The Confidence You Can’t Find in Journalism Class

Jay Valle, center, with fellow NBCU Academy embeds at 30 Rock in New York on June 24, 2022. (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

When you’re feeling stuck, confused or just starting out on your career path, it can be hard to figure out how to push forward: How can I effectively but not awkwardly network? How do I express my worth to my managers? How do I move into an entirely different field? NBCU Academy’s free, virtual Next Level Summit was designed to answer these questions and inspire journalists and creatives to confidently step into the next phase of their careers.

One of NBCU Academy’s own embedsJay Valle, who is also a reporter at NBC Out — understands the value of the Next Level Summit. He participated in the Academy’s first one last April. Then at October’s event, he was featured in a panel about our embed program. Now, for the March 22 summit, “We Are All Storytellers,” he will moderate a career expo.

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“The summit is the extra sauce on top of what you’re learning in school or in your early career,” Valle said. “You get to go in depth with producers and on-air anchors and now Universal Park creatives. When you’re exposed to that insight at such an early time, you get a better understanding of the industry.”

We talked to Valle about the best practices he learned from summits past, the importance of giving underrepresented communities access to these career insights and what he’s looking to learn from panelists and participants this time. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Equity Lab: This is your third Next Level Summit. Tell us about what it was like going to that first one as a participant, which featured panels about how to land a job in news and move into leadership roles. Was it what you expected?

Valle: What I expected was more like how a normal seminar or educational conference would be — just a ton of PowerPoints and very generic. But the summit was so well produced! It literally is an NBC News Special. You have executives and all these major on-air anchors and people in all sorts of positions at NBC really giving back in a way that I’m sure they wished someone else would have for them when they were starting out. The engagement was nothing I’d expected, but that engagement was exactly what I needed. 

Equity Lab: For the second summit, focused on tech and the future of news, you were invited as a panelist to chat about the embed program. How was it to be on the so-called other side of the screen? How did you prepare?

Valle: I put myself in the perspective of the listener, someone early-career like myself, who wants to learn more about what I was there to talk about — these new ways of gathering news through social media. When we have an actual plan of what’s most important to share, we shed all the excess and that’s much appreciated for the participant. When you have someone who’s emerged in the industry, their experiences speak more volumes than what you might get from a textbook. I love my textbooks, but it’s also great to hear from someone who has had the experience before you jump into that experience.

Equity Lab: This time, you’re moderating a panel about creative careers at Universal Parks. While this isn’t directly about journalism, what do you hope participants take away?

Valle: I love Universal Parks. I think a lot of people share that same love for the parks and rides — there is so much depth that goes into building the spaces, the themes, even down to the food, the attractions and the brand itself. I personally want to find out more about Universal Parks, what it takes to run that ship and how many avenues there are to explore career-wise. I’m curious to know panelists’ career routes because they have such a passion for their job — had they imagined themselves in that position? Participants are going to be able to take away other avenues within NBC that they maybe had no idea about, like architectural design and the filmmaking aspect of creating a ride. 

Equity Lab: What are some of the best practices you’ve learned from the Next Level Summit?

Valle: Networking is and, and has been, a key to remaining connected in the industry and cultivating meaningful relationships. And by cultivating, I mean authentically. Some people mistake networking for a give-and-take kind of thing, like “What can you offer me?” But if you don’t approach it with a transactional intention, those connections turn out to be the best ones you make. You get to learn about others’ paths and experiences. Most individuals in the industry are very open to connecting with early-career professionals and students, which is amazing. And it’s important that you keep that same attitude and pay it forward, connecting with those who want to one day be in your position.

Equity Lab: At the heart of the Next Level Summit is access. You don’t need a fancy degree or to pay anything at all to learn career tips from news and tech leaders and make connections. What does access mean to you? 

Valle: I’m a first-generation graduate. I’m probably someone in my family who they would consider successful, and I felt like a lot of this stuff was gatekept. It’s always been like, how do you get in there? How do you do this? Especially marginalized groups, we don’t necessarily have those sort of leaders in our lives or direction. We just go to school, study. Then it’s alright, cool, let’s hope we get a job.

But when you go to these summits, you’re able to ask questions, you’re able to be engaged, you are treated equally. Then there is the networking aspect — it’s free, you can send it to a friend and be like, “Hey, it’s a journalism ethics class. Let’s all go to this. Let’s go into our room and stream the summit and let’s just talk about it.” I think those are the folks that are ahead of the game because it’s accessible online as well and has been a tool for me to go back and forth to.

Equity Lab: I know NBCU Academy’s embed program focuses a lot on professional development. How has the program prepared you for hosting and moderating these events, among so many other opportunities?

Valle: Even though I am an extrovert, I was also timid when I started. When you move in such a massive network, you’re unsure. It’s so intimidating. But my professional development built me to communicate with leaders, communicate with my peers, communicate internally with myself. To tell myself I can do things, that I’m worthy of being in this space, that I deserve to be in this space. I always keep that in mind — that I do have a valuable perspective and that it is valued among others. 

When I spoke at an event recently, everything clicked: I’ve been in the program a year and a half and I have accumulated a ton of tools, traits and guidance from my professional development that allowed me to sit there and speak with integrity, honesty and professionalism. What I’ve learned are things that folks learn 10-plus years into their career.

To participate in Wednesday’s Next Level Summit, “We Are All Storytellers, click here.