Heather Cassell (She/Her)
Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
I am a freelance journalist working on transitioning into content writing and digital marketing. As a journalist I've covered local and international news and I've been a travel writer for more than a decade. I also have experience in being a market specialist and brand ambassador for brand name appliances, most recently I represented Coravin, a wine preservation technology system, for nearly five years.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
I am new to Ellevate. Today's introduction webinar to Ellevate was very positive for me. I felt very comfortable due to the LGBTQI-inclusive language and feminist symbols in the moderator's background.
How would you define your professional mission?
My professional mission right now is to: • Find a mentor to help me rebrand and transition to the next chapter of my career • Find a content writing job or clients who need content for their websites and sales and marketing collateral • Develop or join a network where I get professional support and give back to
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
• You do not have to write for the New York Times to be a successful journalist (but it does not hurt if you get to the Times, Washington Post, or your favorite media outlet). • The basic makeup of a journalist has not changed in the digital age, the tools and some of the skills have evolved. • Successful journalists are: • Have an independent, entrepreneurial spirit • Be a sales person, you have to pitch stories as well as accept stories • Enjoy rapid change • Be flexible and pivot quickly, stories often happened suddenly and quickly evolve • Like nontraditional hours and offices (the chair outside of a politician’s office might be your office of the moment) • Be curious and open minded • Gain trust and build relationships quickly • Nurture relationships and network for story tips • Be critical, challenge the research and information given to you • Be a lie detector • Be a good interviewer, listen more than ask questions • Be a good listener and quick to ask follow up questions or keep notes to circle back and revisit to probe further later in the interview • Be fearless, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions and push at times past the first no, second no, etc. • Keep questioning (take different angles asking for the same information), challenge interview subjects • Don’t turn the recorder off or close your notebook until you and your interview parts ways, I always get some of my best quotes at the end of an interview and when I finally ask a question in the right way that opens people up • Be a good researcher, keep digging for the truth • Accept that your relationships may suffer in certain ways, such as being out late covering a local government meeting or missing family events due to being on assignment • Be a good notetaker and transcriptionist • Be a good storyteller, know how to pull all of the information together and frame it in a compelling story • Be a good fact-checker, proofread, and editor • Write clearly in short, crisp, action sentences that propel the reader through the story • Keep editing, until the words flow and transition into clear natural sections • Keep developing your skills, digital journalism is only going to continue to grow. Learn how to read and analyze data to find clickable stories ideas and to tell stories • Learn how to optimize your stories with search engine optimization • Learn how to take photos and shoot video • Did I mention doing this all on deadline and juggling multiple stories?
What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
Other than telling thousands of stories, I am most proud of being sponsored to travel the world for more than a decade as a travel writer and coupling it with interviewing local communities as an international reporter and interviewing political leaders (including Vice President Kamala Harris when she was San Francisco's district attorney), celebrities (Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman, and others), and community leaders and everyday people.
I am also proud of my other job where I was a market specialist and brand ambassador selling and marketing Coravin, a wine preservation system, and other brands.
What are some career challenges on your radar?
Transitioning from being a journalist to a content writer and digital marketer. Bigger than shifting my writing career direction and rebranding myself is possibly transitioning out of being an LGBTQI professional, meaning a majority of my professional career has been in the LGBTQI community, out into the bigger professional world while retaining my commitment and values for LGBTQI, women's rights, and diversity overall. However, today's Ellevate mentor session hosted by the New Jersey chapter really opened my eyes and relieved a lot of the fears I was feeling navigating my job search and there is a hunger for diversity in the workplace powered by people in those communities who are skilled and can help companies be more aware and sensitive. I left feeling energized to find companies or clients that align with my values and that will help me grow.
What project have you worked on that you’re most proud of? Why?
