My First Week at The Wall Street Journal

by Gabriela Brenes, Chicas Poderosas Fellow

A post-it, a badge and a question mark: my first week at The Wall Street Journal

You know things just got real when an elevator outsmarts you and there’s a coffee machine on every floor. When you swing around the revolving doors of the majestic building on 1211 Avenue of the Americas, that’s the first thought that comes to you: “This is some serious business”. And it is, for that building harbors some of the greatest media professionals in the country.

My first week at The Wall Street Journal puts me in a difficult position because as a journalist, I am lacking the words to capture the whole picture. While most of my feelings have been embodied by Anne Hathaway one way or the other, here is a rather clumsy attempt to describe sensations that ought to remain as pure as the experience they feed on.

A post it.

Welcome to the big leagues. Your very first day at anything starts as a big blur, and if you’re lucky enough, it will end just like that. This means you still have a whole lot to discover. In my case, the blur started on the 7th floor of the building. First I met Michelle LaRoche, Development Editor and gatekeeper on external applicants for news jobs at the WSJ. What happened thereafter reminded me I was playing in the big leagues now.

In just a few minutes I had my badge, my WSJ email address, my internal access to the WSJ apps, and a computer all set to start working. They even provided me with a really comfortable workstation, conveniently located next to the team, and just a few steps from the bathroom and the coffee machine. This is important, trust me. You see, in “desk picking”, like in real estate, it’s “location, location, location”.

I stared at that pristine desk for a few minutes, trying to figure out what my next move should be, when suddenly this caught my eye:

A mantra, a recipe, a to-do list…whatever it is you want to call it, these crystallized principles should command your work-ethic every day:

  • Sharpen the edge
  • Raise the game
  • Wow the customer

A badge.

“A family like no other”. My badge says I am part of an organization called Dow Jones. “What does that stand for?”, I asked myself during the week. For starters, a remarkable institution of news creators, market movers, curators and innovators. One of the most fascinating treats about being here is the chance to explore the life inside a legacy newspaper reinventing itself to meet the highest standards of a competitive market in the digital era.

As I looked deeper into that, however, one of the branding introductory books said this: Dow Jones is “a family like no other”. Since I started working here, I’ve witnessed a rare oxymoron of ultimate productivity and structural plasticity. These teams are ambitious, they set the bar, and then raise it some more before tackling the next challenge. Yet the work environment is calm, respectful and smooth.

While there is indeed a chain of command, and you’re expected to deliver tangible outcomes, the work system guides you naturally towards finding your optimal pace and obtaining the best results possible. My only assessment so far is this: people here seem to love what they do, and thus, they’re great at it.

During my first week, I was provided with all the tools I needed to settle in, and with that, two things that proved to be the keys to the whole system: trust and respect. Each person in the office is valued as a creative and considerate individual, capable of making important decisions and owning up to the results of their actions. For instance, I don’t know how many organizations would accept an intern’s suggestion for a workshop on their second day at the office. But they did, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity.

If you take a minute to analyze the dynamics in the newsroom, you’ll see that every member of the team is motivated. Also, we have a vast array of tools to communicate effectively with each other, and it’s easy to keep track of your activities.

As for me, I like to come in early and take a moment to breathe in the spirit of the newsroom. Around 8am, there’s a moment of peace, where I like to indulge myself in the contemplation of the empty space, and enjoy a playlist I call my “Morning Thinking Juice”, filled with mellow R&B tracks, a little acoustic pop, some John Mayer, Sam Smith, James Arthur and few covers I’ve stumbled upon. It’s an open, collaborative playlist, so feel free to add your own tunes! 🙂

A question mark (*).

Experience is your ultimate teacher. In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, English poet William Blake wrote one of my favorite quotes ever: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to men as it is, infinite.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges this week was not letting my own fears or personal labels –such as ‘intern’, ‘newbie’, or even ‘migrant’– get in the way of seizing this opportunity. As much as I have read about Dow Jones, the WSJ and its various news products, nothing compares to the hard-earned wisdom you acquire by walking these halls. Experience is indeed your ultimate teacher; and when you allow yourself to absorb the power of limitless exploration, lessons might come from the least expected places, even a bumper sticker: “Lord, help me be the person that my dog thinks I am”.

Throughout my fellowship, I’ll be working under the direction of Jennifer Hicks (Deputy Managing Editor, Digital), and Katharine Bailey (Head of News Product Initiatives). My project? Studying Latin American markets and developing content strategies for various news products accordingly.

The end result? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, thanks for keeping up with these updates. As I said on my previous post, I’m here on behalf of an international community of tinkerers and innovators, and it’s a privilege to be representing each and every one of them.

(*) FYI: there’s a screening room in the building, a movie theater. Whoever thought about it, thank you for your contribution to mankind.


Bonus track

10 (very) random facts about New York City:

  1. More than 47% of NYC’s residents over the age of 5 speak another language other than English at home.
  2. It is a misdemeanor to fart in NYC churches.
  3. Albert Einstein’s eyeballs are stored in a safe deposit box in the city.
  4. Times Square is named after the New York Times. It was originally called Longacre Square until 1904 when the NYT moved there. (This one I heard from @impronunciable, and it’s true)
  5. The price of a slice of pizza and the cost of a single ride on the subway has been nearly equal for the past 50 years.
  6. Women may go topless in public, providing it is not being used as a business.
  7. New York City subway musicians actually go through a rigorous selection process. Many of the musicians have even performed at famous venues such as Carnegie Hall before moving to the subways. (Attention: Daniel Bacchieri
  8. 60% of cigarettes sold in NYC are illegally smuggled from other states.
  9. There are more undergrad and graduate students in NYC than Boston has people.
  10. Madison Square Park, Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, and Bryant Park used to be cemeteries.

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