A learning experience: The meaning of mentorship

By HALEY SAWYER

The path leading to a successful career in journalism is different for everyone and can oftentimes be difficult to navigate.  The speakers at this year’s PA Press Conference each have had their own mentors who encouraged them and helped them get to where they are now.

Maggie Jones

Contributing Writer

New York Times Magazine

Jones began in documentary film as a researcher and wrote for science newsletters, then a weekly newspaper and later the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Since then, she has freelanced for magazines.

Jones (middle) says reading quality work makes for better writing.
Jones (middle) says reading quality work makes for better writing.

Jones recalls Jeff Fleishman, now with the Los Angeles Times, as someone who pushed her in the direction of magazine writing.  She also notes writer and editor friends, including Darcy Frey, an author, and Ilena Silverman, her editor at the New York Times Magazine.

“It takes a lot of work to do this. You’ll be rejected…Learn from the rejections and move on. If you want it badly enough, stick with it.”

Frey passed on what Jones believes is the best advice she has ever received.

“Read writers whose work you admire. Read it not just for pleasure, but study it and evaluate it. Break it down and try to understand how it works and why it works,” Jones said.  “It’s one of many pieces of advice I’ve passed on to young writers since then.”

Journalism, or writing in general, is not something for the faint of heart.  Jones advises novice writers to be prepared.

“It takes a lot of work to do this,” she said. “You’ll be rejected, especially as a freelancer, so develop a thick skin. Learn from the rejections and move on. If you want it badly enough, stick with it. It’s worth it.”

Melissa Melewsky

Media Law Counsel

Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association

Melewsky remembers her parents instilling educational values in her, although they did not suggest a career in communication and law.

Melewsky credits her parents as her top mentors.
Melewsky credits her parents as her top mentors.

“I didn’t have a mentor or someone guiding me to say this is a good way to go.  It was a self-chosen path,” said Melewsky.  “Of course there were people who helped along the way, but no specific mentor.  Other than my parents, who said love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Neither of Melewky’s parents received a college education.  Both wanted their children to have a successful and enjoyable career.

“Your job is what you do, but it’s not who you are.”

Melewsky’s best advice is simple.

“Love what you do,” she said.  “Try to help someone else every day and really don’t sweat the small stuff.  Stress is so bad.  Your job is what you do, but it’s not who you are.”

Frank Wiese

Senior Editor of Multimedia and Photography

The Philadelphia Inquirer

After graduating from the Brooks Institute of Photography, a school geared toward commercial photography, Wiese bounced from the Los Angeles Times to The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Larry Bessel, a photojournalist who predicted the use of video, was a key figure in Wiese’s early career.

“He was a bureau photography chief for the Ventura edition of the Los Angeles Times and sort of took the risk in hiring someone who wasn’t coming from a journalism school,” said Wiese.  “He gave me my first big break as an intern at the LA Times.”

Wiese has seen the world of photojournalism transition from the film to the digital age.  With this change, he has seen mentorship among photographers change.

“There’s more growth to be done when you actively seek out mentors and have a good relationship with somebody who’s been in the industry and is trusted by you”

“We had a one-on-one relationship with photo editors,” Wiese said of the film age.  “You would essentially run your film and mark on a negative sheet what you thought was the best pic of the take and then you would have to explain that to a photo editor.

“You would actually show every single frame to the photo editor and you had this one-on-one relationship between a photo editor and a photographer and it was a tremendously good kind of growing experience in photography that you got feedback for frames you wouldn’t usually show people.”

In the digital age, photographers don’t necessarily have that kind of relationship with their editors.  Wiese still holds onto the importance of this relationship.

“[Photojournalism] is not something one can really do by oneself,” he explained.  “There’s more growth to be done when you actively seek out mentors and have a good relationship with somebody who’s been in the industry and is trusted by you to sort of grow more and bounce ideas back and forth.  That exchange is very valuable.”

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