Degree from Michigan: A.B. in English and Communications
Current location: Washington, D.C.
Year graduated: 2013
Student Organization Involvement: The Michigan Daily, Prison Creative Arts Project, Human Trafficking Clinic and Michigan ResStaff
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Intern at Michigan Radio
LP: I am a radio producer at NPR. My work involves constantly reading the news; pitching story ideas based on questions I have about what’s happening in the world or artists/musicians that I’m interested in talking to; and scheduling, planning, recording, and cutting interviews.
KC: Of all the fields in journalism and media, why did you choose radio?
LP: I grew up listening to radio (my parents listened to public radio), and in college I enjoyed listening to podcasts. I was lucky enough to get an internship at Michigan Radio, the public radio station in Ann Arbor, after graduation. Everyone there was really smart and interesting, and they were people I wanted to learn more from. So I stuck around.
I think working in radio is better than working in TV because you don’t have to look nice! We interview famous people, but they can sit at home in jeans and a T-shirt if they’d like to be.
KC: What other professional experiences have you had since graduating from Michigan?
LP: My first year out of college I was an unpaid intern at Michigan Radio, but during that time I was also waiting tables, nannying, and tutoring. Eight months after graduating, I was selected to be a Kroc Fellow at NPR. From there I became a radio producer. I think it’s important to emphasize that it’s okay if you don’t have an awesome job that you absolutely love right out of college. I found my dream job a year out of college, but it can take a couple of years to get there, and that’s completely fine.
KC: In entertainment in general there’s a common saying that you have to start out in the “mail room” and work your way up from there. Would you say that in radio you also just have to start at the “bottom?”
LP: You do kind of have to… there are stations around the country that do pay their interns. But like so many fields, you might start out unpaid, which is a huge problem. It doesn’t encourage people of various socioeconomic backgrounds to feel like this is a doable career to pursue. That said, the great, yet tricky thing about public radio is that it’s a pretty small industry, so you’ll get hands-on experience quickly. But it can feel hard to get your foot in the door sometimes.
One thing that attracted me to public radio initially was that the people who I met as an intern came to radio with diverse backgrounds and past careers. Not everyone had gone to journalism school; some people had been public radio interns at their local stations and worked their way up, other people started in newspapers, and some people had zero experience and just got into it later in life. I think that makes for good radio too, because there are a lot of different perspectives behind the stories you hear.
KC: Of all the projects you’ve worked on and of all the people you’ve interviewed, have you had a favorite experience at NPR?
LP: Yes. We once interviewed a guy named Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition activist who was in the US. We interviewed him a few weeks after he had come out of a coma. He believed he had been poisoned, and he believes that the Russian government did it. He shared his thoughts on Putin and what democracy in Russia means right now. He walked us through what it felt like to be poisoned. I thought his story was so fascinating because it was so vivid and personal.
KC: How do you feel that your academic and extracurricular experiences at Michigan have influenced your career path?
LP: I dual majored in English and Communications. Initially, I only did that because I realized I needed to pick majors in which all of my exams would be in essay form, since I am so bad at multiple-choice tests! But it turned out to be a great choice. I love to read and write.
I guess two experiences influenced where I am now. One, I was a writer for the Michigan Daily, and I ended up having a lot of fun doing that. I realized that reporters get to ask experts questions and just be curious about the world around them. Second, I took a class that was a part of the Prison Creative Arts Project at Michigan. In that class, I was doing a weekly writing workshop at a juvenile detention center in Detroit. It was rewarding because we were able to give a voice to people who have a voice but aren’t used to being heard.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
LP: My favorite things: I like being able to learn about a lot of different topics. In any given week, we might interview a U.S. Congressman one minute, and then the next minute I’ll produce a music interview with an interesting new artist. I like being able to ask questions that I think other people would be interested in knowing.
Also, we have tons of Tiny Desk Concerts, so I get to go see live music at work! I’ve seen all of these amazing musicians, some of whom I’d heard of and others who weren’t on my radar at all.
The thing that I don’t like about my job: if I’m at work and news breaks, that can get stressful. But it is a rewarding job because it’s a public service that we need, especially now.
KC: What are similar organizations or radio stations that students can look into if they want to pursue a similar field?
LP: I work at the National Headquarters for NPR in Washington, D.C., but the content that we make goes to local stations. Various cities around the country have NPR-affiliate stations. I think that is a really good place for people who are interested in journalism to look for jobs and learning experience. The newsrooms are small, there are really smart people there, and local journalism is really important.
KC: What advice would you give to current Michigan students if you could?
LP: I would just say to work hard, but be patient at the same time. I think a lot of students at Michigan either already know how to work hard before they start college, or they learn by the time they graduate. Michigan grads have an amazing work ethic and are so motivated to succeed, but just be patient in your career after you graduate. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Be thoughtful and interested in learning from everyone around you. In a field like public radio, it’s a small world and you never know where you’re going to end up. So treat every opportunity like a learning opportunity and find ways to make it work.