January 13, 2019

In 2008, Jennifer Brandel worked in media services and freelanced in public radio. Now, she’s the CEO and co-founder of Hearken, a media engagement company.

In the past decade, pretty much everything about her work has changed.

“I’ve had to learn how to:

  • be a public radio reporter;
  • write grants and grant reports;
  • create strategic partnerships;
  • start and run a company;
  • hire, fire and manage people;
  • fundraise/navigate the venture capital and investment system;
  • get comfortable with public speaking;
  • take on immense responsibilities for other people’s livelihoods;
  • translate a concept into terms a variety of stakeholders can find value in;
  • not have weekends anymore.”

“I’ve seen the industry go from assuming the process by which journalism is made is the right or best process to reach its goals,” she said, “to fundamentally questioning the rules by which it operates.”

Here’s what Brandel told us about the past 10 years.

Looking back, what do you wish you’d done or changed faster?

I wish I’d listened to my internal voice that says “You don’t have to work with assholes” sooner.

Looking back, what are you glad you didn’t give up in your career?

Curiosity and compassion.

How have newsroom layoffs impacted your work, your newsroom and the city where you live?

They’ve ravaged newsrooms in Chicago. They’ve meant that so many of the newsrooms we’re trying to serve are under such pressure they find it hard to make room in their schedules and minds to think or work differently.

What advice would 2018 you give 2008 you?

Trust yourself. And when you talk about how news can change — only do it from a place of vision around how things could be; don’t pour salt on the many open wounds there already are. That doesn’t help.

Where do you think you’ll be 10 years from now?

Hopefully working with people who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and helping to design for our better natures.

What’s the best thing that’s happened in journalism in the past decade?

More accessible tone and personality infused into reporting. The view from somewhere — journalists admitting who they are and where they’re coming from.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened in journalism in the past decade?

Facebook. Inertia. Slowness in leadership to recognize an iceberg dead ahead.

What are you the most excited about now in your career?

Cross-disciplinary learning and the merging and dissolution of the barriers between disciplines.

What are you the most afraid of now in your career?

If my company ends up not being able to survive, people thinking that the model of journalism we espouse doesn’t work. It does. It’s just really hard to build a business when women are given 2 percent of all venture capital.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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