KCPR radio DJs, liberal arts students and stragglers congregated in the lecture hall in building 52 this past Wednesday night. Stacey Anderson, a former KCPR general manager and Cal Poly journalism alumnus, stood before them.
Anderson, a music journalist who writes for the New York Times and Rolling Stone, discussed the current climate of journalism and the role sexism still plays in the newsroom. After her presentation, which was organized through KCPR and the journalism department, Mustang News had the opportunity to sit down with Anderson to discuss bands, mistakes and how to keep a chin up.
MN: What four items do you most commonly find in your pocket?
SA: It’s never a pen, because I’m always without a pen. I would say my phone, because it’s always a good backup recorder. Earbuds. I have them attached to my keys. I am very quickly losing my hearing and I have the knowledge that I need to wear ear plugs at some point. A Clif bar. It just soaks up the booze. Joking, but it’s helpful if you don’t know totally what day you’re going to have. I usually have a small notebook.
MN: What’s your favorite album from this year?”
SA: So far it’s a tie. Sufjan Stevens’ new album. I love it so much. It’s really incredibly beautiful and the Palma Violets’ new album, an English band. Exceptional psych garage rock. Incredible. They’re only 21 and the best rockers I’ve heard in the last five years.
MN: What’s the biggest professional mistake you’ve made?
SA: It was thinking I knew the industry better than I did. When I came into my internship at Spin (magazine), I was a very assertive person to the point that I didn’t totally respect the process, that I had to sit back and learn a bit. I remember one time, I interviewed someone that I should’ve just not spoken to. I was eager to the point of detriment. I think that there’s a lot to be said about being a little more methodical in how you express your ambition. I overstepped my boundaries as an intern early on by thinking that my experience interviewing people would be of more interest to my intern supervisor than it was. I was a little too aggressive I think.
MN: What do you think was the best professional decision that you made?
SA: I have three. I turned down a job at a prestigious magazine that would pay three times what I was currently paid because I knew it would not be intellectually challenging.
I moved to New York. That was the second.
I walked into the music editor of Spin’s office and talked his face off — would’ve been a mistake if he wasn’t so cool.
MN: What advice do you have for young, specifically female journalists who are trying to break into the journalism industry while being taken seriously?
SA: Know your own worth. Don’t internalize judgment on you. Always be open to criticism but to a healthy degree. In such a hyper-competitive atmosphere, people are going to want the same things as you. There’s a belief that there’s not enough room for everyone in the industry, that you need to take someone else’s spot to have your own. I don’t believe that. I think there’s room for everyone if you really work hard, if you’re kind to people and if you have a distinct point of view that you’ve cultivated.
I think that women can fall into the same traps that men do of thinking that there isn’t room at the top for them. I think you have to compete most of all with yourself to get ahead. I think that sometimes women can be conditioned to be a bit apologetic in a way that men aren’t. As a tick I think I used to say “sorry” if I walked into someone, or “sorry” if I did something that’s not everyone’s favorite but not necessarily wrong. I was not pleasantly surprised to see in New York how that’s constituted at weakness, which will be jumped on. Know your own worth, and know you’re not expendable.
MN: What can be done to alter and shut the gender gap in journalism?
SA: More people have to want it I think. Certainly it’s not for a lack of wanting that there’s a gender gap, but the more women who follow their passions, the more women there will be in the industry. Calling out inappropriate parameters and behavior can help shut it down. I think that you need to acknowledge the problem, you need to be the best of yourself and also leave the industry better than you found it.
MN: How do you keep your head up through the years before making it and achieving your goals?
SA: Be really fucking stubborn. When I moved to New York I didn’t have a plan B. I was going to be a journalist and do whatever it took to keep me there. You have to have faith. There aren’t a lot of other options in life. Know when you’ve exhausted all your optimism. Know when it will start to feel like a mistake to keep holding on to that dream. Be creative about how you go about it. I think you know once you’ve really hit the wall. I’ve thought many times that I was, but my body surprised me by staying in New York. I think I just have faith at the end of the day. A lot of people had faith and it didn’t work out — a lot of it did. I think when you really want something, you will start attuning yourself to the steps to get toward it. Don’t close your eyes to those possibilities. I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I started seeing more interesting conversations going on at coffee shops, saw more shows that could be a byline someday. Following those impulses was very helpful. You change the synapses in your brain and start following those paths. Meet as many people as possible — you can’t do it alone. No one can.
MN: How has the industry changed since you got into it eight, nine years ago?
SA: It’s a lot smaller in some ways and it’s a lot bigger in some ways. Online it’s hard as a professional music journalist to keep up with so many bands. There’s a plethora of bands coming through your filter every day and I think the same can be said for journalism: As those opportunities are getting broader, the vaunted, established places like the big newspapers and magazines are shrinking. It’s hard to rectify the two. It seems like new media and old media at this point. For all accounts and purposes, I’m probably more old media because I’m associated with these places. But quality journalism can be found anywhere nowadays and that’s exciting. On some blog, great stories on cooking websites. The fact that so many people care and express themselves is great. At the same time it’s a bit harder to get through the masses. I think people are trying so hard to get through that it can lead to more reactionary, dash editorializing. You have to be saying it first, you have to be saying it the most controversially, the loudest. I think that’s very detrimental and a trap that’s very easy to fall into. That is especially current, and I’ve seen an uptick in that since I’ve started. I don’t think that’s a long term solution to a problem.”
MN: What position at Cal Poly gave you the most relevant experience?
SA: KCPR, absolutely. That was the most important educational experience of my life. Not just even being a manager or publicity director, but just being a DJ and seeing a world of creative possibility in front of me, and being able to explore it.