Q&A with Stephanie Yera, communications associate at the NYT

by andybechtel

Stephanie Yera is a communications associate at The New York Times Company. Yera is a 2009 graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. She previously worked as an intern and corporate communications assistant at Dow Jones and Company. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Yera talks about her job duties and journalism education.

Q. Describe your job. What does a communications associate do at The New York Times Company?

A. Every day begins by reading The Times in print and online to see what stories are on deck and which ones are “most viewed” and “most e-mailed” online. Pinning down our most popular news stories determines what newspaper content I’m going to actively pitch to TV and radio producers in an effort to secure interviews for our reporters to discuss their stories on air.

Even without pitching, we get numerous invitations daily from producers for our reporters to appear on their programs, so coordinating interviews is my primary responsibility.

It’s important to be familiar with the paper, its reporters and their beats, because if one reporter on a particular story is unavailable for interviews, I need to try to find another reporter to jump in. If I know The Times is working on an investigative piece or is preparing to break a big story, part of my job is to do advance outreach to producers to reserve air time for reporter interviews and make sure The Times gets credit for the news scoop.

My job also includes copy editing all external communications, writing company press releases and posting to the company’s Twitter feed. In the fall, I’ll be posting to Twitter live from TimesTalks events, part of an ongoing series of celebrity guests interviewed by Times reporters, which I’m especially excited about doing.

Q. You were a student in the news-editorial sequence at UNC-Chapel Hill. How did the skills you learned there help you in your job? What wasn’t taught that should have been?

A. Coming into The Times already knowing how a newsroom works and what kinds of stories make for high interest really helped me find my footing quickly. Because I’m speaking with producers and reporters constantly, I hear industry jargon all the time, and I’m able to keep up despite not having previously worked in a newsroom thanks to my time in the j-school.

The skills I learned in news editing helped me carve out a bigger role for myself in the office because I’m now trusted to copy edit and review corporate communications before they leave our department and to take such precautions as proofreading my Tweet before posting. Volunteering to edit internal communications is how I eventually got to do more writing.

I’m still not a master of the press release, but what helps me write one is the inverted pyramid, the concept I learned my first day in the j-school and which is now second nature when it comes to writing most corporate communications.

News reporting really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but it was a necessary challenge that taught me a lot about taking initiative, networking and being confident in my writing. Networking isn’t something I’m naturally inclined to do, but putting myself out there as a journalist and getting interviews from sources gave me the nudge I needed to be more comfortable with it and, eventually, come to enjoy it.

I would like to see a j-school class devoted entirely to digital journalism that included lessons in basic HTML, Web design, blogging with video and audio, putting your resume online and attracting people to your Web site, Twitter feed, Facebook, etc. Something I wish had been more ingrained in me is the important habit of keeping up with the latest media industry news. Being up to speed on the gadgets, apps, tech startups and media journalists of the moment is critical if you want to stand out and be ahead of the curve of new media.

Q. You were an intern for the American Copy Editors Society. How did that experience help you in the job you have now?

A. As an intern, I was responsible for setting up interviews with copy editing professionals to discuss their jobs and editing expertise and for interviewing and following up with them without an intermediary, which were experiences that directly relate to what I do now.

For some people, picking up the phone and calling someone they’ve never met is easy, but for me, it took some getting used to, especially because I was nervous I hadn’t prepared the right questions to get enough meat for the stories I’d be writing for the ACES newsletter. Every time, though, I ended up having more than enough to write about, and I hesitated less and less before picking up the phone and conducting my next interview.

The majority of my day is now spent negotiating interviews, cold calling and e-mailing producers and “meeting” reporters on a call or via BlackBerry.

Having ACES on my resume also earned me some credibility with my colleagues when I first started at The Times. They let me have a go at copy editing internal memos and departmental e-mails when I started volunteering myself for the task. After a couple of months, I was asked to assist the company’s speechwriter in editing executive speeches and to copy edit press releases, and now I help write them, as well.

Q. Many college students would love to land an internship or first job like yours. What recommendations do you have for them?

A. Big opportunities can come from unexpected places, so tell people about your ambitions and get to know classmates and professors in and outside of the j-school. The interview for my public relations summer internship with The Wall Street Journal came through a professor in UNC’s peace, war and defense department — an unlikely source who knew I was looking for an opportunity in media. Without that internship, I wouldn’t have met the person who would hire me a year later to work at The Times.

Getting to know your professors can not only lead to job recommendations, but can also be a gateway to important introductions and meaningful support systems. Maintaining relationships with Carolina alumni is also an important step in preserving resources of encouragement and possible job connections. I only really took advantage of University Career Services in my senior year, and that’s something I should have done much sooner. Through UCS, you can find jobs posted by alumni or by organizations where alumni are already employed and find employers looking for Carolina grads.

Skills that will serve you in digital journalism should be kept sharp and up to date, but not at the expense of traditional know-how. I once got a job without an interview because I was the only candidate to not include a spelling or grammar error with my application.

If you haven’t yet had luck in securing a paid job in journalism, seek out volunteer or freelance opportunities to keep you in the game. Even if they don’t pay, they’ll add important value to your resume.

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