The Teacup Method: Dana Canedy’s Advice For Success

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Bwog Arts Editor Riva Weinstein covered the “Pulitzer Prize Edition” of Being the First, Barnard’s talk series showcasing trailblazers, pioneers, and those first in their fields. This Tuesday’s session was with Dana Canedy, the first woman, person of color, and youngest person ever to be named administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, the most prestigious award in journalism.

I want to live in Sulz Parlor.

Upstairs in the cozy Sulz Parlor of Barnard Hall, Julie Zeilinger (BC ’15) – founder of the online teen feminist platform FBomb – gets ready to interview Dana Canedy. She’s not the first: Canedy’s mother frequently asks her “how it feels to be famous.” Laughing, Canedy responds, “If you have to tell people you’re famous, you’re not famous.”

Canedy knew she was a writer from childhood. Raised in Fort Knox, Kentucky, she was the first in her military family to attend college. She got her first journalism internship in her sophomore year by begging the administrators – who took only juniors and seniors – to work for free.

For the next several decades, she worked her way up from the Miami Herald to the New York Times, from business reporter to senior editor and special adviser to the CEO. In July 2017, the Pulitzer Prize Board and PrezBo announced that she would oversee the jury selection, prize deliberations and committee work of the Pulitzer Prizes.

In addition to her journalism career, Canedy is the author of the memoir A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor. It’s been published in 10 countries and has been optioned for a movie by Columbia Pictures and Denzel Washington.

So what’s Canedy’s advice to young journalists and others entering the workforce?

Firstly, success is a three-step process:

Step 1: Know your craft. Or at least, master the basics. “You cannot innovate, you cannot maximize your potential if you don’t know your craft,” Canedy says. Now, that’s not to say you can’t stumble and make mistakes… but maybe think twice before telling Goldman you’re fluent in Russian and Chinese.

Step 2: Take opportunities. The New York Times reporter training program is usually 3 years. Dana Canedy completed it in 9 months – by staying later, taking on more assignments, and volunteering for more projects than anyone else. It’s about making connections and proving your commitment to the people who are going to provide your support network.

Step 3: Don’t get too comfortable. If you’re not constantly pushing yourself, you’ll never improve. In 2000, Canedy was on the reporting team for Times article “How Race Is Lived in America,” which would subsequently win the Pulitzer. When she was offered a promotion to editor, Canedy insisted on both writing and editing the piece. (Sounds kind of like Bwog!)

What other sorts of questions might we have for Dana Canedy?

A portrait of the author.

“What if I make mistakes?” You mean, like having to submit a correction to your Times article after a month on the job? Or making a $25,000-dollar error in someone’s salary negotiation? You name it, Canedy’s made it. “You can never allow yourself to think a mistake is an indictment on your intelligence,” she says. Notice patterns in your mistakes, strategically fix them, and don’t dwell.

“Isn’t journalism a dying field?” According to Canedy, this is both a “troubling” and a “hopeful” time for journalism. It’s hard to monetize content that the public wants to consume for free. But Canedy says the field is starting to stabilize. Dozens of new jobs are appearing with the growth of digital journalism, creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Is there a place in journalism for me as a minority?” Dana Canedy isn’t the only one working hard to promote diversity in journalism (and on the Pulitzer jury). According to her, diversity is a business imperative as well as a social good: executives have to appeal to the broadest possible consumer base, and those who don’t will fall by the wayside.

“I don’t think my work is good enough.” While applying to the Miami Herald, Canedy once asked: “What are you looking for?” The reply was, “Insecure overachievers.” Almost everyone suffers from Impostor Syndrome, even Pulitzer winners. Or as Canedy’s 11-year-old son, Jordan, put it: “You use doubt as an energy bar that fuels you.”

“What if I’m trapped in an office with a terrifying boss who screams and kicks things and throws a tantrum, but I’m just an intern who has no right or means to stand up to him?” Try Canedy’s “Teacup Method”: Get yourself a nice cup of tea. Calmly sip the tea at your desk. Wait until he’s done. There’s a power shift.

Any last advice? “You have a choice: be afraid and not do it, or be afraid and do it.”

Talks via Riva Weinstein

Self-portrait via Wikimedia Commons

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