English majors hear a lot of dire statements about the less-than-abundant job prospects awaiting them after graduation, but many remain hopeful about their futures despite these nerve-wracking warnings. Some are interested in going into journalism, a field that seems particularly risky to enter in the digital age. At a recent Berkeley Connect in English event, Professor Mark Danner spoke with students about his experiences as a journalist and academic, and delivered a welcome message: despite the uncertainty involved in pursuing a career in an industry that is very much in flux, it’s not entirely hopeless!
Danner currently teaches in the School of Journalism and the English Department at Berkeley. He also teaches at Bard College. For many years, he wrote regularly for the New Yorker, and currently contributes to the New York Review of Books and The New York Times Magazine. He has written eight books and won many awards and honors. He writes primarily about foreign affairs and American politics.
“The theme of my path is serendipity,” said Danner, as he described how he started his career. “It was an odd path, and I got very lucky.” Danner spoke about his struggle to mobilize and find a job after graduation. One day, he called the New York Review on a whim and managed to get an interview without even having sent in an application. He got the position of editorial assistant. This experience, he said, “taught me how to write.”
Danner continued to ascend in the ranks of journalism. He was so focused on his writing that he initially declined when the dean of the School of Journalism at Berkeley called him and asked him to teach. Now, he happily divides his time between teaching and writing.
In reply to a student’s question about the difficulty of getting entry-level jobs in journalism, Danner said, “Journalism may be in an enormous state of flux, but there are many more outlets to publish your first piece out there than in my day.” He continued, “But actually making a living at it is much harder. You have to be more aggressive about seeking it out.”
Danner seemed both concerned and optimistic about job prospects in journalism. On one hand, he called the industry “tumultuous and anxiety-producing.” On the other hand, he expressed his enthusiasm about it. “For all the tumultuousness, there’s a lot that’s exciting that goes on now. There’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
“Write a lot,” was Danner’s advice to students for improving their writing skills. He recommended journaling, as well as becoming familiar with what’s happening in journalism. He stressed the importance of following work that you respect. “Find work you respect, and define why you respect it,” he advised.
As far as making yourself especially appealing to potential employers, Danner recommended learning as many versatile skills as possible. “Learn a useful language. Do video, photography, and multimedia – all of that helps,” he offered.
With these nuggets of wisdom from a successful professional in the field, students stand a better chance at fighting through the fray and making it as writers. Serendipity may play a big part in success, but cultivating discipline, persistence, curiosity and a diverse skill-set are sure to help students along the way.
Posted by Madeline Wells, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant