Stephanie Steinberg is a 2012 alumna in Communication and Media. Currently, she is an assistant editor at U.S. News & World Report who covers health and money. Stephanie edits and writes content that helps her readers make informed decisions about their health and finances.
Communication Studies: Tell us a bit about the path you took to get where you are.
Stephanie Steinberg: Despite all news about struggling publications and declining readerships, I truly believe that if you want to be a journalist today, you will find a job. You just have to be willing to put in the time and energy and work for it. In addition to working at the Michigan Daily during the school year, I spent every summer during college interning for a media organization. My first internship after freshman year was at The Oakland Press, which helped me build up clips and learn the basics of daily reporting. The following summers I interned at USA Today, CNN and The Boston Globe. The key is to not be intimidated by top publications and to aim high, even if you don’t think you’re qualified.
The Globe internship was the summer after I graduated. (Another tip: Don’t be afraid to do an internship after college. It gives you the flexibility to just enjoy your last semester on campus and not worry about job hunting.) I then found a job at WTOP Radio, which is the main news, traffic and weather station in Washington D.C., and worked as an online editor for a few months. A job then opened at U.S. News & World Report to edit the health and money sections. I enjoyed learning about the radio industry, but my heart is in print and longform reporting, so I applied for the U.S. News job and am very grateful to the editors who hired me. Here I am three years later!
CS: You recently published your first book, “In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily.” Can you tell us about what inspired you to write it and elaborate on the process?
SS: The book is a collection of essays by 40 journalists who all started their careers at The Michigan Daily. I edited their stories and wrote the introduction, but the credit really goes to them for writing the book!
In 2011, I was the Daily’s editor-in-chief, which meant I was in the newsroom over 80 hours a week. Over all four years the Daily became a very important piece of my life, and I felt indebted to it for kick-starting my career. I came up with the idea for the book about two years after graduation. I knew the 125th anniversary of the Daily was coming up in 2015, and I thought something should be done to commemorate the paper and 6,000 alumni. I then thought a great way to do that would be to tell the stories behind the stories printed in the Daily, and let the reporters and photographers share what really happened before their story or photo landed on campus newsstands.
So I contacted alumni now working at top publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, you name it, and I asked them to write a first person story. The book starts with the March on Selma in 1965 and goes through Vietnam War protests, presidential elections, Sept. 11 and the present day. The sports journalists also talk about covering Rose Bowls and what it was like to interview Bo one-on-one, and there’s a good Daily love story by the deputy Wall Street Journal editor Rebecca Blumenstein and author Alan Paul, who ran against each other to be summer Daily editor-in-chief. (That turned out OK because they’re now happily married with three kids.)
I have to thank the University of Michigan Press, which made this book possible. They were the first (and only) publisher I pitched the book to, and they were immediately interested. Being connected with the University, I knew they would understand the purpose and message of the book, so I didn’t want to work with any other publisher.
CS: What UM classes or extracurricular activities did you find particularly helpful in your job field?
SS: For four years I worked, ate and even slept sometimes at The Michigan Daily. My roommates must have thought I was a ghost because I’d come home to our house on State and Catherine after sending the paper to print at 3 a.m., and then wake up when they all were at class.
While I took some stellar communications classes related to journalism – specifically Professor Anthony Colling’s ethics in journalism, supreme court news and foreign news coverage courses – I really learned everything I needed to know about how to be a journalist at the Daily. Margaret Myers, who’s now an editor at PBS NewsHour, wrote in her story for the book, “I got my diploma from the College of the Michigan Daily.” And I feel the same way. You learn how to be a journalist by being out in the field and making mistakes – and there’s no better place to make journalism mistakes than at a student newspaper with which readers and sources tend to be a little more forgiving.
CS: When did you know what field you wanted to go into? What experiences led you there?
SS: I consider myself lucky that I knew “what I wanted to be when I grew up” since third grade. In elementary school, my dad signed me up for a local TV show called “Kid Stuff.” Essentially, kids acted as cub reporters to tell local stories. Through that experience, I interviewed zookeepers at the Detroit Zoo, reported on the streets of city holiday parades and gave book reviews at Borders. One of my favorite segments was a feature package on the Franklin Cider Mill. The journalism bug bit me, and from that point on, I knew I wanted to tell stories for the rest of my life.
Fast-forward a few years: I became an editor for North Farmington High School’s newspaper The Northern Star and learned the power of the pen from my journalism advisor Nikki Schueller. When I was accepted to Michigan, I immediately emailed the Daily editor-in-chief at the time to find out how I could join the staff. I walked into the Daily during Welcome Week and never stopped walking through that door.
