Summer is here and we are excited about it! This is the time of year to go on vacation, meet with friends and family, volunteer, or take time off from work to focus on self care. As journalists, work can be very busy, stressful and even hectic, leaving you wondering if you chose the right career. This issue of the Byline focuses on how to pursue your passions while having a career and avoiding burnout in the workplace.
AP Video Journalist and Producer Sharon Johnson Discusses Her Career and Pursuing Her Passion
Pictured Left, Sharon Johnson
In her early high school years, Sharon Johnson pictured herself as an author or a playwright; however, she also wanted a more stable career path. Journalism was the next best thing.
At first, she imagined working for a magazine like Essence Magazine or Ebony Magazine. Johnson’s college courses assisted in finding her passion – broadcast journalism.
“A lot of people pick a major and it doesn’t work out for them, but I’m really blessed,” Johnson stated. “Even though I still loved creative writing, I ended up really having a passion for journalism.”
She began her career at Emerson College and secured numerous intern opportunities. Johnson covered several topics like education, local government, and the economy. These roles helped her gain experience in writing, shooting, and editing packages.
“In our climate, you have to know how to do it all, but it’s so important to become a master of at least one of those things,” she said. “For yourself, you can go proceed with confidence in that arena.”
Johnson explained that mastering one skill is strategic in being confident when interviewing and job hunting.
One of her internships included a role at the Associated Press (AP) in 2015, where she was able to learn valuable skills and connect with mentors for guidance. Her role helped her obtain her current position as a video journalist and producer for the Associated Press.
“I think that role was the sole reason that I work here now,” she said. “I really appreciated the AP brand. I’ve worked for a lot of great places, but they are such a thorough and trusted news organization.”
Johnson even described AP as her saving grace, while sharing her struggles of being a Black woman on television. There were constant negative comments about her weight, voice and hair, which nearly pushed her out of the industry.
She also found herself wanting to tell deeper stories that aligned with her identity more. Depending on the market and demographics, her pitches were completely overlooked, which led to frustration with herself. Johnson went on to give insight on how other journalists can manage these frustrations.
“Someone on the other side is counting on you. Someone is going to benefit from you striving for the truth and representation. On the other side, know when to walk away. You can’t help anyone, if you can’t take care of yourself,” she explained.
Although Johnson’s role is general assignment based, she still has opportunities to collaborate with the race and ethnicity team on various projects. She highlights how AP has given her assignments that she enjoys, including a current project celebrating 50 years of hip-hop.
In the near future, Johnson hopes her journey at the AP leads to the education or investigative team, where she would continue video journalism and producing within these beats. Additionally, she has reconnected with her first career choice and is writing a children’s book, while doing screenwriting classes every Sunday.
To stay up to date with Johnson’s work, follow her @sharon_johnson5 on Twitter.
Journalist Jill Cox-Cordova Gives Tips on How to Avoid Burnout in the Workplace
Pictured Left, Jill Cox-Cordova
Burnout is the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress and it’s more prevalent in today’s work settings. Juggling multiple responsibilities between our work and home lives can be taxing and overwhelming but Jill Cox-Cordova believes that exercising boundaries and properly allocating your time is a step in the right direction for avoiding burnout.
Jill Cox-Cordova has been a writer since 1990 and is an editor, writer and podcaster. Over the years, she’s worked for CNN, MSNBC, Atlanta’s ABC affiliate WSB-TV, and many other places when she wasn’t pursuing her freelance career. Her first job was at WLEX-TV in Lexington, KY where she was expected to work six days a week. The weekend producer, who she shadowed and learned firsthand how to produce a show, left to go work for the Oprah Winfrey Show. When the producer left WLEX, she recommended Cox-Cordova take her place since she had been doing the show on the weekend under her direction. It was a lot for young Cox-Cordova.
“So, he had me working six days a week, nonstop,” says Cox-Cordova, looking back at the conversations she had with her boss to discuss finding help or a replacement for her previous role.
She says that her boss’ rebuttal was along the lines of “you should be lucky you even have a job” and doing things like not increasing her pay and denying her PTO requests. Another coworker stepped in and suggested for Cox-Cordova to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the only thing holding her back was the possible backlash she could receive starting out in this industry as a Black female so, she spoke up for herself in a different way.
“With overtime, you had to put a reason as to why,” says Cox-Cordova. “So, I used to just put ‘I did the weekend show’ but after four months of doing that, I put ‘for the fourth month in a row, I’ve been working six days a week because the news director refuses to let me work a normal schedule.’ and I didn’t know if anyone ever read that but the president of the company did read that.”
As a result, the president personally met with her news director and made him give her a raise, retribution pay and allow her to work a regular schedule but by then, Cox-Cordova was aligning herself with her next opportunity and vowed to herself from that point on, she would never let another employer burn her out or overwhelm her.
From that learning experience, Cox-Cordova learned that there are usually two factors that contribute to burnout; the people you work for or the company culture, sometimes even both. By catching those red flags when they first appear and knowing what her response to those situations would be, she equipped herself with the personal fortitude to leave at the hint of burnout or stressful work environments.
“No journalist should feel stuck,” says Cox-Cordova. “Because they have too many skills to be stuck.”
Journalism is an industry where professionals usually start young and because of that, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed early in your career and not be fully aware of what is a healthy work environment and what isn’t. This is where Cox-Cordova feels it is necessary to be knowledgeable about the customs and culture of your desired workplace as well as being aware of your personal morals and boundaries. A few tips she shared are:
- When you go for an interview, sit and talk to people. They’ll always have people lined up to talk to you but if you’re sitting there observing the culture, you’ll readily know what the culture is like.
- Read their handbook because then you know your rights as an employee.
- Before accepting the position, figure out what your “why” is. Are you using this place as a stepping-stone, or do you just want to do something within your field and interests?
While examining your work environment, Cox-Cordova believes that you should also look out for the signs of burnout. Everyone is different which is why paying attention to your mind and body is extremely important. Always be aware of how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way and what’s contributing to those feelings and come up with healthy ways to combat stress while also taking time for yourself.
Stress is an unavoidable feeling. The smallest things can easily make us overwhelmed, but we do have the power to avoid burning ourselves out. It’s very important that we put ourselves first and constantly advocate for better situations within our home and work lives. Learn more about Jill Cox-Cordova and her perspectives at https://jillcoxcordova.com/
This issue of the Byline, was edited by Tianna Faulkner, Vice President of Print for the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists (AABJ).