“Cry, get mad, and then get to work.”
This piece of advice— given to panelist Leslie Marshall, MA ’88 by her mother— embodies the grit and entrepreneurial spirit essential for finding success in the blended worlds of journalism and business. It was also just one of many gems of wisdom shared by three alumni in the second installment of this semester’s Journalism Dialogue Series.
In a conversation moderated by Assistant Professor of Journalism Gina Gayle, three Emerson alumni discussed their journeys through journalism and business, learning the importance of adaptability, versatility, and passion in the quickly changing world of new media.
The session streamed on October 27 and featured Marshall, political commentator for Fox News and host of a nationally-syndicated radio program; Dan Bigman ’92, editor and chief content officer of the Chief Executive Group; and Scott Clavenna, MFA’98, co-founder of Post Script Media and other ventures.
We share some highlights of their discussion here, and a complete recording at the bottom of this post.
On essential skills and tools for success:
Dan Bigman: You have to have a passion to build something. Like, “I want to make this and I’m really excited about it.” And it’s got to last you more than a week, and it’s gonna last you more than a month, because building a business is a grind and things go sideways. You have to love the grind of it, or else don’t do it, because you must have a passion for what you’re building to be successful in any way.
Leslie Marshall: Some people might say journalism, business, and entrepreneurship don’t go together but they do, because as a journalist, you have to hit the ground running. You have to be quick on your feet, quick with your mind, and you have to do that if you’re an entrepreneur, certainly. You’re going to sink or swim in both journalism and entrepreneurship. Both are very competitive, and if you want to survive and thrive, you’ve got to be too.
On gaining experience through apprenticeship:
Scott Clavenna: There’s a lot of value in apprenticeship – to work for entrepreneurs before becoming one – because there are many lessons you can learn at someone else’s expense rather than your own. You don’t want to fail too soon just because you weren’t exposed to the realities of entrepreneurship. I really liked the idea of spending at least some amount of time working with other entrepreneurs in a context where I could see what strategies are successful, which are toxic, and how to deal with adversity.
Dan Bigman: You’re saving yourself a lot of time and energy if you learn from somebody along the way. It’s also a lot more fun to play in a group of people when you’re all kind of futzing around. Trying to figure it out on your own gets panicky sometimes.
On adaptability and passion:
Dan Bigman: We can get pretty high falutin’ around the idea of journalism as a “calling,” but it’s also a trade and a craft. That’s the part I love about it. There’s no professional credential you have to get. It’s a craft you can learn. If you’re willing to trade on your sweat equity and hard labor in your 20s and early 30s and learn everything, you become so valuable.
Leslie Marshall: You have to be willing to learn every aspect of the business you’re going into. I had openness and willingness from working in different places and that prepared me for having to wear different hats and to learn quickly.
Advice for their 20-year-old selves:
Leslie Marshall: Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t listen to the critics, including your own inner critic.
Scott Clavenna: Trust the luck that you have. Certain things just land in your lap, and even if it’s not exactly what you wanted, you have to trust that it’s an opportunity you consciously or unconsciously created for yourself. Keep pursuing it, even if it goes against whatever plan you had originally.
Dan Bigman: As long as you’re learning, don’t get caught up in the little things. Don’t get caught up in the destination you thought you had.
On today’s job market (and some more advice):
Scott Clavenna: There’s a lot of fluidity in the market right now. As a job seeker, that can be very good because you have a lot of choices and power. That can create a challenge for running a business because you really do have to work hard to build the right kind of team and keep them there.
Leslie Marshall: Learn to appreciate and value your employees. During this pandemic, I saw some people I didn’t know were rock stars on my team. Make sure those people are valued, paid, and don’t lose their gig, because that was the most challenging for my company this past almost two years.
Dan Bigman: You can actually get better from the things that cause you problems. Being able to see that over and over and over again is important.
Leslie Marshall: My mom used to say “cry, get mad, and then get to work.”