Alumni Advice: Julia Jacobs (Class of 2014)

Reporter for The New York Times


Journalist Jacobs: Beaming in front of the The New York Times building in New York City, South alumna Julia Jacobs works at the newspaper publication as a General Assignment Reporter on the Culture Desk. She began her journalism career on The Oracle and is now a full-time writer for The New York Times. Photo courtesy of Julia Jacobs

Anne Ribordy, managing editor

South alumna Julia Jacobs had no idea that her spontaneous trip to New York City’s Central Park would make her stand out as an intern at The New York Times.

“A very exotic looking duck had appeared in Central Park and people were beginning to get obsessed with it and I had started to see chatter about it online,” Jacobs said. “I really wanted to get out and leave the office one day, so I went to Central Park, and I met up with this birder there and wrote this story about trying to find this duck.”

While currently a General Assignment Reporter on the Culture Desk at The New York Times, Jacobs said she was also involved with Northwestern University’s newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, and The Oracle. Jacobs explained how she felt more prepared than others for college journalism because of her experience on The Oracle.

“[The Oracle] felt very much like how a college newsroom feels on a daily basis,” Jacobs said. “I think [then Journalism Adviser Marshall Harris] really allowed students to experience what it would be like to work at a college paper, get real world experience interviewing people, writing and publishing without any sort of prior review.”

However, Jacobs only knew that she wanted to pursue journalism as a career right before her senior year after doing a journalism camp at Northwestern. Prior to this, she had a completely different career in mind.

“When I was entering high school, it was a couple of years after the recession started, and the American newspaper business was absolutely crumbling,” Jacobs said. “I had once dreamed when I was like 10 years old of working at the Chicago Tribune, but the Chicago Tribune was hemorrhaging staff, so in high school I was actually looking for colleges with the intention of being pre-med.”

While at Northwestern, Jacobs said she had internships at Meet the Press NBC, Reuters and The Boston Globe. In 2018, she got an internship with The New York Times and she thought it would be over after 10 weeks, but when her internship got extended she had a difficult decision to make between pursuing an opportunity to do journalism in China for an extended period of time or taking a potentially short term offer at The New York Times.

“I had this choice between going to China for a year or two or possibly more or just staying at The New York Times for another two months or so to hope that that would continue and I could get a job there,” Jacobs said. “I decided to stay [at The New York Times]. I got extremely lucky that a role opened up on the Culture Desk, and I was able to go from intern to full time reporter.”

Jacobs’ advice is to find extracurriculars and a group of friends that are a natural fit.

“In college, I would just search for a place and a group of people where you feel like you can be yourself,” Jacobs said. “I was lucky to find that in the college newspaper. I think you need to trust yourself and how you feel in a certain place and among certain people, and if it feels natural and relaxed and like you can just be who you are among these people then I think it’s probably a good place to be.”