In case you haven’t heard, I toured the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. You might have heard because I’ve been telling everyone who will listen: my parents, co-workers, New York strangers, the man who made my sandwich yesterday. I told my dad this morning, “I think I peaked when I toured the Wall Street Journal. How can my life get better than that?”
He told me life will be even better when I get a job at the Wall Street Journal, to which I agreed. Working at the Wall Street Journal, I learned, would be a dream job. The office is beautiful, the people are interesting and smart, and the job is fast-pased and engaging.
A tour guide took a group of 15 of us from the conference around the floors of the Wall Street Journal. We saw the floor where the reporters write and the separate editor’s floor. The workplace mostly consists of desks where hurried looking workers face two or three computer screens. Almost all of the screens, I noticed as I passed by, were open to financial spreadsheets or the Wall Street Journal front page. TV screens faced all of the employees displaying the breaking news of the day.
What struck me most were the stacks of books everywhere. There were bookshelves on every floor with books about finance, grammar, and travel. It was obvious–being well-informed is necessary when you work for the Wall Street Journal. I took a mental note as we continued on–read more, of everything.
We were lucky to talk for almost an hour with an editor of the Journal. His name was Andrew Lavallee, and he is the Deputy Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal. It was an honor to talk for him for so long. A few tips he gave us that I noted:
- Have a niche. Lavallee’s niche had always been technology writing, so he entered the Wall Street Journal with a good understanding of technology, which became his beat. He said find your niche, whatever you’re most interested in, and pursue it, whether it be environmental writing, educational policy writing, culture writing, etc.
- Read the Journal if you want to work there. He said one of his biggest mistakes was interviewing for the Journal and admitting that he didn’t really read it. Lavallee was amazed he had still gotten the job. He advised: wherever you interview, know their stuff, know the voice they have in their writing, and say you read it all the time.
- Work abroad sometime in your life. Lavallee was the Hong Kong correspondent for the Wall Street Journal for a few years, and he said the experience changed his life. He said it was interesting and grew him as a person to live in another country with a very different culture.
- You don’t need a graduate degree, but it helps. Lavallee got his graduate degree in journalism from Columbia, so I asked him if he thought a graduate degree was necessary for the field of journalism. He said it really wasn’t if you have good journalism connections already, but that graduate school had taught him a lot that he uses in his daily work life.
- There are jobs in the field of journalism. I asked him what he thought about the future of journalism; some people discourage younger people from going into the field because of the changing field. But Lavallee pointed out that there will always be jobs in information consumption, and that information consumption seems to be growing. He said there will be jobs 5 years from now that we can’t predict right now–like how the social media job at the Journal wasn’t a job 5 years previously, but is now one of the biggest jobs there.
- Know your way around a camera and a spreadsheet. Lavallee said to be a good journalist, you should be able to read spreadsheets, because you’re looking at a lot of data in general. He recommended taking an economics or accounting class. He also said it helps to have basic photography skills for when you run out to get a story, and need a picture to accompany it.
- Read. The Wall Street Journal, like I said, has stacks of books on every floor. Lavallee recommended having a good news diet to be a good journalist, but also read books about economics and current events.
- It can help to know other languages. Lavallee said there were many stories he couldn’t do because he didn’t know Spanish or another language. To be a foreign correspondent, you have to know the language of that country to interview there.
I learned so much at the Wall Street Journal, and it was amazing to see inside the iconic company. Hopefully, I will be back someday!