MSNBC's Alexandria Preston On Journalism Life After NYU

The DL:

  • Name: Alexandria (Alex) Preston
  • Hometown: River Forest, Illinois
  • School: CAS '15
  • Major: Journalism and English
  • Current Job: Production Assistant for MSNBC’s Morning Joe


HC NYU: So you’re a production assistant for MSNBC’s Morning Joe—could you tell me a bit about what your day-to-day life is like at MSNBC?

AP: Morning Joe is a political show, so now we’re really in the swing of things with the election and everything that’s going on, so it depends day-to-day. We have a segment called “Morning Papers” so I’ll come in in the morning and I’ll sift through different stories and identify what I think would fit the voice of Morning Joe, and I’ll write up the scripts and then I’ll sit down with my editor. We’ll talk about it, and he’ll tell me what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and that's how I can learn from it and improve my scripts the next time. And then anytime we need sound bites of any one speaking in speeches or anything like that, I’ll be the person to go and transcribe them and put them in our run-down for our show the next day. At the beginning of my PA job, I was managing the studio, which involved making sure that everyone was where they needed to be - so [I was] in charge of tracking cars to make sure that guests come to the studio on time, making sure that the anchors have their scripts, etc. So yea, my main thing is just prepping for the next day’s show.

HC NYU: What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

AP: I would definitely say the most rewarding part is just being just straight out of college and getting to work at the NBC headquarters for a political show. I never really studied politics before this, and now I love it. I’ve become very involved in politics and just sort of learning how politics works, but I’m also learning how a show is built from the producing side. I’m learning how people decide whom they want to interview, or how we decide what story we want to tell and what angle we want to tell it with. And I have really great producers that I can learn from and I can just ask “Hey, why did you have him on?” or “Why did you tell the story with that particular angle?” and then I start to learn about the voice and the aesthetic of the show. I would say the most challenging [thing] is that in journalism you have to have a very thick skin. People are very quick and to the point, and they’re just very direct with you. You can’t really take it personally, you just have to shake it off and learn from experience. You can’t dwell on it or think that it’s anything personal. Everyone’s just trying to do the best that they can do, and when there’s a live show like this, it’s just very in the moment so you have to be on the balls of your toes and pay attention to every single detail.

HC NYU: Could you tell me a little bit about how you originally got involved in journalism and what made you want to major in it?

AP: I think I‘ve known since about eighth grade. I saw the anchors on TV and I thought it was kind of cool that everyday people were depending on them to tell us what’s going on in the world. And just like at that very like basic level I thought, "I want to be doing that - I want to be the one to tell people what’s important; what it is they should know." And then as I grew up, I learned that there are all different types of journalists and all different types of shows, and so I just educated myself. I knew that I wanted to be on air, but after a couple of opportunities speaking to people and some internships in high school, I learned that it was the producers that were behind-the-scenes that were calling the shots. Not that the anchors aren’t calling the shots, but the producers determine, “I want this to happen at this time" or "I want this story to accompany this picture or this sound byte,” and I decided that I wanted to learn everything on the producing side, [and] know how to build a show from the ground up. That’s how I learned and knew that I wanted to do journalism, and that’s why I went to NYU.

HC NYU: Did you participate in any activities at NYU related to journalism?

AP: Yeah I did! Well in journalism, you can’t really take classes where you’re actually using the camera and stuff until sophomore or junior year, but I happened to have a work study job at "The Cage," which is a room where everyone can rent equipment [Ed note: this room is located in the 20 Cooper Square journalism building]. I had a job there as a freshman, maybe like 10 hours a week, and because of that job and who I worked with, I was learning how to use all of the cameras and other equipment. I was also speaking to upperclassmen and masters students about what they were shooting and how they were going to shoot it, and that was really beneficial because before I even started shooting for myself, I was learning about all the equipment and getting familiar with it and I could just check it out on my own and play around with it for a little bit. So yeah, just having a job like that was great because I was exposed to all the journalism professors too. They work at the New York Times, ABC, and so being exposed to those people and being able to meet them was amazing.

HC NYU: Could you tell me about some of your most memorable internships?

