Alumni Spotlight: Craig Kanalley (JOURN '09)

College of Communication alumnus Craig Kanalley has been making an exemplary career path for himself since completing his degree in the graduate Journalism program in 2009. While still a student here at DePaul, Kanalley started the successful Breaking Tweets website (now inactive), an aggregate blog that collects breaking news from Twitter feeds around the world.


ey went on to teach our Journalism program's first course in social media journalism focused on Twitter. His innovative spirit helped earn him positions with the Chicago Tribune (as a web intern), and then professionally, jobs with The Huffington Post and now NBC News in New York City.


lley recently spoke with us about his experience here in the college, the importance of being passionate about one's work, and his exciting career trajectory since DePaul. He also shares some sound advice for current and future students hoping to carve out their own niche in news.

What led to your decision to study journalism at DePaul?

I knew I wanted to study online journalism, and I wanted to make a big move, from my small-town Buffalo, New York roots to a city I could meet lots of new people and gain a unique life experience. After some searching around, I decided on Chicago, and after visiting campuses and getting to know the DePaul program, I knew that was the one for me. I liked the location, the flexibility of the program, the classes offered and how it also allowed me enough time to do additional things outside of class.

How did your studies — along with the independent initiatives you took here as a student — help pave the way to the work you're doing now?

Graduate school at DePaul gave me the opportunity to grow as an individual, experiment with new tools and meet new people. All three factored into the work I'm doing today. I learned a lot about myself through blogging, working with The DePaulia, running social media accounts and networking, all of which took place inside and outside the classroom. One thing I really liked about the classes is many were very practical. It wasn't all theory, it was a lot you could actually do and experiment with. That was invaluable; it allowed me to be creative and start Breaking Tweets which helped land my first full-time job.

Was there a direct progression from BreakingTweets to The Huffington Post and now NBC?

Absolutely. Each opportunity led to the next. In fact, to be fair, there was a link in between Breaking Tweets and HuffPost that was really important: the Chicago Tribune. A good reason why the Tribune was willing to bring me on as an intern was Breaking Tweets. They liked how I was trying something different and had this innovative mindset toward news. And when I interviewed for HuffPost, while Breaking Tweets is what initially got their attention and landed me that interview, the Tribune added a lot of credibility to my resume. That traditional newsroom experience impressed them, especially as the Tribune was doing really interesting things while I was there like ChicagoNow and experimentation with social media and SEO (search engine optimization). I learned from all of that. Then, it was my work at HuffPost that directly caught NBC's attention and led to that opportunity. It was time for a new challenge and I'm grateful that came up.

Any general insight or advice to current students on how you've achieved what you have so far?

I would highly recommend creating a space for you on the Web that gets people's attention. Whether you do that through blogging, building up a social media presence, or creating a really strong website, I don't think you can go wrong. What should that space look like? Be creative. Focus on your passions. Produce content related to niche areas you know the most about or want to learn more about. Also, get as much experience as you can. I had multiple internships before my first job at The Huffington Post, including ones that weren't paid or didn't pay much. That's part of the process and it's important also to do as much as you can to see what you like and what you don't like. You absolutely can draw on every experience you have as your career progresses.

Finally, network every opportunity you can. Introduce yourself to people you respect, write blind e-mails, send @ replies or direct messages on Twitter, and so on. Find people you look up to, respect, or want to work for, follow their work closely, and try to get their attention. Try informational interviews, Facebook messages, video chats, and even quick phone calls. As you build your network, and people get to know you, many will give advice and let you know when opportunities arise.

How important do you find specialization in your learning experience as a Journalism student was? Do today's journalists need to have specific, even niche skills beyond solid reporting and writing?

As a journalism student, it's good to learn about everything you can. You don't have to be an expert in HTML coding, but it's good to know some. Video editing may not be your thing, but it's good to know how to edit too. A well-rounded, generalist type candidate, who can do it all, is an attractive candidate in this job market. And the more you can do, the more opportunities that there will be for you. That said, a specialization can only help. If you can, be sound in the basics, plus have a niche area in which you really excel, that sets you apart from other candidates.

The best way to develop niche skills is pick something you're passionate about and practice, practice, practice. For me, I chose social media, and specifically Twitter. I didn't learn Twitter overnight — in fact, when I started using Twitter, I was very confused about its applications. It took many months, in fact years, and I'm still learning all the time. Nonetheless, I focused on it. I ran Breaking Tweets and another blog project called Twitter Journalism. I wrote papers about Twitter for DePaul. I live-tweeted events. I thought about unique ways to use it. And so on. The more you do, the better you get. It's also important to listen to others passionate about your niche and see how they use it, as you learn this way.

As opportunities for those entering journalistic fields contract in this new media age, what can a student do to ensure a future in the industry for themselves, whether independently or with the mainstream media? Both from an educational perspective, and from the work they do during and after graduation?

First, be passionate. If you're going into journalism today, you need to have a lot of enthusiasm, energy and, maybe most importantly, ideas. Journalism is in need of fresh perspectives, especially as the technology around news continues to evolve. If you bring these qualities, and keep working hard, there are likely to be opportunities out there -- either at traditional media companies, new media companies, or self-started operations.

Also, as stated before, get as much experience as you can — practice, practice, practice. Pick a niche if you can and get really good at it, and network. If you do all of this, you're certain to at least line up employment or opportunities of some kind, even if they're not in the traditional journalism world. There are also emerging opportunities for those with a journalism background in communications, the Web and other areas that you might not think of at first.

Is there anything you have learned after graduation that you wish you had the foresight to focus on during your degree?

Honestly, I have no regrets. I wouldn't go back and do my education any other way. That said, if I'm a student today, I'm thinking about taking a few technical classes, or learning how to code/program in my spare time. Not necessarily getting super advanced with these skills, but knowing the basics can be a huge asset especially in a competitive marketplace.