Mentor of the Month: Stephen Jiwanmall

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 fourth Mentor of the Month is Stephen Jiwanmall (@SteveJiwanmall), a video reporter for three Calkins Media newspapers in suburban Philadelphia. Ask him anything via stephen.jiwanmall@gmail.com.

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

I’m currently a video reporter for three suburban Philadelphia newspapers: the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer and the Burlington County Times. I started as an associate producer in May 2013.

Q: Did you always want to work in journalism? How did you transition into broadcast journalism as your specialty?

I always loved writing as a kid, but journalism came to me partly by chance. I had signed up for a computer science elective in high school, but the class wasn’t available, so I was put in my alternate choice – newspaper writing. I wound up on the high school newspaper’s staff and fell in love with journalism ever since. My transition to broadcast journalism came after an internship with The Philadelphia Inquirer. While I loved my experience there, I saw that I needed to expand my abilities as a journalist beyond just print. I explored two internships at two local TV stations, and I furthered my education by studying broadcast journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

Q: What’s your schedule like on an average day?

I was promoted to full-time video reporter in January of this year. My schedule has since been anything but typical. I usually have a story in mind for the day — sometimes tagging along with a print reporter to do video, other times finding a story on my own. Often, I’m reporting on deadline to make sure I have the piece in the daily web newscast at 4 p.m.

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

I’m convincing myself that journalism will not die. The platforms will obviously change, but having the knowledge, skills and ability to relay information will always be crucial when delivering news. Sure, the industry isn’t the best-paying, but I never joined journalism for the money. (I don’t think anyone did.) I encourage young journalists to realize their strengths and play to them whenever possible. What drives you? What do you know a lot about? Where are your best sources? How do you create a piece that stands out to your target audience? If you have trouble answering these questions, talk to colleagues. Bounce off ideas. That’s where some of the best stories start.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I adore going out in the community and getting stories. I was a producer for a year and a half, so I was mainly in the newsroom most days. Now, I get to drive around the area, grab my equipment and head out to people and places that have interesting stories. Not every piece is a feature. Not every piece is breaking news. Not every piece is happy and fluffy. But each piece deserves a voice, and I try to give that to the public.

Though I don’t work in Philadelphia, I’m all over Bucks, Montgomery and Burlington counties. The suburban landscape is gorgeous, especially in the spring and fall. Driving around the area is such a thrill. It’s not as hustle-and-bustle as Philly, but it’s got a lot to offer.

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

Outside of journalism, I’m usually around friends and family, most of whom are all in Philly. I’m a tennis lover, a church musician and a half-decent Bollywood dancer.

You can’t go wrong with Reading Terminal Market. The view at the top of the Art Museum steps is glorious. I’ve been meaning to check out the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

Here are some of Stephen’s favorite clips:

Remembering Riley

Evasham Rescue Dog in Puppy Bowl

Shaving Heads for Warrington Student with Cancer

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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