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Becky McKendry: Journalist

 

MSU’s own Becky McKendry sat down with Her Campus MSU to discuss her new podcast,  “What It’s Really Like?,  and other journalistic endeavors. Mckendry is a journalism junior at MSU and has spent the last couple years filling her resume with freelance jobs such as Sound the Sirens Magazine, Punk Planet Magazine, and more locally with Lansing Online News. Until “What It’s Really Like?” is released, Becky spends her time with SpartanEdge as the music editor and Great Lakes Echo as a beat reporter.

HC: How long have you known you wanted to work in journalism? What was its appeal?

I was always interested in storytelling. As a kid, I remember spending a lot of my free time either reading or writing my own little books, but it’s too easy to get things stamped out you of in adolescence, so I didn’t really adopt that mantra of “I will be a writer or a journalist” until I was about 16. At that point, I was lucky enough to have a journalism teacher and a creative writing teacher who both told me that I had talent and that I could very realistically write and write well for a living. Their encouragement really helped me through a lot and gave me the confidence to try to manifest this lofty idea. After I became Editor-in-Chief of my high school paper, I started freelancing for music magazines on the side. And those teachers were there the whole time; critiquing me, complimenting me, staying after school to edit my magazine stories as a favor.

The draw of journalism to me is evolving slightly, which I think is impossible to avoid because the industry is evolving so rapidly. Journalists are told constantly that no one knows what the field of journalism will look like in five or ten years. I just attended a seminar with Judy Keen from USA Today where she basically told a room full of aspiring journalists that there’s no real way to prepare for the career anymore, because there are these huge unanswered questions: how do you profit through online content in the same reliability as print subscriptions, how do you compete with other people’s blogs, and so on. I know a lot of people were upset with her for saying that to a bunch of already worried college kids, but that’s a very real concern. I think you just have to assess why you’re interested in the field.

That’s the difference. I don’t feel attached to that concept of a traditional newsroom or the idea of covering a beat with a pen and a pad of paper and working on daily deadlines. That’s changing to the point where it very well may disappear. I’m attached to the concept of expert storytelling, and that’s timeless. Regardless of technology and venue, we will always seek out well told, compelling stories of other people, cultures and environments; that’s a natural human inclination. There will always be those who crave that entertainment and knowledge, and they will demand, rightly so, that these stories be told by trained, talented journalists and writers who know how to compile and translate the human experience into stories that are partly theirs, and partly everyone else’s. That’s why NPR stays funded, that’s why Hunter Thompson, Dave Eggers and Molly Ivins have had the careers that they’ve had. The draw to me now is just to be a part of that amazing system.

 

HC: You’ve worked almost exclusively in print/online media. Now that you are starting to veer into radio, is this a new love or have you always been interested in radio?

It’s a new venture, but an old love. My husband, who studied film and photography, unconsciously honed an appreciation within me for different forms of storytelling beyond print. And over the last couple years, NPR has shifted  from an occasional presence in my life to a full blown addiction. But it was just recently that I came to the simple realization that I could try it out in my own career. I started seeing that the skills and experience I have from written media are more translatable to radio than I thought. I feel a little dumb for not realizing it before, actually.

 

HC: Tell us a little about your podcast, who is through; what will you be focusing on?

The idea behind “What It’s Really Like?” is to explain different realities. It’s for people to tell their own stories about navigating through their version of life. Each episode is a different topic – what’s it like to wait for an organ, what’s it like to be transgendered, what’s it like to be a union organizer. Professions, personality traits, experiences, hobbies. Those are the stories that fascinate me and fascinate other people. Essentially, to ‘answer’ the question, I’ll be conducting full length interviews with an individual who is in this particular version of life.

 

HC: What was the inspiration to start your own podcast?

It is entirely an homage to the media I consume. Some of the most influential writing I’ve ever read from was from Dave Eggers – nonfiction books like “What Is The What” and “Zeitoun.” He was born to tell other people’s stories. I just admire him so much. And I’m a huge fan of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross [on NPR] and the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast. It’s kind of an amalgamation of all of these pieces of media that I admire so much. And I’ve spent so many of the last several years writing more traditional news stories that I’d like to mix it up a little bit.

 

HC: Do you think your past work in print/online media will be help with this project?

Absolutely. There’s one instance in particular that I’m thinking of… when I was working for Chuck Palahniuk’s site, the Cult, I was assigned an interview with Jerry Stahl, the author of “Permanent Midnight,” that had me wrecked. I had to read his new novel, “Painkillers,” and interview him about it. And I was only freshly eighteen at the time, but I still wasn’t naive enough to ignore that interviews are so often for these sort of symbiotic PR purposes- promoting the work or career of someone while increasing traffic to your site/publication.

But there was this question mark hanging over my head after reading his book, about what I perceived to be a farfetched portrayal of his minor female characters. During the interview, even though I was so nervous to bring it up, I somehow very confidently blurted it out, and he was genuinely taken aback by the question. He ended up giving me this amazingly honest answer, where he essentially said that he hadn’t recognized that flaw in his own writing but could understand it now that I brought it up. That takes guts and some serious reflective abilities. Afterwards, he blogged about the interview and said something to the tune of “the best interviews make you squirm” and called me a reincarnation of Oriana Fallaci. That was one of my proudest moments; after that, I felt like I could interview anyone.

 

HC: Where do you see yourself in ten years? Will you be focusing on print or radio media?

I’ve kind of dipped my toes into sports, music, public affairs, environmental, photography and a variety of media topics to increase my job prospects after graduation. And to me, storytelling is storytelling and the venue isn’t the biggest issue. But at this point, I think I’d like to veer towards radio if I could. I plan to get some experience at the campus radio station (88.9 the Impact) before I graduate and hopefully get a position at Michigan Radio or NPR after graduation. I’ve still got the teenage me’s attitude towards it: whoever gives me a shot, I’m determined to give them their money’s worth.

 

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