AP: Right off the bat, Morning Joe was my most enjoyable and memorable internship, because that’s how I realized that what I want to be doing is live TV. I want to be there in the moment, be the one that’s under pressure making those fast decisions, and I realized that that’s what I excel at. But I also had a lot of internships that taught me what I didn’t want to do. I thought I loved communication, and I had an internship at Pepsi Co. in Chicago, and while I loved the company and the people that I worked with, I realized that that just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I also had an internship at Marie Claire, and while I love Marie Claire, I knew that print journalism wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’m glad that I learned that way. And it was the same thing with my Fox internship - that’s actually how I learned that I wanted to be behind-the-scenes and not necessarily just on camera. So I feel like my internships that led up to Morning Joe taught me what I didn’t want to do, and Morning Joe was what I wanted to do.

HC NYU: And speaking of your Morning Joe internship, if I remember correctly, the hours were 3:30 am to 10:30 am, and you said you managed it during your senior year. Can you tell me what that experience was like and how you were able to successfully balance that with all of your other responsibilities such as school work?

AP: I don’t really know, I mean, looking back, I definitely 100% would do it all over again. But I don’t really understand how that kind of happened. I applied to Morning Joe for the fall semester of my senior year, but I applied too late and they were like "I’m sorry, we already have all our interns, but we like your resume, keep in contact, and re-apply for the spring." And so I applied in the spring, and I got the internship, and the hours were 3:30 – 10:30 am and I started off working 3 days a week. But if I could do it, I always wanted to turn an internship into a full-time job. You know, just have that seamless transition senior year, and somehow that actually worked out, but it came at a price because by the end of it, I was full-time NYU and full-time Morning Joe. So I was there every single morning, 3:30/4 am, managing the studio, and then I would be running to class afterwards. It was actually so crazy because on graduation day, I was at Morning Joe, and I left at 9 am and took a car from Morning Joe to Yankee Stadium to graduate. It was crazy! There were definitely pluses and minuses, and although I will never knock having a job, it was very stressful. I don’t really know when I slept, because honestly now that I think about it, when you’re doing something that you love, and it has to be something that you love and are passionate about—other things, like eating and sleeping, become secondary to like, the need to get in the door at NBC. It also helped that by that time senior year, I knew NYU in and out. I knew what I could do, what I couldn’t do, what I could get away with, what I absolutely needed to study for, etc. I think my 3 years at NYU and my time management through those years really prepared me for that senior year, and I always knew it was going to be hard but I also knew it was going to be worth it.

HC NYU: That’s so impressive. Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring journalists?

AP: I would say, first of all, even if it seems like you’re not enjoying an internship, or that it’s not what you want to be doing, you are still learning because it’s teaching you about yourself and what you don’t like, and that way you know now where you don’t want to be doing. So even if you’re not enjoying it, you’re still going forward. And don’t second-guess yourself. Some of the best advice that someone ever gave me is that you’re smarter than you think. You know what it is that you’re supposed to be doing - you know how it’s supposed to be carried out - so have confidence in yourself to go ahead and do that. And if you mess up that’s fine. Mistakes are part of it. As long as you acknowledge your mistakes, you learn from it, and you don’t let it happen again. You have to have confidence in yourself and definitely just know yourself and your worth.

HC NYU: What do you miss most about being a college student or being at NYU?

AP: That one’s easy. NYU was such a nice safety blanket, you weren’t a real adult in New York City, you were a student, and it sort of meant something, it meant that you could have a little leniency. Now I just miss having that safety blanket. While it’s fun, it’s also kind of scary being an adult for the first time. And I have a full-time job now—my hours are 10am-6pm, so I miss having a varying schedule, and free afternoons.

HC NYU: Do you have any goals or plans for your future?

AP: As someone who is a recent adult, that is a very intimidating question that I probably ask myself every single day. And you know, right now I don’t. I have a full time job and I’m happy where I am for now. Come next summer, when a year has gone by, I’ll reevaluate and see if this track is one that I want to keep going on. [Maybe I could] go from a production assistant to an associate producer to a segment or a booking producer. Or I may decide that since all my family is out west, I’ll want to head over to California. But I’m not sure yet, and that’s also the most thrilling part. I don’t really know because I have my whole life ahead of me to decide. And I’ve had some great opportunities already and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Follow Alexandria on Twitter or visit her website:

Photos courtesy Alexandria Preston; shot by Antony Scutro and Miller Hawkins