My Casual Employment at the New York Times

As a budding journalist starting out in the competitive industry I need to be able to have flexibility as well as the skill of quick decision making. This was recently tested when a connection of mine offered me a last minute opportunity to work at the New York Times in Manhattan! This friend of mine has worked in the video production department as an Associate Video Journalist for about 2 years. He texted me on a Tuesday in mid-march and asked if I could come to Manhattan to work as a casual employee for 3 weeks. What I would be doing is filling in for people who were taking vacation so that they were not under staffed. The job started the very next Monday; I had less than a week!

Luckily I have a few college buddies currently working and living in the city. I frantically texted them asking to crash on couches or to suggest places to stay for the whole 3 weeks. By the next day my living arrangements were all set up, my bus ticket was bought and I was able to confirm and accept the offer. Paperwork was filled out, bags were packed, I quit my go nowhere part-time job, and left a few days later to take a big bite of the shiny red apple!

After a five-hour bus ride I pulled into times square Sunday night. I made my way up to Washington Heights in northern Manhattan to stay with my friend Kelley. Kelley is currently working for NBC Sports as a production assistant. To survive in the city she has a second job working as a waitress and picks up as many freelance opportunities as she can. She also lives with 3 other roommates in a 4 bedroom apartment with only one bath and one living/kitchen area. This is real life. The apartment was pretty nice, but the price of rent, limited space, and residential area was a dose of the reality of city life. I always dreamed of living and working in the city and I was getting a short taste of my dream. Would I like the flavor? Stay tuned!

Kelley and her roommates were very welcoming and nice! I settled nicely into my own little corner and sprawled out comfortably on the couch at night.

Surprisingly comfortable!
Surprisingly comfortable!

Monday morning came quick and with my metro card in hand I set off to take the subway 1 train downtown to time square! Luckily, I knew right where the New York Times building was, and had seen the inside of it one year earlier from a tour on a college journalism trip. The modern and open concept architecture of the building was a comforting sight instead of an overwhelming shock. After security made a phone call to my friend, I was given a visitor’s pass and headed to the 4th floor! I was met by my friend who led me through the sea of paper cluttered desks, and journalist talking on the phone and clicking away on their key boards. Down the hall and around the corner I reached the area of video production. It was a cluster of cubicles loaded with large screen mac computers, two monitors on each desk. These journalists were glued to headphones and editing away on adobe premiere. Instead of scattered books and papers, there were scattered wires and lens caps.

The whole building is SO open, there are literally no walls and the desk cubicles have very low dividers. The building is windows, all windows, so there is natural light coming from everywhere! Even the offices have open glass doors. In the video production area we are right near the steps that go down to the next floor, but like I said, it is a very open building and this includes the staircases. Being near them is like working on a balcony, I can see right down to the journalists below, and they can see right back up! it is very neat.

It was a slow day my first day so I did not have very many tasks. BUT I did help set up cameras and lighting for an interview and recorded the audio! This interview was being added to a full length piece about women asking for a raise in the workplace. Here it is…

http://www.nytimes.com/video/your-money/100000002786000/tips-for-women-asking-for-a-pay-raise.html?playlistId=1194811622255

My NYTimes ID

My first day also consisted of some paperwork and obtaining my very own ID card/pass into the building. Oh man, the feeling I got when I looked down at that ID card for the first time… a rush. The emotions of feeling lucky/accomplished/motivated surged through me. Looking down at that ID card created a SPARK. I was intimidated, yet determined to make the most of this experience. I was on my way!

The rest of the week consisted of helping set up for shoots, audio recording, a tiny bit of video editing, and hours of transcribing. Even with all of that I found myself having extra time on my hands. It was a somewhat slow news week for video production, and when there was no current task to do I found myself watching video after video of NYT footage. I gained a basic familiarity with their style, and was becoming more confident in fitting into the intimidating workplace.

I had weekends off so I took the time to relax and hang out with friends. I didn’t do much exploring because I wanted to save money and I had seen most tourist places on previous trips to NYC. It really was mainly a work trip. It is almost surreal being able to say that at 23, but it’s true, and exciting. My first weekend I did go with Kelley to one of her friend’s apartments for a small party. I mingled with other twenty somethings making their way and achieving success working in NY. I took away some good advice and went back to the Times on Monday with some confidence and a goal to be more aggressive.

I introduced myself to more people, made conversation here and there, asked for extra work and offered help to others. By the end of the second week more people knew my name and I had made a couple of new friends! You’ve gotta get those LinkedIn connections!

The best advice I was given and can pass on for work opportunities like these is to observe and attack. Take a little time to settle in and see how things work. Is it a very formal place or more casual? How do people interact with each other? Feel it out, and then go in guns blazing. Shake hands, don’t be shy, complete your work, and offer to help others. By introducing yourself and then mentioning you have some extra time and can help with anything they may be working on, can go a long way. Even if they don’t give you any work, they will remember you offered.

Eating fancy in running clothes
Eating fancy in running clothes!

My second weekend in NY I transitioned from my friend Kelley’s couch, to my friend Alicia’s family house on Long Island. Before leaving the city Alicia and I met up and went for a run in central park! It was great and we even found a little waterfall to take pictures by! After getting lost and running east instead of south, (trust me its not that easy to navigate paths that are constantly turning and winding) we hopped on the subway and headed south to Columbus Circle. We enjoyed some street dancing, and jumped into the Villagio and treated ourselves to a fancy lunch! It was actually an accident. We were starving and it was the first restaurant we saw. When we walked in and saw how nice the place was, we were instantly embarrassed that we were still in our running clothes! But the customer service was amazing, and our waiter (who was dressed in a jacket and bow tie mind you) didn’t bat an eyelash at our appearance. So we owned it, and enjoyed our meals.

My last week working at the Times I commuted from Long Island. It was a long commute, and not the cheapest route,but it was worth it! By staying with Alicia I got to spend time with a close friend and enjoy home cooked dinners every night! I also got to stay in her sister’s room because she was away at college. it was great!

At the Times I continued to help set up for shoots, and even got to edit some movie cut outs, and add subtitles to a couple of projects. I could tell they were trusting me more and more the get the job done properly on my own. Because I was a temporary employee on the lowest end of the totem pole I had to have someone double check to make sure things were done properly (and then projects are sent to get checked like 5 more times by editors before they are published to the website). This was nice actually, because whenever I made a mistake I was able to see on the spot what was wrong and be shown how to fix it. I learned how to film with cameras I had never used before! I saw the difference in using different lenses and different lighting kits. Due to the Times being a newspaper and not a TV station I was in unfamiliar waters. I saw that they were able to take a little more time with their video, and added artistic quality to it. They were not quick cut up stories slapped together to be broadcasted later that day. Most shoots were filmed with multiple cameras to add angles, and then edited in Adobe premiere where fades, transitions, and sometimes music was added. A completely different feel than broadcast news.

I learned so much, made connections, gained an extra source of income, and added a big name to my resume’. I got to see the behind the scenes of a world recognized organization. It was an opportunity I will always cherish. But the best part… I have been invited back!! This Monday I return for another week of temporary work with the New York Times! I am so glad to be heading back, and am even more grateful for the doors that have been opened to me as a result of these experiences. I have been able to pick up some freelance work back at home, and make a good impression to potential employers for a  more permanent position. Career wise, things are looking up. what will ultimately happen? Again, stay tuned!

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