Story by Allie Kirkman, Ball State University
Photos by Robby General, Ball State University
Pressures to change are leading some journalists to reinvent themselves by entering new fields.
Taking risks outside the news industry can be intimidating, but that doesn’t mean those chances shouldn’t be taken. That was the message during the “Turning the Page” panel discussion at the 2017 News Leadership Conference.
Panelists Anne Gordon, Chris Seper, Ebony Reed and Otis Sanford shared how they were able to successfully make the switch in their careers while still practicing journalism.
“At some point down the road, you may find yourself asking, ‘Should I stay or should I go,’” said Moderator David Boardman, dean of Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University.
Gordon is the senior vice president of marking media and communications for the Philadelphia Eagles. In this position, Gordon oversees the Eagles public relations group as well as all of the organization’s marketing and media assets for the National Football League team.
Gordon’s routes didn’t start in journalism.
She graduated from college with a degree in speech pathology and audiology.
After college, Gordon worked at a bank where she saw things that “troubled” her. After leaving that job, Gordon shared the controversies happening at the bank with some of her friends who worked as journalists for a business newspaper. In response, they asked her to join the staff and help them break the story.
She accepted the position as a reporter, broke the “blockbuster of a story” that resulted in arrests and after that, Gordon started getting calls from other news outlets.
“I was offered all kinds of jobs in journalism and I thought, ‘Oh, this is great,’” she said.
Gordon would go on to work at multiple outlets including the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before being hired in Denver to be the business editor and then promoted to deputy managing editor of The Denver Post before the paper was sold and Gordon was let go.
Like before, Gordon went on to work at a variety of outlets. She worked for a local television station as an assignment manager, a reporter for weekly newspaper, as a spokesperson for Bill Clinton’s campaign and then as a magazine editor.
Then in 1999, Gordon was recruited to work at The Philadelphia Inquirer. There she worked as the arts and entertainment editor, deputy managing editor, managing editor and vice president until she left the paper in 2007.
“That year I then decided to make another change,” Gordon said.
Gordon would explore the world of private equities. From 2007 to 2010, she became a partner in the private investment firm of Dubilier & Co., where she pursued an interest in developing digital media firms.
Then, out of the blue, she got a phone call from the new president of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He said he felt uncomfortable in this world of media and we wanted to learn and spend time together,” Gordon said. “So, we did.”
After multiple meetings with the president, he told Gordon that she needed a job with the team. She decided to join in 2012.
“It’s been an amazing experience in so many ways,” Gordon said. “First of all, you think you’re working in a male environment when in the newsroom, but working on an NFL team, you really get that. But, I have really learned and expanded a lot.”
Her advice: Spend time reflecting when new opportunities open up.
“Spend some time deciding what makes you, you,” Gordon said. “What is it that you can bring to the table? How can you understand that? What are your strengths? What are your weakness? Where do you fit in?”
Seper serves as the regional general manager for digital at E.W. Scripps, where he is a member of the national digital leadership team.
Seper says his story started in 2008 at The Plain Dealer as the online medical editor, where he created and managed online medical portals serving healthcare consumers and the medical business community.
“In 2008, for me it was a tough time to be in journalism and a lot of people thought it was worst time to be in journalism,” Seper said. “I broke from my peers and thought it was the best time to be in journalism, as I think now is the best time to be in journalism – but the economic times were hitting us … we couldn’t fight the business-model structures.”
While at The Plain Dealer, Seper was hit with the option of choosing to leave or if they paper didn’t get more people to work on staff, they would lay off. Instead of looking at the situation negatively, Seper saw it as opportunity.
“I had never been eligible for a buyout before,” he said. “When the opportunity for buyout came, I found 10 friends who were not in journalism and I brought them one question, ‘If I left The Plain Dealer, what could you see me doing?’”
In his back pocket, Seper had the idea of creating a TechCrunch for health care. Even though this idea did have a lot of resistance at first, it worked.
In 2008, Seper created and worked as the CEO MedCity Media, a destination portal for coverage and insight in the life sciences and healthcare. The company was later sold to Breaking Media.
“After you sell your start up, it’s kind of like living with our kids. It’s like your house, your rules becomes their house, their rules,” Seper said. “I wanted a new challenge.”
Seper then came across The E.W. Scripps Company. He joined the company in 2016 and has worked as regional general manager for digital, where he is a member of a national digital team responsible for contributing to and implementing digital strategy for the company’s television markets.
His advice: Pursue higher education.
“If you have the opportunity, if you don’t have a master’s degree but could get one online or part-time … it will really help you,” Seper said.
Reed is the director of Innovation and the Futures Lab at Reynolds Journalism Institute where she works on testing new journalism platforms and revenue models. Reed also works as an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Reed has had a couple different transitions throughout her career.
She started in 2000 at The Plain Dealer as an intern. From there she worked as a reporter, covering education and breaking news and then moved up to assistant metro editor.
In 2006, Reed moved to The Detroit News and worked as the assistant city editor for a year before working as the deputy metro editor where she led a news team with a focus on digital reporting, breaking news and use of public records.
“A couple times in my career, things came my way that would lead to transitions later, but I didn’t see it or know it at the time,” Reed said.
While working in Detroit, Reed got a call from Missouri in 2007 and it would be 10 later years before she actually took the job opportunity with the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
After a former professor retired, Reed was approached about an online teaching position at University of Missouri-Columbia where she received her master of arts in media management. When she agreed to do that, she started receiving more phone calls from other colleges and universities asking for her help. As a result, she started teaching up to three classes a semester at a dozen of schools while working for The Detroit News.
During that time in 2010, The Associated Press contacted Reed for another job opportunity.
“Here comes a hard transition,” she said. “They said, ‘We’d like to have you as our deputy bureau chief in Boston, would you move there?’ After some wrangling back and forth, and never really spending any time in Boston, I took the job there.”
After 90 days into the job, The AP took all of their bureau chiefs and made them sales people.
She was given the choice to “go back to the news side,” but Reed took on the new job in sales.
“That is when Ebony becomes a sales lady,” she said. “I looked at it as something I hadn’t done before and thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
While still teaching during this time, Reed said she started to look at herself not just as an employee of other people, but as an entrepreneur.
“I had women in my family that had always had multiple jobs. So, this concept that I would just have one job didn’t work for me anymore,” she said.
Reed continued teaching and went on to build an online teaching business in addition to working for the American City Business Journal. Up until March of this year, she worked as the executive advertising director of the Boston Business Journal, where she led a team of sales and media revenue professionals that focus on digital advertising and marketing solution.
In April, a new opportunity came at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Since then, Reed has worked with industry professionals, academics, students and fellows on projects to strengthen journalism.
“I just thought this was an amazing opportunity for me to take everything that I have done up until this point and also join the faculty,” Reed said. “So, when I was at night skipping a party because I had to teach an online class, I was like ‘Wow,’ thinking that ten years later, all of those transitions lead the way that I never really saw everything coming together.”
Her advice: Be foreword thinking and look at the trends.
“As you think about your future career, be very mindful and look at what is happening, not just in journalism but in other industries,” Reed said.
Sanford is the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism at the University of Memphis. He also is a commentator for WREG-TV Channel 3 in Memphis and writes opinions for The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. Sanford is the author of “From Boss Crump to King Willie: How Race Changed Memphis Politics.”
Sanford’s career as a journalist started in 7th grade after he wrote a story for the high school newspaper.
“I knew then that I wanted to be a reporter and never wanted to do anything else,” he said.
He was editor of his high school paper and editor of the newspapers at Northwest Mississippi Community College and University of Mississippi where he received his degree in journalism in 1975.
His first professional job came right after college at The Clarion-Ledge in Jackson, Mississippi where he worked as a feature and entertainment writer. He then joined The Commercial Appeal as a staff reporter, and then moved to The Pittsburgh Press as an assistant city editor and stayed there until the paper closed in 1992.
That year, he was named deputy city editor of the Detroit Free Press and later returned to The Commercial Appeal as deputy managing editor.
In 2009, the University of Memphis called about an endowed chair position. Having always had an interest in teaching, Sanford decided to take the job after finishing his term as president of the Associated Press Media Editors in 2011.
“I really had to think about it,” Sanford said. “When that critical decision came and I saw what all I did as a managing editor was lay of six or seven people, I said ‘I don’t want to do this.’
“That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be helping young people, not telling them to get out the door.”
As the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Economic and Managerial Journalism at the University of Memphis, Sanford teaches and advices students from freshman level to graduate students and conducts lectures on journalism, politics, the First Amendment and public policy.
“I’m going to be there as long as I can because I love the teaching,” he said. “I’m having an impact.”
His advice: List what and whom you know.
“You can figure out how you can use that information and contacts to go into another direction,” Sanford said. “I did that and it was very valuable in all the jobs leading up to what I have now.”
Allie Kirkman is a junior at Ball State University. She graduates in December 2018. You can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org.