A Career in Entertainment Journalism, is it Right for You?
Hollywood. It’s the epicenter of film, television, the A-list and fame. The city is alluring to any budding entertainment journalist who can envision themselves chatting with Dwayne Johnson or Selena Gomez about their latest project, getting their full attention within a specific time frame.
Are you’re curious if entertainment journalism is something you want to pursue but don’t know where to start? I spoke to two industry veterans about their own careers and asked them for advice and tips to see if you’ve got what it takes to carve out a career as an entertainment journalist.
I’m sure your first question would be, “How do I even get a job in entertainment journalism?”
There’s the traditional route — degree, internships and networking — that helps opens those doors, but there are other non-traditional ways those same doors may open. One just has to see the opportunity and be bold enough to take it.
Scott Huver has been in the industry for over 21 years as a freelancer for outlets like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and People Magazine and has seen people enter the industry in some unconventional ways.
“People in entertainment journalism come in from all different directions,” Huver said. “You could be working behind the counter at Fred Siegel and funneling little gossip tidbits to US Weekly and they like you and they bring you on, and the next thing you know, you’re doing like, somewhat, you know, hardcore legit journalism.”
Huver, who has a degree in television and film and was three credits shy of a minor in journalism, got his first gig in entertainment with a combination of luck, quick thinking and resilience. He had been a reporter for a local paper in the Los Angeles area, but after taking some time to work on a book, Huver found himself broke and in need of a job. When a friend told him about a position open at Hollywood.com, which was one of the few online entertainment news sites on the web at the time, Huver applied and got a meeting. As luck would have it, the night before the interview, he got an invite by a friend to be his plus-one to a movie premiere. At the after-party, Huver used the situation to his advantage and interviewed people at the event. The next day, armed with a story from the party, he went to his meeting. He said that he didn’t even make it to his car before they called him, asking him if he wanted the job.
“It’s being, you know, resourceful,” Huver said. “It’s being kind of ahead of the curve on stuff. Like you can do it. It’s just hustle is a key part of the ingredient.”
But how do you have continued success working at an entertainment news outlet after you’ve gotten your foot in the door? In the business built on scoops and breaking news, keep this mantra in mind: fact check, fact check, fact check. While someone who’s entered the industry from an unconventional way may not have fact-checking drilled into them, even those with degrees or years of experience under their belt will suffer the consequences if they don’t triple-check their work.
Marcela Isaza, an entertainment reporter and producer for The Associated Press for almost two decades, discussed her organization’s decision-making process after news broke in February that actress Shailene Woodley had gotten engaged to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“We never got confirmation from Shailene’s camp, so that story never went out on behalf of AP,” Isaza said.
With the industry having a history of outlets competing to be the first to report and the public still scarred from “fake news,” Isaza still sees journalism as sacred.
“If someone dies, we will not run it at all until we get confirmation from a publicist or manager,” Isaza said.
The Associated Press, of course, have had their share of retracted stories and want to be the first to break one, but Isaza explained that “for the most part, it’s about getting things right.”
Huver addressed a mistake he had made in his early years in the business. He wrote a piece based on a second-hand transcript he received from someone that ended up, as he described it, being complete “bull s — — .”
“The celebrity and their rep, like, raised holy hell about it,” Huver explained after the article was published online. “They were right, you know? And I just trusted the source, and the source burned me.”
Over the years, Isaza has also seen the entertainment media’s on-air talent change from the typical blond, blue-eyed look to a more diverse staff: Black, Latina and Asian.
Throughout her career, Isaza said the number one thing she hears from newcomers their aspirations to be on-air talent. She said her response is usually, “That’s great, and continue to pursue it because you never know,” and she encourages them to keep working on being natural on-camera and being natural with the interviewee.
But Isaza said she also urges them to also be open to taking on other jobs in the meantime and be open to other things and to learn as much as you can.
“You got to be ready to lift some equipment, drag some cords, plug stuff in, bring some water,” Isaza said.
With a degree in broadcast journalism, Isaza had three internships at USC, which helped her land a job as an editorial assistant at a local Los Angeles news station upon graduating. It wasn’t glamorous work by any means.
“You work the really sucky hours, from like 2 a.m. to noon,” Isaza said. “It was horrible, but, you know, you get the experience and it was great. I learned a lot.”
Isaza said that there are a lot of rookies who come into the business with a “fake it till you make it” and “it’s not in my job description” attitude. They only want to be in front of the camera and try to establish boundaries early on in the process. But these boundaries only set them up for failure, Isaza explained.
