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Alumni spotlight: Jessie Tseng

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AUGUST 11, 2021

After a four-year stint at The Daily Californian, alumna Jessie Tseng went on to hold several positions in the journalism industry, but ultimately decided to enter the medical field. Now, she is the director of production design at Flatiron Health, an oncology technology company that partners with researchers and cancer centers to present data and treatment experiences.

Tseng started her Daily Cal career as a designer during her first semester on campus in 2007, and she ascended the ranks from assistant design editor to design editor. She added that her time at the Daily Cal was historically significant as she was part of the first generation to start transitioning the newspaper from mostly print publication to digital platforms

The Daily Cal was tightening its budgetary belt during her tenure, Tseng recalled. She added that the newspaper decided to reduce its summer publication schedule and cut the Wednesday publication entirely.

For a particular game day issue, Tseng recalled, there was more content than space for a print publication.

“I asked our editor how much it would cost to change publication from four to eight pages — and we offered to cover that cost with our paycheck,” Tseng said. “There were people who were so passionate about it that they wanted to see their content in paper.”

Tseng said after she graduated from the Daily Cal, she really wanted to work in journalism as she dedicated her entire college career to it.

Her timing, however, was less than optimal. What opened her eyes to how difficult it was to become a journalist was when she joined the Asian American Journalists Association the summer after she graduated.

“I almost took a job in Biloxi, Mississippi, for a local paper,” Tseng said. “I’m from Southern California and I was, like, ‘I’m really going to move to Mississippi or Idaho.’ ”

She ended up taking a job in New York in advertising design. Tseng said she had to learn “a lot” on the job because she graduated with an English degree.

After three years there, she transitioned to a position at The Washington Post as part of its digital production system, which leveraged data and personalization to improve user experience.

Later, absorbed by the larger Post technology team, Tseng pivoted its objective from ameliorating user experience to, instead, augmenting the amount of time an individual reader spent on any given article. More time spent on an article effectively meant more advertisements a reader saw, she noted. But that never aligned with Tseng’s goals.

“I didn’t get into the news to get that type of work,” Tseng said. “Our job is to solve problems, and I didn’t want to be in a job that improved the experience of advertisers. If a reader only wants to read the lede of a story, we should not be leveraging (user experience) wizardry to increase the time they spend on the page.”

She noted that she wanted to stay involved in the journalism industry so, while still at the Post, she rejoined the Asian American Journalists Association. Ultimately, however, Tseng decided to leave the Post altogether to join Flatiron Health, a medical oncology technology company in New York City.

As a director of production design at Flatiron Health, she works at an organization that “accelerates cancer research” while rooting design in “empathy” and in advocacy for treatment. She added that there is “no shame” in deciding journalism is not the best career path to follow for oneself.

“Journalism also isn’t for everyone; and the industry can be notoriously difficult,” Tseng said in an email. “It’s important to remember that the skills you learn as a journalist are so transferable to other industries, and I’d encourage young journalists to explore them.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.

AUGUST 11, 2021

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