Mentor of the Month: Alex Lewis

Instead of a traditional paired mentor-mentee program this year, we are featuring monthly Q&A’s with mentors about how they broke into journalism, what their day is like, and any advice they have for young journalists. From there, students or anyone else (“mentees”) can email the mentors with any questions or set up informational interviews.

Our second Mentor of the Month is Alex Lewis (@alexjrlewis), an independent radio producer who has worked on stories for Marketplace, All Things Considered, and NewsWorks. Ask him anything via alexjrlewis@gmail.com.

Q: What is your current position, and how long have you been working there?

I’m an independent radio producer based here in Philadelphia. Currently, I work part-time as a producer at WHYY, produce several podcasts, make freelance public radio stories, and I’m helping to start a youth radio station at a local non-profit. So, depending on how you look at it, you could say I work for myself or that I work for a bunch of different organizations.  I’ve been a full-time freelancer since June 2013.

Q: Did you always want to work in radio? How did you “break into the industry,” so to speak?

The story I tell is that I fell in love with radio the moment I stepped into my college radio station. Even though that was a long time ago now, I still think that’s pretty accurate. But while college radio for me was mostly just playing music on the airwaves, I didn’t consider a career in radio journalism until I interned at WNYC after my freshman year. I remember looking around the office in New York and thinking, “I’m surrounded by smart, cool people and their job is a little bit different every day. This job works for me!” From there I had a few more public radio internships, took an audio documentary class, and after I graduated I got an opportunity to make radio at Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. My career in radio basically took off from there.

Q: Describe your typical work day.

I have a few types of typical days. Some days I’m out in the field recording interviews and sounds, others I’m sitting behind a computer all day editing scripts and audio, and then there are other days when I’m researching story ideas or writing story pitches. Most of my weeks are a kind of collage of these sorts of days.

Q: What is your best advice for young journalists? Does their career outlook seem bleak or optimistic?

I can’t really speak for print or online journalism, but my experience working in (mostly) public media has been full of opportunity. It’s an especially exciting time for audio and multimedia right now. Podcasts are having a big moment and just look at any news or media site – they’re flooded with creative uses of audio. When I was starting out in radio, I had a vague idea that I would eventually work as a radio reporter at a station or as a producer for a public radio show. But, at least for now, it’s turned out that having audio storytelling skills has been desirable and valuable in all kinds of settings I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.

So my best advice for a young journalist would be to hone your craft whatever it is, become a really good storyteller, and then stay open to the ways media is expanding. From my experience, journalism is far from dead. Its job titles and opportunities are just changing.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job? And the best thing about being a journalist in Philadelphia?

I’m in a fortunate position right now where I have enough work as a freelancer to avoid working in an office or reporting to a boss. I love that I can choose the projects I want to work on, the stories I want to tell, and that I can mostly make my own hours. As for the radio medium, I’ve always enjoyed working with audio. It’s a joy weaving together voices and sounds from the world to tell stories. And Philadelphia is a great place to do all this because the cost of living is cheap, the public radio scene is vibrant but uncompetitive, and there are stories everywhere. Also – I know this is an acquired taste – I love working at home.

Q: What do you enjoy outside of journalism? Favorite places to hang out in the city, or hobbies, etc.?

I’ve been a musician for much longer than I’ve been a radio producer. I still play guitar in bands, go on the occasional tour, and recently I’ve been working on a few scoring projects.  I live in West Philly and can’t really imagine living anywhere else in the city.  Other than that, I play soccer, seek out delicious food, and go on as many weekend car adventures as possible.

WHYY has lots of radio internship opportunities that run all year, and although unpaid, these can be great hands-on experience. Here are some of Alex’s featured clips:

Any questions or comments about the mentorship program itself? Would you like to be featured as a Mentor of the Month too? Contact Meeri Kim, AAJA-Philly’s Mentorship Director, via meerinkim@gmail.com.

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