Career Spotlight: NBC Asian America Editorial Director Jessica Prois

NBC Asian America, NBC News Digital’s vertical on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, spearheaded coverage of anti-Asian incidents throughout 2020 and 2021. It also chronicled strength in tough times – highlighting representation in film from award-winning AAPI actors, solidarity with other communities and other moments of joy for Asian Americans.  

Editorial Director Jessica Prois talks to NBCU Academy about what an editor does and what it’s like leading a vertical pushing the boundaries of covering the AAPI community. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.  

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What you do as an editor for NBC Asian America?

Jessica Prois: I wake up, hit up the team: What’s everybody reading? What are we seeing on wires? What interviews are coming through that we’ve requested? How can we work with video? What sort of social media plays should we do? The ultimate goal for NBC Asian America is to make Asian American stories mainstream and speak to our audience in an insider, community-driven type of way. 

I decide what we’re going to cover, help reporters through their reporting, their sources. And then it’s doing the actual editing, whether that involves big-picture, conceptual editing, developmental editing, fact checking along the way, line editing, editing for word choice. And then it goes to copy edit and sometimes legal. 

There’s always a question of: What’s the next day feature? What’s the deep dive that we can do? What’s the way that we can give voice to our community through this news story or through these issues?   

As the editor of NBC Asian America, what was it like covering anti-AAPI hate incidents? What was that like on you personally?

Prois: First and foremost, it’s heartbreaking. For a long time, it felt like people don’t necessarily believe racism happens to Asian Americans and it’s due in part to the model minority myth. Then, all of a sudden, we have receipt culture and viral videos. I do feel it’s taken that to make people believe that Asians are on the receiving end of racism. But it was all of a sudden, day in day out, multiple videos a day. And it’s been heartbreaking to see.   

It’s honestly nice when we can write about some Oscar wins. It’s a palate cleanser, but it makes you realize, oh my gosh, we’re also here to celebrate our community too.  

What is it like leading a vertical that’s focused on one particular race or ethnicity, versus an organization that might have general race coverage? How does that change the way your reporters do their jobs?

Jessica Prois: It creates this reputation that we’re a go-to site for [Asian American] news. I think with the Atlanta victims there was this additional level of trust, because we are a trusted site and we’ve got a reputation of having reporters who have different language abilities. That’s great that we’ve carved out this reputation.  

I think newsrooms should have both; the general breaking news teams should also be diverse. And then there should be teams that are able to focus on deep dives surrounding some of these topics, who have the expertise. I think oftentimes: No one else is covering this. Sometimes it’s like a badge of honor.

Obviously you didn’t start out as an editor. What’s been your career path?

Prois: I was an intern for an NPR station, and then I went to HuffPost. It was sort of the Wild West days of the internet, where your career could take off very quickly because they were these newsrooms full of young people. If you had the web skills, you could become a newsroom leader a little bit faster than I think now, to be honest. I was hired as an associate editor like 10 years ago. An associate editor was very much doing the write-ups, doing the reporting, doing the social media, doing everything. And then I became an editor, I think, within six months, so that was overseeing the sections.  

The same is still true today, that if you’ve got the skills, and you’ve got the vision and great judgment, and you’re a great reporter and if you want to be in that track, you can move up. 

What practical advice can you give students and early career journalists who want to work as an editor?

Prois: There’s not really a training path from reporter to editor, because it’s all kinds of things that you learn on the job. A lot of it is just being an ideas person, showing good judgment and contacts. If you show qualities of big picture thinking, adding value to your larger vertical and to the site, as well as contributing ideas, being a team player, showing that you’re a leader and support other people – these are all qualities that will get you noticed around the newsroom. If a position opens up that you’re interested in, management would be more likely to consider you.  

A big part of it is, it sounds cheesy, but having a can-do attitude. So much of being an editor is you’ve got to make things happen no matter what. Even if a story comes in and needs a lot of work, you’ve got to make it happen.  

What do you love most about your job?

Prois: I love the stories and talking to people. Sakshi Venkatraman, our star intern, just did this story about the racist history of body hair standards. It’s so interesting to hear how something that a lot of the mainstream culture doesn’t ever think about is a very painful thing for a lot of these girls growing up.

We’re trusting people to really share and open up. We’re given such a privileged task. You have to really honor people’s stories and treat them with care, and every day I feel lucky to be able to do that.