MF 184 : Jack Speer on Moving Forward with a Career in Journalism and New Media
Updated: Jun 17
Successes at a glance:
Acclaimed journalist and news anchor at NPR.
Foundation Board member of SAG-AFTRA.
Faculty at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
Jack went to college during the 1970s at the height of the Watergate scandal. At the time, the example set by Woodward and Bernstein, as told in the film, ‘All the Presidents Men,’ inspired a lot of young people to pursue journalism. As a result, Jack thought he was going to be a newspaper reporter. He attended a small state school in Pennsylvania which was supposed to have a print journalism major. However, when Jack arrived the major was no longer an option. The college suggested that Jack either become an English major or study speech communications, which had two tracts: 1) speech and hearing, 2) radio and television. Faced with those options, Jack chose speech and communications with an emphasis on radio and TV. This led to a job working at the college radio station and his first TV appearances. Since then, Jack has built a long career in news, radio, and television, and hasn’t looked back since!
Transition to NPR:
In the early 1990s, Jack started doing more business reporting. NPR approached Jack with the goal of starting a business segment for their morning edition program. Jack came in for an initial meeting. After that, months passed and Jack didn’t hear anything. Sometime in October, Jack was traveling in Italy when the thought occurred that maybe he should follow up with NPR. It was the right thought at the right moment – Jack called NPR and they told him to come by after he returned from his trip. Jack has been with NPR ever since, now going on 20+ years.
Transition to Teaching:
In his early years as a correspondent, Jack traveled a lot. He also got invited to be a guest speaker in front of a lot of students. Between a desire to travel less for work and being bit by the teaching bug, Jack thought about opportunities that would allow him to do less of the former and more of the later. Then, in 2007, Jack was invited to anchor the hourly news on the popular NPR program, ‘All Things Considered.‘ While he thought it would be a temporary gig, Jack found he enjoyed it greatly. A side benefit was that the job gave him a more predictable schedule and a little extra time to pursue a graduate degree. Jack got his MA in journalism at the University of Maryland which meant he could now teach at the graduate school level. In addition to his many other responsibilities, Jack is now an adjunct faculty member at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Jack’s decision is a prime example continually reinventing yourself, taking on new challenges and having the humility, courage, and curiosity to start over.
Jack’s big why:
Jack’s driver is getting up every morning, finding out what’s going on in the world and trying to present it to an audience in a way that’s interesting and compelling. Jack likens his profession to being a lifelong learner and at the heart of it, and as communicated in his TEDx speech, Jack is a storyteller at heart.
Biggest challenge Jack faces today (and advice to future journalists):
The technology and the various platforms are numerous today. Jack shares that it’s much harder to break into traditional journalism today than in prior years but today, individuals have access to many more self-starter platforms to create media: blogs, podcasts, video.
Moving forward past that challenge:
While new media is great for starting out, it also presents a challenge for traditional news outlets. One way, Jack, and NPR are moving forward is to be proactive about embracing digital and social media. NPR has created numerous top-rated podcasts and employs a staff devoted to utilizing these newer web-based outlets to engage with its audience.
Favorite media resource that inspired Jack to move forward:
All the President's Men: the film about Woodward and Bernstein that inspired Jack to pursue a career in journalism.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac: one of many stories that embody Jack’s love of story.
Favorite tool or practice to manage his time:
Get up every morning, get online, and see what’s going on in the world – mornings are key to get things done.
Small choice or activity to move forward:
Jack is talking to all of the founding members at NPR about their experiences, including bringing the union into radio during the 1970s, and creating a video interview series.
Support the Podcast:
The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.
Try out Audible (affiliate link).
Try out Amazon Prime (affiliate link).
Who is Jack in five years:
Jack shares that in 2023, he won’t necessarily be doing everything he’s doing today. This is in part due to the massive changes that are occurring with media on a constant basis. Jack envisions he will continue teaching and continue his work in media; accepting that it may look a little (or a lot) different than it does today.
“I think you need to stay in the game, you need to stay engaged. I think people need to be involved. I know right now it’s difficult with so many media platforms clamoring for your attention and so much going on in the world – I think people at times feel overloaded, I think people feel like they can’t take any more news … but what you have to be able to do is to curate that. You have to be able to go thru the different news sources that are out there and curate and pull out the stuff that’s important because there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s important and it’s important that people stay engaged …”