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John Hendrickson, BA '10, writes, edits, and assigns stories about pop culture as Entertainment Editor for Digital First Media

by Daniel Tripp — Posted Nov 21, 2013 02:46 PM
by Gianluca Pezzuti, Undergraduate Intern, May 1, 2013

Just three years after graduating from Penn State with a BA in English, John Hendrickson lives in New York and oversees national pop culture media coverage: music, film, television, books and celebrity culture for Digital First Media, the second largest newspaper company in the country. On a daily basis he works with editors from respected newsrooms across the nation like The Denver Post, The San Jose Mercury News, The Los Angeles Daily News and The Salt Lake Tribune. On top of writing, editing, and assigning stories about pop culture, John also manages nationally syndicated coverage of events like the Oscars, Grammys, Sundance, and South by Southwest.

Aside from hard work and determination, John says his Penn State English degree helped him get where he is today. Creative nonfiction professors like Paul Kellermann and Toby Thompson helped prepare him for the nature of professional journalism well before he graduated. Under the guidance of Elizabeth Jenkins of the English department, John was able to land several internships during his time as an undergrad. The summer between his junior and senior John interned at The Denver Post, where he eventually got a job as staff writer and blog editor shortly after graduating.

“Elizabeth Jenkins also encouraged me to rack up as many internships as I could, which was probably the single best decision I made as an undergrad,” says John.

When asked what advice he’d give current English majors, John recommended taking as many writing classes as possible in addition to the required literature curriculum. Anyone with journalistic aspirations should start reading and following the magazine or website they hope to work for. Become familiar with the bylines, the masthead, the flow, the tone, and varying voices of the publication. Penn State has free Collegian and New York Times newspapers available all across campus, which John suggests reading. John also encourages students to pursue freelancing opportunities, having himself written for publications like Playboy, Vice, The Daily Beast and Paste Magazine.

A lot of John’s advice is internship, writing, and media centric, like familiarizing yourself with social media sites for more professional self-promotion, “knowing how to market yourself is the key to landing choice internships… get as many internships as you can.”

Work experience and preparation for aspiring writers is something Penn State’s English department offers in abundance. Internship coordinator Elizabeth Jenkins has no shortage of opportunities for those hungry enough to chase them and, starting soon, the department will offer concentrations for English majors such as our Media, Publishing, and Professional Writing concentration. It’s no wonder, with preparation like this, that Penn State cultivates successful professionals like John Hendrickson and Davis Shaver (founder of Onward State), who is one of two Penn State graduates that John works with at Digital First Media.

As an English major less than a month from graduation, John’s parting words instill in me a sense of ease, “A BA in English is as versatile as it is fulfilling. While your roommates will be studying formulas, you'll be studying ideas… your writing skills will help with future email correspondence, which is the largest part of most people's workday in any field right now…” he says, adding afterward, “ there are tons of editing jobs available that also give you freedom to write (and benefits, retirement plan, vacation). The full-time jobs are out there, you just have to be good enough and ambitious enough to get them.”

It’s a comforting notion – the idea that we can all be as inordinately successful as John, given the tools our institution provides and the enduring relevance of an English degree.