Kerry Picket is the editor of The Water Cooler blog at the Washington Times. As someone who did not go to journalism school, and had “no plans of going into journalism,” her success is a testament to new rules of political reporting.
“Just take in as much experience as possible,” she advises young people, “just as odd as it is.” Her career is certainly a story of odd experiences, taking her through MTV.com and MTV Radio. She produced news content for Robin Quivers of “The Howard Stern Show” on Sirius satellite radio. The Media Research Center brought her into conservative political reporting, where she was an associate producer for the video-sharing site Eyeblast.tv and a blogger for Newsbusters.org.
It all started for her when she graduated from Denison University with a degree in English/Writing and she struggled to find a job in New York City.
My dad dropped the Sunday New York Times in front of my face and said, get a job.
Learn from where you are.
Until she could find a jobin a career that she wanted to pursue, her father brought her to work at his commercial real estate company in Manhattan. Kerry says that this experience, while trying, taught her important lessons about sales that have stuck with her throughout her career.
If you have a job in sales, doing anything (whether it’s real-estate or vacuum cleaners) it will benefit you for any job you have in the future… It gives you tough skin. It teaches you how to pitch something that you may or may not necessarily believe in. It gives you an idea about going up to a complete stranger, getting your facts straight, and saying “this is what this product or idea is like and this is why you should be interested in it.”
She recommends gaining experience in sales because “you may have to ask your boss for a promotion, or for a higher raise one day, you are always going to be pitching ideas. That’s sales. When you go into a job interview. That’s sales.” It is especially relevant for those hoping to work in politics. All of politics is pitching ideas and belief and candidates, and nothing trains you to do that well quite like sales.
When Kerry was looking for the next thing, the internet bubble was at its height in the late 1990s. She took continuing educations courses on HTML and Photoshop, which ended up getting her a job doing web development and production for an e-commerce shop. While she learned a lot about back-end web production at this job, her real break came when MTV.com was hiring production assistants.
All you had to be was someone who knows HTML and Photoshop. If you think about that now, you think ‘Photoshop and HTML, who cares?’, but in 1998, that was a big deal.
She was hired on the spot, and says that for a long time she was “quite literally walking on air.” In this position she learned how to upload videos to the web. While this may seem like an easy task now, in this early phase of the internet, uploading thirty second video clips that were recorded using a “gigantic” three-chip camera could take upwards of 45 minutes and required technical skills and expertise.
Wanting to gain more experience in writing, Kerry moved from MTV.com to MTV Radio where she wrote long-form and short-form scripts.
What short-form scripts would entail at the time, remember Britney Spears was very hot back then, would be “Watch out kids, Britney Spears is coming your way. You don’t want to miss this!”
While that may seem light-hearted now, it taught Kerry the basics of delivering news. She says it was important for learning how to do the ‘who, what, when, where, why.”
Entertainment news is just as valid as hard news that I do now. People consume it, people enjoy reading it, watching it, hearing about it, knowing it. There was a lot of grunt work involved, but it taught me how to do the basics.
Not only that, she says that the production and writing skills were easily transferable when she made the move to Washington, DC, and the political realm.
Be willing to work for free.
While Kerry was in college, she made a point to get involved with the local republican party in Ohio. But she carried that involvement with her when she went back to New York as well. While she worked in real-estate, and e-commerce, and radio, she was volunteering for the republican party and conservative activist groups in her spare time.
I found that I got a lot of my experiences doing a lot of work for free, while being paid full-time at my day job. And taking a lot of skills from my day job and transferring it to my political activity.
She recommends that bloggers and up-and-coming reporters look for stories they can cover for free such as local city council races and state-level politics.
That’s something to cover yourself, and to get to know who the up and coming people are. No, you more than likely aren’t going to get paid for it. But you have a better sense of who these people are. I got to know a lot of New York people, and no I wasn’t getting paid for it. But because I got to know a lot of New York politicians and consultants, they are still my sources to this day.
A final piece of advice from Kerry.
While you are working your way up, Kerry says to stay focused on your own goals and decisions. Do not get distracted or disheartened by the success of your peers.
A lot of young people will find when they are starting off in their careers, that some of their peers (especially people who are very close to them in age) will be moving ahead very quickly, way ahead of them. It’s the most frustrating thing to watch. And you’ll start comparing to where you think you should be based on where your peers are. That’s probably the worst thing you can actually do.
Everyone has their own timeline, you should measure your own successes by your own accomplishments. Not by your peers’ salaries or your peers’ promotions. They are going to take different paths, they make different decisions, and they have their own skills.
If you are constantly comparing yourself to people that you know who are moving up all the time and thinking to yourself, ‘why am I not at that point?’ it will be a very miserable career experience for you.
If you see someone being successful, Kerry recommends trying to learn from what they are doing. Maybe they are doing something that you can adopt or emulate. “Don’t let someone else’s success hold you back,” she says, “but let it lift you up.”
Jacqueline Otto’s shelves at home are lined with used-book store finds; just a few of her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and George Orwell.
She first read F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat at 16. Her political affiliation on Facebook is “Freedom,” and she hopes to always be known as a lover of liberty.
Jacqueline is on Twitter at @jacque_otto.
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