk and should not stop there. Just like when Jane follows her gut, following your passion leads to finding good stories. Some of my best stories at The State News came from me saying yes to things that initially scared me or made me uncomfortable. It feels so cliché to say, but it’s ridiculously true — growth happens when you’re uncomfortable.  

Failure is just as scary, but so healthy.  We spend so much time fearing the unknown that we get comfortable with complacency. Change is terrifying, but it also leads to more opportunities and growth. The second I decided to poke my head out of my turtle shell just a bit further, I watched a world of opportunities for telling stories open up in front of me.

Jobs in journalism are unpredictable.

Journalism is not dead. It will never die because there are always stories to be told and people devoted to listening. Finding stories is not the challenge. Getting someone to pay you to tell stories is the real test of bravery and endurance. 

I’m prepared to be told “no” 1,000 times because I know when I hear a “yes,” it’ll be because I worked for it. In the show, when Scarlet Magazine faced budget cuts, Kat’s position as social media director was safe while Jane and Sutton feared for their security. Uncertainty is scary, but unpredictability can also be exciting. There’s a thrill in not knowing when news is going to break. I think this part scares me the most, as I like to be in control 110 percent of the time. But as I watched the ladies of “The Bold Type” learn, homeostasis is not in a journalist’s vocabulary.   

Check yo’ privilege.

Every story I write represents who I am as a person and a journalist. While you cannot please everybody, a good journalist should do their best to be aware and respectful. Privilege conversations turn a lot of people off, but they are so necessary when dealing with the main subject of journalism — people!  

No matter your race, religion, gender, sexuality or ability, whatever you write is a reflection of your integrity as a journalist. It’s your job to remain unbiased and honest in your work. Sure, it takes more time, effort and social interaction, but it comes down to acknowledging your advantages and disadvantages before putting the pen to paper. Use your voice to tell important stories.      

Career and personal life is a continuous balancing act.

This is a big one. Journalism is turbulent and unpredictable. I’ve learned the hard way that it can be difficult to find time for work, family, friends, a significant other or even yourself.  

I am a self-identified over-achiever. I hate it when a story or project doesn’t get finished. I feel like I let my editors down and I feel like I let myself down. It’s a vicious cycle that really never lets up.  You learn to deal with it, just like Kat did with her girlfriends Adena and Sutton when she realized she was ignoring her own dreams to help others. 

Do what you love, but remember to keep things in perspective. I am only human and as many stories as I want to tell, I can’t tell any if I’m sick, sad or dying. It’s a act that takes a lot of practice. I'm still learning to juggle it.

Never underestimate a female journalist.

I don’t need to bore you with the history of women being told they can’t do a job as well as a man. We all know they do it better (ignore the bias I just told you to avoid). Women are thoughtful and empathetic writers. We are also ambitious, so watch out. “The Bold Type” women don’t let anyone get in their way and constantly empower each other to advocate for themselves. 

As a journalist, respect is always earned, never given. Each reporter has to work to establish a name for themselves. However, once people know your name, you can’t hide behind your byline and hope to go unnoticed.

Editor's note: Alexis Stark is a features reporter for The State News. She graduates from Michigan State in December 2018 and plans to continue to pursue a career in journalism at MLive. 

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