CS: What motivated you to pursue a Communication and Media degree?
SS: Like I mentioned, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. So I was a little disappointed when I found out the University didn’t have a journalism major. I decided Communication and Media would be the next closest major. It was a great decision, as I became friends with dozens of students with similar interests and my professors understood when I needed to leave class early to cover an event or interview University President Mary Sue Coleman.
CS: Describe a day-in-the-life at work.
SS: U.S. News & World Report is all digital now, so the majority of my day is spent editing stories on my computer. Stories go through two edits, and I’m usually the first editor, which means I fact check everything (references to studies, sources’ names, etc.) I also edit for grammar and style, so the AP Stylebook is my best friend. If something doesn’t make sense in a story, I’ll leave questions for the reporter to answer. The reporter then addresses all my edits, and we’ll go back and forth until the story is ready for the second editor, who looks for any glaring errors or holes before sending it to production.
I actually edit two U of M graduates – health & wellness reporter Anna Miller and real estate reporter Devon Thorsby – and we usually leave comments to each other like “Go Blue” whenever a story happens to quote a U of M professor.
I will say, I don’t have any role in producing the college rankings (that’s the education team). But I do go all out on Best Colleges day when the rankings are released, and I deck out my desk (and myself) in Michigan gear. I’m proud to say the Michigan grads won the Most School Spirit contest this year!
CS: What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned from your job?
SS: I’m going to cheat a little in this question and steal a passage from Michael Rosenberg, the 1996 Daily editor-in-chief who now writes for Sports Illustrated. In the book, he wrote:
“I did not have to spend as much time at the Daily as I did, but I learned one of the most valuable lessons in life, and it’s not a journalism lesson: If you love what you do, it won’t feel like work, and you will never feel overworked. It helps if you love the people who do it alongside you.”
I also learned that lesson at the Daily, and it applies to any job I have or ever will have. At the end of the day, it’s the people you work with who matter. You could have a stressful, draining job, but if you work with people who care about you and want you to succeed, that stress, and the work you produce, will be well worth it.
CS: What is your favorite UM memory?
SS: That is such a hard question! I have so many. If I have to narrow it down to one, it would be the night President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Minutes after he won, thousands of students spilled into the Diag chanting “Obama” and “It’s Great to Be a Michigan Wolverine!” and “The Victors.” Students waved American flags, rung cowbells and someone even started playing a set of bongos. The crowd then moved down State Street and paraded to the President’s house and down South U. before heading back to the Diag. I was a freshmen at the time and had never seen such pure joy and optimism expressed by so many people my age. Students were crying tears of joy as we walked down the streets. It was a historical moment, and I felt like I was part of a new era.
Four years later, I witnessed a similar spectacle outside the White House when Obama was re-elected, and I went to the scene to take pictures for WTOP Radio. Again, mostly a younger crowed gathered outside the gate. But it wasn’t the same: They weren’t wearing maize and blue and chanting “The Victors.”
CS: Since you are in the Communication and Media industry, are you able to disengage from thinking critically about the media-saturated world and if so, how?
SS: It’s impossible not to think about the media when you’re a part of it, producing stories, tweeting and trying to keep up with the 24-second Twitter news cycle each day. I try to remind myself to step back and take a look at the bigger picture though and remember that one story can have a profound impact on one person. For example, the health and money stories I work on provide advice for readers to improve their health and financial well-being. Readers often write to us, saying our reporting helped them make a decision about a certain medical treatment or figure out how to invest their money for retirement. So on the bad news days when it seems like the world is imploding with shootings, terrorism and crime, I try to think about the readers and remind myself that the kind of journalism I produce is meant to help people – and tomorrow will hopefully be a better news day.
CS: Provide some advice for students working towards internships and full-time opportunities in the communications field.
SS: Do everything you can to secure an internship each summer and build up your work experience – internships do count as work experience! Also go above and beyond what’s expected of you as an intern. If you’re asked to write two articles a week at a publication, write four. If you’re asked to submit five story ideas, submit 10. Constantly ask what more you can do to help your boss – and be genuine about it. Your eagerness and enthusiasm to perform well and learn will make you stand out from the other interns.
Also ask others in the company who you admire, or have a position you would like one day, to grab coffee or lunch. Find out how they got to where they are today, and pick their brains for job advice. Then stay in touch with occasional emails after you leave the internship. In the communications field especially – where job competition can be fierce – it helps to network. A job sometimes comes down to who you know who’s willing to pass along a positive recommendation.
Most importantly, be nice to everyone. You never know. The intern working for you today could become your colleague or even boss one day.