10 Questions With Forbes ’30 Under 30′ Recipient, Penn State Alum Joanie Vasiliadis
Penn State alumna Joanie Vasiliadis is living proof that hard work, dedication, and a degree from the Bellisario College of Communications can take you far in life.
After graduating from Penn State in 2013, Vasiliadis worked her way up from digital producer to vice president of digital content at Tegna, one of the most diverse broadcast media companies in the country.
Vasiliadis currently supports digital content strategy for all of Tegna’s 49 newsrooms and oversees Tegna’s national broadcasting services. Most notably, Vasiliadis’ work with company misinformation training and Tegna’s national desk recently landed her a spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list.
We sat down with Vasiliadis to discuss her Penn State roots and career, Forbes “30 Under 30” designation, and opinions on the changing media landscape.
Onward State: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Joanie Vasiliadis: I am one of five children. I grew up in northern Virginia, where I was a dancer. Then I went to Penn State for school, as you know, and studied broadcast journalism. I got my first job at a TV station in Washington, D.C., and now I am back in northern Virginia working from home during the pandemic.
OS: What made you decide to work in the communications field?
JV: I think it started because I really liked writing, but not so much creative writing — mostly just facts. I did my first journalism course in middle school, and I really liked it. I’m surprised we even had that in middle school.
OS: How do you feel Penn State and the Bellisario College of Communications prepared you for your job now?
JV: That’s a good question. I feel like I got a really well-rounded journalism degree because there were a lot of options. I feel like I had a really strong foundation in my print, ethics, and law courses. Once I got to junior and senior year, I feel like it was cool that Penn State had different hands-on ways to get involved with my major, like producing a show and traveling abroad with the international reporting class.
I felt really prepared because I knew how to shoot, edit, and write, which are skills that are great to have when applying for jobs. When I was doing interviews for my first job, they asked me right away if I could shoot and edit, and being able to say that I had those skills was very helpful.
OS: How did you get involved with Tegna?
JV: I’ve actually been with the same company since I graduated. I was hired by WUSA 9 in D.C. as a digital producer, and it was owned by Tegna. I stayed there for a few years and worked in a few different positions like digital producer, digital content manager, and then digital director, which oversees the digital department in a newsroom.
Then, I got a call from corporate and asking if I’d be interested in a job with them. I thought, “Sure, I should go after this.” Even though I wasn’t quite ready to leave the newsroom, it was a really good opportunity, so I moved over to the corporate team, and since then, I’ve had a few different jobs. The company has been really great and given me a lot of opportunities, and that’s how I got my role today as the vice president of digital content.
OS: What is your favorite part about working at Tegna?
JV: I think it’s the culture and the people I work with and our commitment to innovation and great ethics. I really believe in the companies mission of being true to having great editorial and ethical judgment, but at the same time, having people to innovate when it comes to formats and how we reach our audience. My success is thanks to the great people who have led me, taught me, worked with me, and worked on my team. They are all so talented and they care about what they do, and that has pushed me to be much stronger in my job.
OS: What is the biggest challenge you face in helping newsrooms transition to a digital media environment?
JV: It’s funny because I would probably answer this question a little differently every single year. Part of the digital landscape is that it changes so much. Overall, when you’re in a newsroom, whether it’s local or national, TV or print, you’re in a machine. Every day, you have a product to produce, and it’s really hard to change and be innovative and see things differently when you have this looming 5 or 6 p.m. deadline.
Obviously, we all know that these deadlines are really dated. The deadline is now and when the news happens. Seeing the big picture and seeing the news change while knowing you have this pressure of the machine is a huge challenge. It impacts workflow, who you hire, and the structure of a newsroom. You can’t just snap your fingers and change the structure of your newsroom, even though you know down the road that the structure you have today is probably not the structure that’s going to support the newsroom of the future.
However, in 2021, a huge challenge is misinformation. It’s moving so quickly and people are losing trust. Fortunately, local news is the most trusted, but it’s still really difficult. We’re doing our best to fight that, but it’s definitely a challenge of the moment.
OS: How did you feel when you found out you were named on the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list?
JV: It was surprising. The people nominated are really smart, a lot of them are entrepreneurs, leaders, and activists, so it was very humbling. We were all asked to fill out a few questions about who our dream mentor would be, and I put my grandmother. Everyone else put celebrities and politicians. I had no idea it would be published, and I thought everyone would think I was so weird. But then I was like, ‘I love my grandma, she’s amazing, and my whole family is happy, so who cares!’
OS: Have you learned anything valuable from this experience that you think would benefit you in the rest of your career?
JV: This whole experience has been really unique because we have never met each other in person. Usually, the recipients would get together, but because of the pandemic, we are waiting. We’ve only connected on Zoom and Slack, so I think there’s a lot more to come.
It’s nice because you’re immediately in this network with all the Forbes 30 Under 30 recipients. I think the biggest thing is, for someone who has worked for the same company for their whole career, it’s really nice to have exposure to other people and see how these entrepreneurial minds work. Being in that crowd is definitely more of a startup-y vibe, so that’s very cool.
We all are trying to do good and work hard, while still managing our success and struggles. It’s such a cool thing to be named on a list like this, but you have to remember that it’s not the whole world. When people aren’t on the list, it doesn’t mean you aren’t spectacular.
OS: As a young woman who is successful in a changing industry like journalism, what advice do you have to other young women wanting to pursue a career in this field?
JV: I think it takes confidence, but also humility. Any time you’re going into a new job, you want to be sure of who you are and what you bring to the table. At the same time, you want to be okay with not knowing what you don’t know. That’s not a sign of weakness. I think it’s a sign of strength to say what you don’t know and what you need help with. Finding that balance between what you know and being unafraid to say what you don’t is really important.
When deciding what career you want to do, I always say this: I think it’s most important to find an equal balance between you and your work. You should be growing and learning and feeling like you’re getting a lot out of your job, and you should also feel like you’re bringing a lot to your job. Remember that not every day is going to be perfect. Some days are going to feel exhausting and stagnant. If, over the course of a few months, you can identify the equal relationship between bringing value to your job and your job bringing value to you, then you will find personal growth and happiness.
OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
JV: Oh my gosh! Am I supposed to know all the dinosaurs? Haha, this sounds like a question for a history major. I feel like maybe a pterodactyl because it’s really the only dinosaur I know of that flies.
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