I am proud that I have been able to travel the world as a travel writer on sponsored press trips for more than a decade and as an international news reporter for a decade. I was successful obtaining sponsored press trips because: • I identified opportunities early • I was able to pitched my story ideas to my editors and the destination marketing teams as well as work with stakeholders developing story ideas • My stories targeted a desirable niche market, LGBTQI travelers • My anchor publication has a large readership • I also used time in the destinations to meet with local community leaders and elected officials for my international news stories • My stories were published by my anchor publication's media partners and I pitched stories to multiple publications • I have my own website focused on women’s travel where I repurpose the material gathered to write stories
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
Being a journalist was my dream job. It is what I wanted to do in high school until life took me in a different direction while I put myself through college. I got involved in the feminist and LGBTQI movements while I was in high school and through my early college years where I continued writing for community newspapers and landed my first national cover story for HUES magazine. I stopped writing for a while due to working full-time in administrative jobs and going to college. When I graduated, I got the opportunity to leave the position I was in due to it not being a good fit. Around the same time, I was published for the first time in a long while and I had completed an internship assisting an author’s research about the feminist movement. Not wanting to go back into the administrative pool, I started pitching publications. Six months later I landed at the nation’s longest running LGBTQI newspaper as a general assignment reporter. I continued pitching publications on the side. A little more than a year later, I went freelance again while still writing for the newspaper. A year later, I became the second travel writer on the paper. Two years later, I was tapped to cover international news too. Two years after that, I added Silicon Valley bureau to my accomplishments at the paper. 14 years later, I’m in another transition due to the global pandemic. It is a transition I’ve been considering for quite some time, but due to a packed schedule traveling with deadlines and a second job, making time to take the online courses to advance my career to digital media was not happening. COVID-19 happens and after the initial shock, I saw it as my opportunity to learn copywriting, writing for the web, and to get my digital marketing certification and look for a new job and/or new clients. This is where I am today and what brought me to Ellevate.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job was being able to travel, have unique experiences, such as witness the first gay wedding conducted on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia and interview our current Vice President Kamala Harris when she was San Francisco's district attorney. I've been able to get into places and do many things that most people do not get to experience partially because I made things happen and partially because I was open for things to happen and said, "Yes."
What legacy do you hope to leave through your work?
I hope to leave people more informed and entertained through the articles and media I produce from writing news stories to profiles of people to travel to writing about products.
I would also like to teach journalism and digital media to communities that would benefit from learning storytelling and media skills to promote their causes to businesses.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I knew from an early age that the typical 9-5 was not for me. As soon as I saw Steve Jobs and Apple computers, I knew that I would have the tools to live freely working from anywhere in the world by the time I got out into the workplace. I was close in my assessment, but it took about another decade or two after I got out into the professional world before becoming a digital nomad became a reality. I watched reporters on TV intently while growing up, and embarrassingly enough the Sunday comic Brenda Starr influenced me. I was also influenced by my aunt, who is an actress, and my uncle, who ran one of America’s leading art institutions. After trying my hand at fiction and poetry, I learned these genres were not the right form of writing for me. I like the excitement of writing about events and telling other people’s stories. I was excited once a letter to the publisher of the local newspaper calling for my high school to accept the rouge student newspaper after we were banned from distribution on campus. I loved seeing my byline. I later learned the effect and power my letter. It prompted my high school to create a journalism class. On my first assignment for the new class, I was out roaming the campus searching for my first story. Time was running out. My deadline I was nearing. I saw my classmates heading back to class with their stories. I circled back to the principal’s office one last time. Just as I was about to leave, a student’s car caught on fire in the parking lot. I jumped into action and ended up getting the hottest story in class. I was hooked. I have not looked back. I only looked for opportunities to write since then. Each step of the way, my instincts and key moments that have kept me on the writing path have proven it is right for me.
I started feeling the pull to move my writing into a new direction several years ago, but I did not know where and I did not pause assignments to give myself the room to look for new paths. The pandemic provided me with the opportunity to discover content writing and digital marketing where I can express my love for storytelling, media, and sales and marketing.
Is work-life balance a problem for you? What is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Yes. Work-life balance is a constant challenge. My current tactic is setting alarms for breaks, exercise time, and cooking more. I am also practicing self-forgiveness if I do not check everything off of my to do list (which I'm trying to limit to three work tasks max a day).
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Former ABC 7 News reporter Lisa Stark told me in high school that being a journalist would be hard on relationships. It has been hard on my relationships due to not always been available for usual family and friends' events.
My auntie also told me when I was young that all jobs have some aspect that you do not like, do something that you like so much it gets you through those moments.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer working moms?
Don't be afraid to share your experience with your single colleagues and ask them for help when you need it.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Journalist / Travel Writer /Content Writer
Heather Cassell is publisher and editor of Girls That Roam, an online women’s travel magazine and an independent travel consultant, and regular contributor to the Bay Area Reporter. For more than a decade, she has been a globetrotting freelance travel writer and international news reporter. Heather has covered LGBTQI and women’s issues for more than 20 years. Her work has been seen in numerous publications and she’s participated in a number of panels at travel... Continue Reading
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