There are no normal days at the office for NBC News correspondent, Jo Ling Kent. In just the past months, she has spoken with a former YouTube employee to reveal the secrets of the platform’s algorithm in an exclusive interview, chased Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg down the hallways of Congress, interviewed Facebook and Google whistle-blowers and scored an exclusive first look at Amazon’s new Echo edition for kids. An integral part of NBC News’ robust business and technology unit, she covers all aspects of tech giants’ influence on our daily lives, recently reporting from Facebook’s annual F8 conference. This month, Kent is moderating a town hall at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech event with industry influencers to discuss navigating Big Tech’s moment of crisis.
Kent has earned two master’s degrees in international affairs from the London School of Economics and Peking University, along with a BA from Rice University, so she is no stranger to financing an education. We talked with Kent about her work as a journalist and how she finds time to keep her own financial future in focus.
Did you always want to become a journalist? If not, when did you decide to pursue this path?
The curiosity was always there but I had first dreamed of becoming an Olympic figure skater or a lawyer. I don’t think I consciously decided on journalism until after graduate school when I started working at CNN in Beijing. Becoming a campaign embed for NBC News sealed the deal. There’s nothing like covering presidential campaigns.
You hold two master’s degrees in International Affairs. Did you need to take out student loans at any point during your education (if so how did that process make you feel)?
I sure did. It was scary, but it turned out to be worth it. However, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for everyone. It’s a personal decision with plenty of costs and benefits. I am proud to say I recently paid my loans off and it felt great to send in that final payment.
“I am proud to say I recently paid my loans off and it felt great to send in that final payment.”
In 2012 you were working as an embed for NBC on the campaign trail. What did you learn from that experience that has influenced your work (or life) since?
Always carry snacks, charge your devices whenever you see an outlet and sign up for all the frequent traveler points programs!
In all seriousness, serving as an NBC News embed taught me the value of building relationships with sources and diving into a beat I was totally unfamiliar with at that point. I had never been to New Hampshire when our political director Chuck Todd assigned me to cover the 2012 first-in-the-nation primary. This gave me some great advice to get to know all the players no matter if they seemed “major” or not. I ended up meeting so many wonderful people, ranging from candidates to campaign staffers to the NH Secretary of State to some very savvy voters. That’s also where I met some of my best friends and my now-husband Scott Conroy (who was a fellow journalist, not a source).
How do you cope with the stress of tight deadlines (or stress generally)?
I dive right in and just get started. In journalism, I find that’s the only way to go. Ask questions up front and don’t be afraid to ask for support. I have the best teammates at NBC News. As for stress generally, I tried to squeeze in a couple workouts a week, eat healthy as often as possible and make time for family and friends. Sleeping is always a plus too.
Were you able to focus on saving for retirement in the first few years of your career? How have your savings habits changed through your career?
I started putting away a tiny amount into a 401K in my first job, hoping it would make a difference down the road. It was just enough to get the company match. It’s really hard to save when you’re just trying to make ends meet but if you can manage to do it, it pays off later and is definitely worth it.
“It is really hard to save when you’re just trying to make ends meet but if you can manage to do it, it pays off later and is definitely worth it.”
You have covered the student debt crisis a couple of times in your career. How do you approach this sensitive and complicated topic as a journalist?
We want to hear from people on all sides of the issue. We ask questions, listen, vet and fact check, and try to do the story justice. Student loan debt has major consequences for the broader economy as we see right now. Loan candidates are not always treated fairly in the process.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever gotten?
From my mom — save as much as you can as often as possible and closely watch your bank and credit card statements. At the same time, don’t be afraid to spend a little on a worthwhile adventure or a classic piece of clothing you’ll keep forever, when the budget allows. You work hard for your money!