Funding a journalism career shift

“My advice to all journalists is — get financially literate,” said Shanahan speaker Diane Henriques at lunch today, and her words of guidance are applicable to journalists of all ages, particularly those who are going through a career change.

The goal of this panel is to explore career shifts in journalism and discuss strategies for funding your next entrepreneurial journalism project.

Cheryl Dahle, journalism entrepreneur
Margie Freivogel, editor, St. Louis Beacon
Phuong Ly, freelance journalist and founder of Gateway California

Dawn Garcia, deputy director, Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford


Dawn Garcia introduced the session by emphasizing its focus on practical learning and sharing tips for how to actually capture funding for your new journalism project.

Each panelist briefly discussed their own career-shift experience:

Cheryl Dahle worked at Fast Company magazine as a tech/business reporter, transitioned to freelancing, and then began to work with non-profits. Dahle studied social change developed by entrepreneurs, and helped charitable foundations like Hewlett Packard Foundation guide other nonprofits to success.

Phuong Ly was a newspaper reporter at the Washington Post before she got married, moved 3 times in 3 years, and learned to hustle in the freelance world. Her advice? “Do one job not 5 jobs. Specialize in one subject area.” It makes you more valuable to potential employers. Ly specialized in immigration journalism and began to supplement her income as a freelancer by writing immigration reports for non-profits and going for numerous fellowships and grants over the years. “Diversify your income,” she says.

Margie Freivogel took a buyout at St Louis Post Dispatch and founded the St Louis Beacon, an online, non-profit news site. “I didn’t feel like I left industry, felt like it left me,” she says, referring to all the layoffs and changes happening in the traditional journalism world. After she left the Dispatch, she spoke to some journalist friends and promptly realized she wasn’t dismayed about the current state of journalism, she was excited about new possibilities.

Dawn Garcia asked the panel: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve learned from the most?

Margie Freivogel responded, “The biggest mistake people make is, their passion becomes an obstacle to achievement.” Journalists think they need to do it all themselves, but the truth is you need to rely on others and cooperate.

“One shortcoming many women have is we want things to be so perfect,” said Phuong Ly, “we’re paralyzed with inertia. One of the most important things I’ve learned is get it out there. It’s ok if it doesn’t look perfect the first time.”

Cheryl Dahle urged, “Don’t limit yourself.” Don’t fall into the trap of saying, ‘I am this and not that.’ She says, because she didn’t know how to be a CEO and had never done it before, she thought she couldn’t do it. It turns out she was the perfect person for the job–the sustainable fisheries cause was her baby, she’d researched and seen it through with the HP Foundation for 2 years. She was capable.

Grants, Proposal Tips, etc:

Margie Freivogel commented that local foundations or local donors are alternative sources of funding that are often easier than the traditional grant sources, nowadays.

“Avoid narrowly defining your topic,” said Cheryl Dahle. “Slice your topic 10 ways to appeal to different funders. My skills as a journalist allow me to write successful proposals.” Design, well-written = wow.

Phuong Ly urged, “Be a reporter.” Call around to former fellows of grants, ask to get a copy of their successful proposal. “Take the relentlessness you have as a reporter and apply that to getting grants.”

Dawn Garcia said, “Three things: Do your homework. Show your passion. Help us picture you actually doing this project.”

Callie Crossly, assured us, “anybody in journalism is an entrepreneur.” Birgit Rieck commented, “I’m always amazed that journalists will go through anything to get their stories but they don’t think they can do it (take on an entrepreneurial project.)”

Cheryl Dahle closed the session with her reassuring comment, “the way your minds been trained as a journalist makes you useful to many different types or organizations.”