“No, I don’t edit. I don’t do this, I don’t do that,” Isaza said. “Well guess what? That’s what everyone learns now and that’s what everyone does in these positions.”
But how do you navigate once you’ve got the job? The glitz of a movie premiere or meeting your childhood hero for the first time can be overwhelming for those who are just getting into entertainment. Many young journalists come and go because of their inability to weave their way through the industry. If you’re lucky, find a mentor or two. Or, at the very least, find someone who’ll lend an ear and occasionally offer words of wisdom.
I, too, was that starry-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears red carpet journalist, and I’ve wondered what advice I would have given to myself at the beginning of my career. When asked that same question, both Huver and Isaza gave compelling answers.
Between the three of us, there have been countless event and red carpet hours worked. The environment can be volatile and chaotic because everyone is eager for celebrities to arrive to get their moment with them. Most of the time, they show up very late, if they show up at all.
Huver said, “Be adaptable,” advising that it will help you get through the most challenging situations.
Although he’s a veteran who has built a rapport with celebrities and their publicists, it doesn’t guarantee that Huver, or anyone for that matter, will get the interview they are hoping for.
“You don’t know who all’s going to show up for sure and who you’re going to get to talk to,” Huver said, “and you’ve got to prep for everybody.”
He explained that you could be having a one-on-one conversation, and you’ve made up your mind about where you want it to go. But then it could take a sharp turn. Adaptability will help you be prepared to go in a totally different direction.
“There can be a mood that pervades, or you could be having a great red carpet, and some person throws a monkey wrench,” Huver said, “Or, you can be having a terrible red carpet, and somebody comes along and saves the day!”
Huver also went on to apply his advice as it also relates to the constant change in technology.
“I’m an old school person, and I have had to ‘up’ my technology game just to be efficient,” Huver said.
He was one of the first to start sending audio files straight from the red carpet to be transcribed by someone else. Even though it cut into Huver’s take-home pay, it helped free up his time to perform other parts of his job, not spending hours transcribing interviews himself.
“It’s figuring out those kinds of things and how to do everything faster, smarter, better.” Huver said, “That part you have to do on your own. There’s not a manual for that.”
For Isaza, the advice to her novice self was uniquely different.
“I would tell myself that I do belong,” Isaza said.
She described her upbringing as having come from an urban, low economic situation. When Isaza got to AP, she was the only young Latina female, surrounded by old, white men. She said that she would stay low and quiet, not wanting to make a fuss, convinced that they must have hired her by mistake.
“What am I doing here?” Isaza would ask herself constantly.
It seemed that Isaza suffered from “imposter syndrome” as she described her disbelief of being hired at an esteemed outlet, hobnobbing with Tinsel Town’s elite.
Isaza would also tell herself that she does deserve to be at all of those Hollywood events interviewing A-listers and the like.
“I don’t think I felt like that ever, really, on the inside,” Isaza explained, “And it took me years to grow into it and get comfortable with it more.”
Isaza told me during those early years, she always felt grateful “just to be there” and was and still is appreciative of her career.
I’ve worked beside Isaza, and she is so poised and at ease during those conversations that I would have never guessed that she ever felt out of place.
“I was always trying to be more mute,” Isaza said with a smile, “And now, I’m just like ‘Where’s my fur?”
When I started, my path was precisely how Huver and Isaza both described, a hustle and not glamorous. My expectations versus real-life were completely skewed, thinking that I would only be in a studio, reading entertainment news off a teleprompter. But because I’ve adapted, my career has evolved into so much more. I’ve become comfortable behind the camera and not just in front of it by learning to shoot, edit and produce video segments. And not just for myself, but for other correspondents.
The first time I had a one-on-one with an A-lister, I was, of course, nervous. Isaza and I were sitting in the waiting area, and I asked her if the “butterflies” ever went away.
Isaza replied: “No, but it’s a great reminder that you’re alive.”
So here’s that piece of advice I’d give to my rookie self:
“Continue to set goals. When you reach one, set another. Don’t stop till you’re in a place in your career that you couldn’t imagine would be possible. Enjoy it. Then, set another goal.”
Hollywood was built from imagination and continues to flourish because the possibilities are limitless. It would help if you looked at your career in the same way. Use your imagination and know that the possibilities are infinite. For those curious about entertainment journalism, I hope this article helps you decide if it is the path for you.
And yes, I still get butterflies.