Editor’s note: below is blog post from Stephon Dingle, who starts grad school at Columbia University this fall. He discusses how he got to the recent NABJ convention and what he learned while he was there. This was also posted on his blog, here. Enjoy!
Pursuing a dream is something I believe everyone should have on their bucket list. The risks that a person takes to go after what they love to do is simply a daily adrenaline rush of satisfaction, geared toward one’s potential success. In pursuit of a dream, you come across so many opportunities.
You also meet so many people who essentially, become a great determining factor of how serious you are or have been about pursuing your dream. I offer my testimony as a form of advice to fellow students and aspiring journalists who want to pursue their dream, and how networking is like working a full-time job.
I was excited about my first package I produced. I was probably more excited to actually be dressed up and in front of a camera, than I was about the actual content, which by the way I felt was decent for my first time. I would gear up for my first NABJ Convention in Philadelphia last summer. I had my resume, my one standup, and was ready to get critiqued, constructively of course.
A recruiter from a media company that will remain unnamed, would sit down with me to critique my one standup I had to show. Before he pressed play to begin the video, I stopped him immediately and gave a disclaimer, “I go to a school that doesn’t have journalism, and this video is from my internship which is my first standup, ever.”
This unnamed man, nodded and said ‘okay’, which I believed was a forewarned agreement. As he watched my video I was smirking, excited and ready to hear what he had to say. The video ended and he said, “That’s it? You have a lot of work to do; you should be producing packages everyday! Do you have a website?! How many other packages do you have?”
I was baffled! I had none of these things. After warning this man of my circumstances, he laid me out! I left the career fair and went back to my room feeling defeated, even disappointed that I wasn’t as prepared, or as good as the other aspiring journalists in the room.
Well, here I sit in New York City, a year later, ready to tell that unnamed man, THANK YOU!
Thank you for helping me realize that:
NETWORKING IS THE ESSENTIAL KEY TO A DREAM!
Attending this year’s convention in New Orleans, I realized how far I truly have come in a year, all motivated by that interaction and feeling of being behind on my journalistic game.
I must say, I felt 10 x’s more confident this year because I met so many great people during my growth of the past several months. The biggest component of this growth is my fellow NABJ students. We are all in pursuit, in different levels, of dreams. I was welcomed into what I believe will be a life long family. I’ve seen them welcome new people into this family with such open arms, and it says a lot when you were the one asking all the questions and then become the one answering them for other fellow NABJ Babies.
That’s what you call networking and mentorship coming full circle. In this past couple months I have had people tell me things I never imagined, such as, I am an inspiration to them! What? Me? I’m just a young man trying to go after something he wants, and doing whatever I can to get there. But nonetheless, I was humbled by these statements.
As you pursue a dream you must realize that you will NEVER get there on your own. It is essentially about who you know and what impression you make. While all the people you meet won’t be your best friend, because they have lives too, and probably don’t want to talk to you 24/7, they become weak ties.
Now you may wonder what that is? Weak Ties are part of the reason why I have accomplished so much in the past year. Weak Ties are those people you don’t talk to everyday, but instead those you have networked well with and left a good impression. According to a book I’m currently reading called, ” The Defining Decade,” by Meg Jay, weak ties will change your life more dramatically than people closest to you. That was all I needed to read to understand how and why I take networking so seriously. I even think networking is somewhat better than having all the money in the world.
What’s cooler than be interconnected organization wide (NABJ), nationwide, and eventually industry-wide(journalism). That is the path I’m on and happy to say it’s going well as opportunities come by the second.
You have to ask yourself:
Is the brand of “ME” on point?
If I weren’t me would I name drop me?
Is my website up to par?
Is my social media appropriate?
How about those business cards?
How do I DREAM the DREAM?
These are seriously only a minimum amount of questions I ask myself, when I look in that mirror. You should do the same and be honest with yourself. Once you do that, then you will be able to go out in this field, which at times I’ve learned is cut throat, especially for African-American journalists, and be able to with stand criticisms and use them as balance points to sharpen your game.
In pursuit of my dream, I can’t elaborate enough how vital networking is. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you what I have accomplished in a year.
I actively volunteered at NABJ events throughout the year which is a great opportunity to get to know your “family.” Knowing my family has led to me being able to meet pioneer journalists, hall of famers to be exact. People in the likes of Gwen Ifill (whose brother is a professor at my undergrad, see how networking works), the hilarious Roland Martin, Soledad O’Brien, Suzanne Malveaux, and even some of the original members of Red Tails.
I also applied to and was accepted to two NABJ sponsored programs that is helping me to DREAM my DREAM. I was a member of the 10th class of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, I networked and got to meet and work with editors and reporters of the New York Times, including the Executive Editor, Jill Abramson. Of course, it was also an extension of another family working with 23 other hard-working student journalists while there.
As Don Hecker, the director of the program stated to us, “Being apart of this family assures us a couch to sleep on across the country.”
The other NABJ sponsored program I was accepted to was their fellowship position at NBC as a part of the Today Show. Need I say more? It’s the TODAY SHOW!
There, I have met Brian Williams, Matt Lauer, Tamron Hall, Joan Rivers, Al Roker, Hoda Kotb, and even Magic Johnson. The list could go on!
I experienced all of this before even stepping foot at the NABJ convention in New Orleans, where I met new students who are in my previous position as a first time convention attendee. I got to see familiar fellow NABJ students who I was so excited to see because of dual growth over the past year. And of course, mentors! The people who have taken me under their wing, and have taken note of my hard work and ambition. These are the people who always put in that honest good word for you and ultimately the people to seek to make proud.
During my time at this year’s convention I met and spoke with, Singer, Marsha Ambrosius (she said I was cute, you know I was pumped), I met and spoke with Spike Lee, who is very down to earth and even inquired about what school I will be attending. Of course, I was eager to tell him, “why yes, I will be attending Columbia University J-School for broadcast journalism.” He nodded, congratulated me and said, “that’s a good school, you must be on the money.”
Was I floored? Hell yea I was, Spike Lee even noticed my pursuit of a dream!? What? More ambitious fuel for the tank.
I say all this to say, I am realizing that when you are serious about your dream and pursue it with such ambition, people notice and you run into figures you never imagined you would run into. People that can change your life in seconds. But to get to that point you must ask one defining question, “have I positioned thy self to receive the blessings that shall come my way? Am I really ready to DREAM the DREAM?”
What will you do from now until next year at the NABJ 2013 Convention in Orlando?
Network. Take a risk. and DREAM.
You got this!
A dreamer, living the dream.