This week’s Tip Jar comes from Elisa Tang, a recent Hofstra University graduate working as a Production Associate for the Today Show. You can view her online portfolio here: etang1.wordpress.com
How did you end up at the Today Show? What’s your story?
I interned at Today during the 2014 Fall semester of my senior year. I worked really hard while I was there, even if it meant getting up at an ungodly hour that I was definitely not used to! It was worth it. I would go into the Today studio or newsroom everyday, and constantly ask the producers and staff, “How can I help? I am open to working on any project.” I stayed in touch with my supervisor and some producers, and when a Production Associate position opened up just a few weeks shy of my graduation, I jumped on the opportunity. While at college, and through my internship experience at Today, I learned that I wanted to produce not just news stories, but human interest features, and entertainment stories. That’s why I felt that the Today Show would be the best place for me to grow.
How would you explain your current position and what do you enjoy most about it?
The job of a Production Associate is definitely more challenging than I had imagined. It has been challenging, but fulfilling. The senior producers of the show rely very heavily on the PAs to provide all of the information for each segment, and each story, so that the show can run smoothly.
The four Production Associates on the Today team create the entire rundown for the four-hour show. It’s a very, very detail-oriented job. We have to coordinate with every producer (and there’s many), NBC’s Commercials Division, Production Managers, Stage Managers, Today Digital, etc. to make sure that every detail in the rundown is accurate. I’ve learned so much about the show, television production, and news management because of this job.
I enjoy the fast-paced environment of the control room when we are live on the air. It’s exhilarating. Most of all, I enjoy being in the same environment as some of the greatest leaders in this industry; I’ve gained sharper news judgement, and learned a great deal of storytelling because of them.
What advice can you give to college students looking to pursue a career in this field?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, but don’t expect things to be handed to you. If you have an interest or a passion in something, explore it further. Don’t give up the opportunity to turn that idea into a story, or possible internship/job.
What is the best way to connect with people/get a foot in the door?
With social media and the countless number of resources for communication, it is always possible to connect with people. You can meet people at your internship or at a networking event. You could do something as simple as asking the person if they want to grab coffee sometime to learn more about their experience and the industry. They will really admire that you are taking the initiative to learn more about the field you’re in. I have never met a person who turned me down to coffee or some sort of informational meeting.
Also, I am a strong believer in putting yourself out there. I have used LinkedIn a number of times to connect with people, even strangers, and I have met some really inspirational individuals! Some gave me great advice that helped me sort out my career path, and some even opened doors to internship/job opportunities. You never know who can lead you to what.
What tools/skills do you need to be successful in this field?
Communication, confidence, and honesty. Those are the main skills that immediately come to mind when I think about my experience in this industry. The first skill I mentioned is a given—that is our industry after all! I would definitely say courage because you should have faith in yourself to take on different opportunities, even if they seem intimidating at first. You might think of the next brilliant idea, but no one will know until you put it out there. I didn’t expect to win a Gracie Award in my lifetime, let alone in college, but I did. That was because I had confidence in my work, and because of the incredible support I received from WRHU Radio Hofstra University, where I produced my piece!
Honesty is also really important, because you need to be truthful with yourself about what you do and don’t understand, and what you’re interested in. I think it’s crucial to have a job that actually interests you. If you know that you’re not happy with something, you need to evaluate what opportunities will. Also, I can often agree with the saying, “Fake it ’til you make it,” but that’s not always the case. When you’re working in a job that requires you to know certain programs, you can’t fake your way through that for long. You can definitely figure it out, but sooner or later, people will find out. If you’re struggling with something, you should be honest and seek ways to improve, or find something that better suits your abilities and interests.
What is the most difficult part of this profession and how do you handle it?
The most difficult part of this profession is realizing that success does not come easy, and does not come without a lot of work. To be honest, when I first started my job, I was having trouble dealing with the quick transition from school to working full-time. I am extremely grateful that I was given this opportunity because it’s not easy to find a job, especially in this industry; however, adjusting to a completely different schedule and balancing everything else in my post-grad life was a bit stressful. I think it’s very common for graduates to feel more vulnerable and scared.
Another part of that was learning how to deal with different people in the workplace. It’s a given that you won’t agree with everyone. I quickly realized the importance of focusing on your own work. It also helped me grow a tougher skin—when you’re in the control room trying to put on a news program at 4:00 in the morning, it can be very tense. You just need to communicate with your team, and work through the challenges as efficiently as possible to get everything accomplished.
Is there anything you would have done differently going into your career journey?
I know it’s a cliché, but I wouldn’t change any decision I made going into my career journey. I didn’t know then what I know now, and that’s probably the most rewarding part of my life right now. Even in the past five months that I’ve been at my job, I can look back at instances in which I made mistakes or faced obstacles and say, “I’ve grown so much.”
If there is one thing that I would tell myself during my senior year, it would be to give myself a break every once in a while and to be proud of myself. I was really hard on myself. My advice to the college students reading this: Four years go by really fast, and even after college, you will still be learning. Don’t rush things and know what’s best for you.
Where do you want to be in the future and how will you get there?
My dream is to produce digital content for the news, whether it be writing stories or creating videos and social content. I want to cover uplifting stories, human interest pieces, and issues that are affecting our society now, and will in the future.
I will get there by not just working on projects at work, but investing time in discovering new social tools, platforms, causes, issues and stories on my own time.
What is your biggest piece of general advice?
This industry can be very competitive, and truthfully it has its stressful moments, but it’s an industry in which people are working to connect with the world. Cheesy, I know, but true. No matter how hard you work, or how much you want something, always be a nice person. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and that’s what matters most. Also, people will remember the good personality you maintain when a problem occurs, or how well you work with others.
In your entire professional life thus far, what has been your favorite day on the job? Probably when Pope Francis came to town. That was a crazy mess, commuting wise, around the city and we were on the air for hours, but it was an amazing experience. I loved seeing how the senior producers strategically planned out every step of the broadcast, and how they worked with the timing of events throughout the day. I was also just amazed by how quickly this 78 year old pope traveled from one point to another in a matter of minutes.
What is your favorite TV show or series and why?
Ooh tough question! It’s a tie between Friends and Dexter, but I’ll always be a fan of I Love Lucy too. I’m also obsessed with Gotham right now, so it’s just a mix of all those things. Clearly, this is the exciting life of a journalist after work…I love the characters in all of those shows, and I love to laugh! I just have a special place in my heart for New York City, Batman, and old shows.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add? (About TV, work, life, anything!)
Thank you for such a great interview! One thing I really appreciated while in college, and still to this day, is speaking with people in the industry who share their advice and stories. I’m probably not as wise, since I’ve only been out of college a few months, but I’m always here to help my fellow communications peers!
Thank you for an amazing interview, Elisa!