How this medical reporter became a full-time journalism professor

“At the beginning, most of [my students] have never read a newspaper. By the time I’m done with them, they can write several stories and don’t have any boundaries with talking to strangers.”

Dawn Fallik always knew that she needed to keep learning throughout her career. As a reporter, she was sent across the world covering different beats from sports to medicine, picked up jobs in public radio and data viz, and now teaches journalism 101 and medical reporting full-time. Poynter spoke to her about what it’s like to be a student and teacher, figuring out what to do after getting laid off, and what journalists need to survive in the industry today.

Enjoy the ride, no matter where you are in your career.

“When you’re a reporter, you get to do truly crazy things,” Fallik said, recounting a story where she once embarked on a month-long reporting trip to India and followed two doctors on their mission to save tsunami victims. “Even though I’m not a sports reporter, I once covered the Rams-Patriots Super Bowl and followed St. Louis fans on the train all the way to the game. What other job do you have where you get to do all these things, or write stories that change people’s lives very quickly?”

Getting laid off can make you more resilient.

When she described getting laid off from the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007, she described it as “a death.” All of a sudden, she didn’t have the weekly goals of making it on the front page or the intellectual challenge of chasing stories and working with her newsroom family. “I had to figure out what was next ... but I had lost faith in myself.”

Not having the option to return to the job she had loved and considered a safe space for years forced Dawn to find and pursue what was next for her, which ended up being academia.

It’s hard to find a teaching job if all you have done is print journalism.

Academia can seem like a field that many professionals can retire or transition to after a career spent in the newsroom, especially as print journalists from legacy media organizations begin seeking adjunct work. Fallik disagrees with this sentiment, especially after listening to many working journalists who don’t grasp the relevance of the skills students are learning in school.

“I talked my way into an internship at age 40 at the Wall Street Journal to learn multimedia skills,” she said. She also worked with Kansas Public Radio and applied to ProPublica’s Data Institute. “Many of the programs I’ve learned are no longer around, so I need a refresher.” She argued that journalists, even ones who want to stay in the newsroom, need to learn new skills to stay authoritative storytellers as the industry changes. As an academic professional who’s left the newsroom to teach the next generation of journalists, Fallik is even more convinced that it is vital to learn as much as your students to keep your own skills and your students’ skills relevant in media today.

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