May 13, 2019

Apply by Jan. 15 for the 2022 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Media.

“There comes a time at the beginning of your career when you can either stay put or take the risk to make the move,” a mentor told me after I graduated from college five years ago. “You will know when it’s time to make that move; you will be able to feel it.”

Last year, I felt it. After three years of covering LGBTQ issues for Philadelphia magazine, a legacy publication I professionally freelanced for, I was ready to challenge myself. I wasn’t failing, but I was beginning to feel too comfortable. While many around me praised my work, I began to internally feel predictable and uninspired.

Many emerging journalists of color are often told to be grateful to be employed by a legacy newsroom when major layoffs are happening on a monthly basis across the country. As a result, several diverse journalists in my own network often fear challenging their editors and/or employers for a promotion, raise or new project to work on.

I was never afraid to advocate for myself but was unsure of how to negotiate my wants with the least amount of friction. I needed help and — based on my growing lack of personal motivation — to change quickly.

“…this academy made me consider myself as a direct driver — not passive passenger — in what’s next in my career.”

Fortunately, I was selected as one of the 25 journalists at Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media in December. I immersed myself in a jam-packed, weeklong program, filled with great networking, self-reflection and hard/soft skills training by some of the most acclaimed media professionals in the industry.

It was during this powerful week that I learned how to be strategic, innovative and reflective about my current and future career plans. Unlike any training I’ve ever had before, this academy made me consider myself as a direct driver — not passive passenger — in what’s next in my career.

Too often, I spent time making decisions solely based on industry trends without ever factoring in how these choices would impact my personal goals and self-care.

During the fellowship, I acquired these five takeaways that have already changed my professional outlook moving forward:

  1. Check yourself first before assessing fault elsewhere.
  2. Galvanize advocates on the job who can rally behind you.
  3. Don’t ask for permission to start learning new skills.
  4. Take time to breathe and reflect often. Seriously.
  5. Any project, big or small, can be a defining moment.

These lessons taught me that playing the blame game without self-intervention wasn’t effective. Sure, there are a lot of industry problems that can easily be scapegoated, but there are also personal elements we bring to our workplaces that don’t help matters.

During the fellowship, I got the chance to unpack a lot of personal habits and traits that may have played a role in some of the earlier setbacks in my career. I often skipped looking at the bigger picture in how my proposed projects would impact various departments within my publication and how to consider working with others across the aisle.

While there are many outside forces we can’t control in media, sometimes the biggest roadblock in the way is you.

Today, I initially check my intentions, expectations, and goals prior to considering new opportunities that come my way as a professional freelancer. As a result, I’ve either seen immediate success or have saved myself from wasting time.

For example, I met with my editors after the Poynter Diversity Academy to discuss my interests in doing something different — and I was promoted to writer-at-large. I was given the freedom to cover a variety of issues that currently speak to my growing interests.

In addition, I’ve invested a great deal of energy in advancing my leadership skills beyond employment and have seen others in my city look up to me.

For me, the Poynter program made me not just want to continue to work in journalism, but to also lead in it.


Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. He’s the writer-at-large for Philadelphia magazine and the vice president of print for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. You can follow him on Twitter @MrErnestOwens.

Apply by Jan. 15 for the 2022 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Media.

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