30 Under 30: Danielle Tcholakian, Reporter DNAinfo

Photo by Victor G. Jeffreys III
photo by Victor G. Jeffreys III

Today marks the release of our sister publication, The L Magazine‘s “30 Under 30″ feature and we thought we’d highlight a few of the people featured by running Q&As with them. One of these people is reporter Danielle Tcholakian. New York-native and longtime Brooklyn-resident Tcholakian is a reporter for DNAinfo, a site which has, of late, become known for its excellent local reporting and extensive coverage of the kind of things New Yorkers really care about—namely, New York. While there are several great reporters on staff (Rachel H. Smith and Serena Dai also come quickly to mind), Tcholakian stands out to us not only because of her reporting on the regular ins-and-outs of her beat (who knew Community Board 2 meetings could be so interesting?), but also because of her uncanny ability to find the kind of newsy local human interest stories (the relocation of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, for example) that make for great reading. We spoke with Tcholakian about how she got into journalism, what she wants to come next, and what the deal is with all these goddamn wunderkinds.

How old are you?

Tell me a little bit about the path that took you to where you are today—both in your career, and just, you know, in Brooklyn.
A few years ago, I quit my job producing fashion commercials and started traveling, thinking if I stayed in production, I wanted to do documentaries. I was working on a writing project at the time and kept meeting reporters abroad who would sort of say, if you like docs and you can write, why not go into journalism? When I came home, the editor-in-chief at Metro took a chance on me and hired me as a part-time city reporter. For a while I did that and still did some producing—mostly music videos, which was really fun and the complete opposite of lucrative. I’ve now been at DNAinfo for almost a year and I’m pretty sure I have one of the top 3 best jobs in NYC journalism .

Brooklyn: I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole adult life, except for when I was in Chicago for college (or living with my parents in Manhattan, where I grew up). My first Brooklyn home was a Bushwick apartment off the Kosciuzsko J that in retrospect was way nicer than I gave it credit for. That was many years ago. The best apartment I ever had was in a b rownstone in Fort Greene owned by a friend—I will never not regret giving up that apartment, though the travel was worth it. I currently live with two roommates in a tiny place in Bed-Stuy that is very far from any train, which is a pain for someone who is supposed to cover breaking news in Manhattan. But our landlord is not a creep and we have laundry in the building, so overall a win.

Did you always know you wanted to be a reporter?
Honestly, no. But the first day I did it was the happiest I had ever been in my life, and (almost) every day since then has been this ongoing holy shit moment. I get to do this? I just feel perpetually like the luckiest person in the world.

(Jesus, I sound like a Vows column. I’m in love with reporting! That may actually be the truest thing that can be said about me.)

To be honest , I was always deeply insecure about my writing and terrible at deadlines, so it seemed highly unlikely that someone who basically majored in procrastinating would get to be a journalist. But here I am! (Great thing about writing the news: You can’t really be a perfectionist, because if you don’t get it out ASAP, it stops being news.)

Has it ever been challenging to be taken seriously because of your age?
People tend to think I’m significantly younger than I am (I’m very immature) , so yes. I have the kind of voice women get mocked for on the radio, I’m pretty short, and I look young. But who cares? The great thing about reporting is if you do good enough work, they don’t have a choice but to take you seriously.

What advice do you have for people who feel like they don’t have enough experience/aren’t old enough to go after their career dreams? 
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel old enough to do anything; it seems like we’re all supposed to be goddamn wunderkinds these days. You’re never too young to kick ass, and there are tons of reporters who are obnoxiously young(er than me) and absolutely killing it.

Not having enough experience is hard, people want experience. The fact is, a lot of it is luck, being someplace at the right time with someone who sees something in you and is willing to take a chance on you. (Or where they’re understaffed and need a part-time city reporter. Either way.) You can try to figure out where those places are—who lost reporters recently, who uses stringers. But really, just work really hard and be willing to do whatever needs to be done. I feel insanely lucky to have the job that I have and would do just about anything an editor asked me to do.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I asked a reporter I really admire for career advice recently and he demanded, “What do you want to do? Do you want to uncover corruption?” He asked it in such an obvious way that it didn’t feel presumptuous or silly to say yes. So I guess, channeling how very sure of myself I felt when he asked that, I’ll say it: Uncovering corruption. (It feels so much cheesier now! What happened??)

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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