Writing her way out of her comfort zone
You might find her at her favorite coffee shop in Hickory, NC – Taste Full Beans – browsing on her laptop for new tattoo ideas. It’s even more likely that you’ll find her at a Taylor Swift concert, since she’s been an avid Swiftie for years and is still going strong.
Regardless of where you encounter 23 year-old Jordan Hensley, her zest for life is evident right away. As a skilled communicator, writer, and journalist, Jordan is adept at connecting with people and understanding their stories.
“I went into journalism because I love to write,” Jordan said. “I love to track down a story and do research to put that story together. I love to meet new people and hear their stories, triumphs and struggles. I love having an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless, as cliché as that sounds. I stay motivated because I’ve seen how a small story can mean the world to at least one person. A story always matters to someone.”
Sharpening her skills
Jordan has been a reporter at the Hickory Daily Record for a year, but her passion for writing has spanned much of her life.
“Growing up, I always liked to write,” she said. “I’d write poems and little stories. In eighth grade, I wrote a monthly “Here’s What’s Going on at Union Grove” column for my local newspaper. But I never thought this is what I’d be doing.”
In fact, when entering her freshman year at East Tennessee State University, Jordan had her sights set on a pre-law/political science major. It wasn’t until around her sophomore or junior year that she discovered her penchant for journalism.
Recognizing the importance of hands-on experience in this field, Jordan was able to secure positions at the school newspaper – the East Tennessean – as well as a summer internship at the Cleveland Daily Banner and a freelance writing job with a media company in Florida through a family friend.
Of course, these jobs – plus a full-time class schedule and social activities – kept Jordan’s schedule busy to say the least.
“I put a lot on my plate,” Jordan admitted. “Once I had my major all sorted out and was happy with my classes, it made managing my time somewhat easier and less of a burden. But I definitely did too much.”
In that vein, Jordan has a few time management tips for college students struggling to keep it together (hey, we’ve all been there).
“While it is important to get involved on campus, don’t overdo it, especially in the beginning,” she said.
Jordan also stressed the importance of self-care and mental health during college years.
“It is okay to take a break. I know self-care sounds like an overused trope, but it’s true. Take a study break and watch the latest episode of your favorite show. Leave the library and get a midnight milkshake with your friends. Don’t drink alcohol if you’re sad or stressed. Exercise. Take a quick nap. Go for a drive. Do whatever helps clear your mind and take a break. It’ll help you focus on what you’re studying and keep you from getting burned out.”
Jordan pointed out that every college and university offers free counseling or discounted counseling services for students to utilize.
Finding the right job
Jordan’s opportunity at The Hickory Daily Record didn’t just fall in her lap.
Two months before her graduation from ETSU, Jordan began diligently searching for entry-level journalism job opportunities.
“I was willing to go just about anywhere,” she said. “I’d heard from mentors that for your first job you have to be extremely flexible and willing to cover just about any beat and work for a low salary. I was ready for all of that.”
Jordan quickly learned that finding the first job out of college can be difficult.
“I sent out close to 30 applications. I had two interviews and two outright rejections. I did not hear anything from the others. Finding the first job is hard. You’re not alone in that struggle.”
JournalismJobs.com – a job posting site for journalists and writers – led Jordan to The Hickory Daily Record.
“I applied and really did not think I would hear anything because the posting had been up for a few weeks,” Jordan said.
She was hired a week and a half later.
A day in the life
Jordan’s workday begins at 8:15 am with a staff meeting at the Daily Record.
“I write a lot of stories that require research so I’m often at my desk reading through documents or on the phone. Then there are some weeks I’m in an out a lot. It honestly just depends. It’s never the same and that’s what I love about journalism.”
The Hickory Daily Record is a well-established publication; it’s over 100 years old and generates over a million page views online per month.
“Our purpose is to serve the Hickory-area with news they need to know,” said Jordan. “They need to know what’s going on in our county and city governments, in their schools, the courtroom, and in their neighborhoods. We are one of two papers left in the county and we are the largest. We value accuracy and truth.”
By nature, newsrooms are open and collaborative environments. Such is the case with the Daily-Record.
“We’re a small staff and we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t work as a team, especially on the bigger stories.”
Outside of work, Jordan is a frequent concert-goer. She also loves reading and catching up on her favorite Netflix and Hulu shows. She’s been exploring the local treasures that Hickory has to offer, like a restaurant called The Snack Bar, which she said offers “the best sweet tea in town.”
Relocating to a new city alone is never easy, but favorite spots like The Snack Bar and Taste Full Beans have helped Jordan adjust to her new town. So does the fact that the people in Hickory are friendly and welcoming.
“The people here really love their community,” Jordan said. “They are super passionate about this town and they want others to love Hickory as much as they do.”
The global perspective
Any good writer is always eager to see the world through someone else’s eyes, so it’s no surprise that Jordan is passionate about traveling.
Paris and Ottawa are examples of destinations she loves, but two trips have been particularly special to Jordan: a study-abroad trip to London and an alternative spring break trip to various locations of significance to the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
“I took a giant leap of faith and went so far out of my comfort zone the summer after freshman year of college to study abroad in London for three weeks,” Jordan said. “I knew only one person on the trip and that person was just an acquaintance from high school who already had other friends on the trip so I essentially knew no one. I had never flown before.”
Jordan said that this was the most incredible trip of her life.
“[It was] probably the happiest I’ve ever felt,” Jordan said. “I feel like if I were to have some big dramatic coming of age story, it would start with that trip.”
Jordan’s spring break trip to Atlanta, Montgomery, and Selma was spurred by her involvement with ETSU’s Diversity Educators program.
Jordan explained that she became involved with the Diversity Educators organization when she received a campus-wide email about a call for applications during her junior year. She learned that the organization was focused on outreach on-campus and in the community, facilitating conversations and educating others about diversity topics like race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and disability, and more.
“I was really lucky and my class was filled with wonderful people of all different races, religions, and sexual orientations,” Jordan said. “We learned a lot from each other and I grew as a person in so many ways.”
That same year, Jordan joined the other Diversity Educators on a trip to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and how it affects culture today.
“That trip was also filled with wonderful diverse people,” Jordan recalled. “We learned from each other and we had the opportunity to meet some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s friends and other key players of the Civil Rights movement. We also volunteered at an after-school program for at-risk youth and worked on homes for the families of program. A year later, I was asked to be a student leader for the trip. Both experiences were life-changing.”
Working hard to make her dreams come true
Being a journalist isn’t easy.
It isn’t a financially lucrative job. Journalists can be demonized thanks to the current political landscape. And digital technology means that journalists and publishers have to adapt their means of reporting.
Still, Jordan wouldn’t trade her profession for anything in the world. She believes that it’s important for young professionals to remember that they don’t have to have their dream job right away.
“Make sure you’re doing what you love and not what will make you the most money,” she said. “If you have to put your dreams on hold to work the job that pays more to pay off student loans or whatever else, that’s okay. Most things in life are temporary, so when you find yourself in a place – either physically or mentally – that you’re not happy with, remember it is not forever.”
She has aspirations of becoming a full-time investigative reporter and expanding her scope of writing someday.
“The little bit of investigative work I’ve done so far has been my favorite thing to do,” she said. “And since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m not sure what the book will be other than nonfiction, but it is something I’d really like to do. I have a few ideas.”
Wherever her writing takes her, we’re excited to see what Jordan Hensley accomplishes.