Kendall Taggart, Anthropology major and class of ’09, is a now a reporter for the Center for Investigative Reporting. She offers a few words of experience and insight from her travels from Reed into the world of investigative journalism. She demonstrates that doggedness and determination can never be overvalued in the pursuit of your ambitions.
M: Tell me about your time at Reed- how did Reed set you up to pursue a career in investigative journalism?
K: I loved Reed. It sets you up well to think. Not so much to get a job though, I think. I didn’t leave Reed having anything to show for my journalism ability. Actually though, I think Reedies are well set up, they just don’t know it. They’ve learned critical thinking, how to take on a problem and know how to solve it. With journalism, you’re rarely the expert. You have to rely on others, and know what’s BS and what’s not.
M: So how did you achieve your position? What did you do to break into the field of journalism?
K: After leaving Reed, I did a 3-month internship at the New England Center for investigative Reporting. It’s not prestigious; it’s pretty much just a way for them to milk students for free labor. But having the experience showed I might know something about journalism. I moved to Boston, and I had coffee with anyone in the documentary film world— which is what I first thought I wanted to do— who would agree to meet with me. I sat down with this director who told me “we’re not hiring.” I told him, “I’ll do anything.” So I worked for free, and then I was hired for a temporary freelance position. Then I kept showing up, and they kept paying me.
M: Could you describe your job for me? What do your days typically consist of?
K: Well, I write a story about once every two months, which is infrequent for most journalists, who may write up to three stories a week. But because we specifically do investigative reporting, we’re trying to pin someone for wrongdoings, and that takes a bit longer. I may spend an entire day sifting through 8000 pages of documentation, or calling up regulators and running things we’ve found by them. Some days I might spend actually writing a story! But the bulk of my time is spent doing the research.
M: Any work out in the field?
K: I spent a week in January putting a thousand miles on a car, knocking on doors trying to find telemarketers for a story. I’ve searched people out in tiny apartments above liquor stores. You’re confronting someone in his or her own home. You never know walking up how you’re going to be greeted.
M: What do you like about your job?
K: There are so many angles to journalism… it’s going to take me years to get good at everything. I love that. A challenge.
M: Any advice for budding journalists here at Reed?
K: There are ways to leave Reed having something to show for your abilities. The community radio station in Portland will train you for free. You just have to find opportunities and walk in, say you’re willing to do anything. The independent journalism world is a good way to get your foot in the door. They’re often looking for cheap labor. And there’s less bureaucracy (than the larger companies). If you get a position, they’ll often tell you you can work from home, but I think it’s important to be there. Show up; have them know you’re there. Become recognizable. I think people are afraid to hire an unknown. Also, having data skills is helpful. The journalism world is void of people who do data. If you’re willing to do spreadsheet work, that can get your foot in the door. Journalists don’t like math. Networking is important, too. And Reed does mean something to people.