For a public radio lover, having a Princeternship at New York Public Radio (NYPR) was like visiting heaven. NYPR is the public radio station that serves the metro New York area and consists of WNYC AM and FM (public radio news stations), WQXR (a classical music station), and WNJN (a set of NJ public radio stations that were recently bought by NYPR).
Ivan Zimmerman ‘80, General Counsel for WNYC, started the day off by giving me a tour of all three floors of the station’s headquarters, from the cubicles to the radio archives. Knowing that I was interested in journalism, Ivan brought me into one of the recording studios, where I heard a familiar voice reading the news. It was Soterios Johnson recording “Morning Edition”! It was so surreal hearing a voice I have listened to nearly every morning embodied in a real person. Later, I even got to see Brian Lehrer host his show and watch as the producers performed all the behind– the-scenes magic, like screening callers.
Ivan also brought me to a news department meeting, where different editors, producers, and radio journalists updated each other on the stories that they were working on and brainstormed ideas for the upcoming weekend.
The majority of the day, however, was focused on the legal issues that NYPR faces. As Ivan is one of only two counsels for NYPR, he has to handle a diverse range of legal matters.
More than 50% of his work is dealing with contracts, Ivan told me. For example, in the afternoon, he had to read over a contract that dealt with maintenance work at the NYPR headquarters. Janna Freed, the other counsel, had to rewrite part of a contract that dealt with property rights of an artist who was going to perform on WNYC.
Another part of his job is related to underwriting. Underwriting, in the context of public radio, is the sponsorship of the radio station, and in exchange the station will mention that business or organization on the air in its programming. The tricky thing about underwriting is to make sure acknowledgements don’t veer on advertising, which can threaten not only NYPR’s tax-exempt status but can cause the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revoke the station’s licenses. Ivan’s responsibility is to make sure NYPR’s underwriters don’t unintentionally make “WNYC is sponsored by X company” sound like “WNYC thinks you should buy X company’s products.”
Finally Ivan’s daily work included many other responsibilities. For instance, Ivan advised one journalist about the ethics and legalities of interviewing patients at a hospital. Earlier in the day, he had to resolve a dispute with another company that was going to produce a music show using a name that NYPR had already trademarked.
For someone who squirms at the thought of public speaking and would be a horrible trial lawyer, I was delighted to learn that as a general counsel, one could delve into the intricacies of law without dealing with all the arguing and stress of litigation. (In fact, when NYPR goes to court, they hire an outside firm to represent them.) The work is also very flexible—Ivan said he comes to work anytime from 9 am-10 am most days and leaves from 5 pm-9 pm. But what I like best, and what has made being a general counsel at NYPR one of my dream jobs, is the environment. The funky furniture and colorful, open office space reflect the creative work produced in the NYPR headquarters. And unlike a large law firm, at NYPR one can walk up two flights of stairs and suddenly be immersed in the fast-paced, exciting environment of the “Morning Edition” production studio or listen to an inspiring performance by a Chinese opera singer in the “Soundcheck” studio.
If you like winning high-profile cases and working at a prestigious firm, perhaps being a counsel for a media outlet isn’t for you. But if you like solving complicated problems and giving advice to others in a creative environment, being a counsel may be your dream job, too.
P.S. Another thing that made this Princeternship so fun was Ivan. He is really chill, super nice, and dispels all lawyer stereotypes!