Garnet Henderson On The Five Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Journalist

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Always ask for more money. Admittedly I don’t follow this advice as often as I should, but as pay rates for journalists go down (instead of up!) over time, we all need to advocate for ourselves to be paid what we’re worth.

As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Journalist”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Garnet Henderson.

Garnet Henderson is a Wyoming-born, New York-based dancer, choreographer, and freelance journalist. Her choreographic work has been presented across New York stages such as Arts on Site and Gibney Dance, and her journalistic work has been published in notable publications such as ELLE, VICE, and more. She was a Women in Motion 2017–2018 Commissioned Artist and, in 2022, became one of the first recipients of the UMEZ Mertz Gilmore Seed Fund for Dance grant.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was interested in journalism from a young age. I always used to read newspapers and magazines and imagine my byline there. I started for real in college, writing for my university’s student newspaper which was like a miniature journalism school. I then had a bunch of journalism-related jobs while in school and started freelancing when I graduated. I’ve always been out on my own! That includes my podcast ACCESS, which I produce by myself.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

As my reporting became more and more focused on abortion access, I found that most people simply don’t know much about abortion. This leads to confusion and stigma, which has allowed abortion restrictions to proliferate over the last few decades. This is what inspired me to create my podcast ACCESS, which features frank discussions about abortion guided by first-person stories and expert perspectives. Each episode breaks down a different topic, tackling all the questions people might be afraid to ask about abortion.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is less of a journalism lesson and more about the business of being a freelancer, but I think it’s essential. When I first started as a freelancer, I was NOT prepared for having to pay estimated taxes, rather than having them withheld from my paychecks. I learned the hard way that, as a freelancer, you must immediately set aside a portion of each payment you get to save up for tax payments. I didn’t do this — so I ended up on a very long payment plan to pay back what I owed from that first year. Don’t be like me! Be organized with your finances from the start. Track every single payment, and don’t forget to track your expenses, too, so you can write off all applicable business expenses when you file your taxes.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m really excited about the next few episodes of ACCESS, which will explore why adoption is not an alternative to abortion, how media coverage has contributed to abortion stigma, and how abortion bans disproportionately affect LGBTQ people.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

For a forthcoming magazine feature, I spoke with the founders of an organization building mobile abortion clinics that can drive right up to the borders of states where abortion is banned. They’re doing something no one has ever done before, and they have so many considerations regarding safety and security because while abortion is medically very safe, the anti-abortion movement has often used violence against abortion providers and patients. They’re incredibly brave and dedicated, and it was such a privilege to tell their story.

What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?

I’m not sure I am the best person to advise on this because, admittedly, I am experiencing burnout right now! But I recently took a break to visit my family and spend some time outdoors and away from my computer, and that did help. It’s something I’m trying to do more often.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have tried to represent the experiences of people who have abortions more accurately and center them in my work, which I think journalists have not historically done very well.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

The fact that people trust me to tell their stories. To me, there’s no more tremendous honor.

According to this Gallup poll, only 36% of Americans trust the mass media. This is disheartening. As an insider, are there a few things that news anchors can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?

I think that all journalists need to be more transparent. There is an idea that journalists should be “objective,” but the truth is that no human being is truly objective. We all have our backgrounds, personal experiences, and biases that influence our work. Rather than trying to hide that — which journalists at many mainstream outlets are encouraged to do — I think we should strive to be more transparent. To be honest about personal beliefs when they influence our coverage while still being impeccably sourced and ensuring we always distinguish between fact and opinion.

Ok wonderful. Thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Journalist” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Read your contracts carefully. Learn about standard contract terms and what they mean. It’s important to understand who owns the intellectual property you produce and what might happen if, for example, someone tries to sue you for a story.

  • Always ask for more money. Admittedly I don’t follow this advice as often as I should, but as pay rates for journalists go down (instead of up!) over time, we all need to advocate for ourselves to be paid what we’re worth.
  • Read, listen to, and watch other journalists’ work. At least for me, it can be tempting to disconnect from media, given that I spend so much time producing media myself. But I learn so, so much from reading and listening to the work of journalists I admire.
  • Read things that AREN’T journalism, too. Reading novels can help keep your prose fresh and break you out of a repetitive style — something I know I struggle with when I’m doing lots of reporting.
  • Talk to people about your work. I find that the questions people ask me about my reporting often inspire future stories.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to see the media cover abortion not as a political issue, but as a human rights issue. People who have abortions are people, not political pawns.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

A literary agent… I want my next project to be a book!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Twitter and Instagram at @garnethenderson and @ACCESSpod.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you!

Garnet Henderson On The Five Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Journalist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.