If you you use Twitter on a regular basis, you probably know Philip Lewis, a front page editor for HuffPost. He has 91,000 followers.
But he doesn’t have a social media degree. He attended Michigan State University and then worked in education before joining the HuffPost as an intern.
On Twitter he shares news stories as well as a number of hilarious memes that receive hundreds and even sometimes thousands of likes and retweets. He has worked with other publications like: Yahoo, Complex, Mic, The Chicago Crusader, Medium.com, HuffPost United Kingdom, Aol, HuffPost Canada, The Atlanta Voice, and Color Research & Application.
We chatted about his journey.
Spartans Innovate: How did you get your position with the Huffington Post?
LEWIS: In 2015, I was substitute teaching and working at the University of Michigan as a program coordinator in the dental school. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up taking the advice of a friend who encouraged me to use my social media influence to try and work in media. So applied to dozens, if not hundreds, of opportunities in journalism and media. I ended up being rejected by most of them because I had no formal training in journalism — I didn’t go to journalism school — but the HuffPost took a chance on me and hired me as an intern.
How was your adjustment?
There was an extremely steep learning curve. The internship as essentially a crash course in journalism to the extreme. I had to learn how to write for news, not just at a local outlet but at one of the largest digital media outlets out there. So it was very tough, but I managed to catch on by the end of my internship.
What steps post college did you take to lead you to where you are now?
After college, I was pretty confused on what I wanted to do with my life, but I was sure about one thing: social media. I had a relatively nice-sized following on Twitter for a 22-year-old, at some 15,000 followers. I noticed that people were enjoying the things I shared and the things I had to say. So even though I was lost for a while after graduating, bouncing around as a teacher and a program coordinator, I managed to grow my audience online.
Since you are active on social media, how would you describe it in comparison to previous years?
I would say that people e use it much more effectively than before. I’ve seen people establish careers and all sorts of other opportunities have come from social media. When I was in college, I used it to promote events on campus. But now, I see the value of using it for a host of different things. I’d also say that people are much more hyper-aware of social issues than ever before.
What do you think about the state of media today — especially fake news?
I think that the term “fake news” is used so much now that it really doesn’t carry any weight. However, it has helped polarize the public in ways we probably haven’t seen in a long time. The Right only goes to Fox, Breitbart; the Left only goes to Mic, Mother Jones. It doesn’t help matters.
Do you think digital media is changing how we get the news? If so, how?
I think so. Most people I know get their news from social media. There are some who only receive news via their Facebook newsfeeds, which might not be the best thing.
What is a typical day or even week like for you? Do you pick your own hours?
No. I work 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. I am invited to all sorts of events so no week looks exactly the same as another. I also go to Capitol Hill whenever I am able.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
I’ve had some pretty great highlights so far, but my personal favorite was interviewing Bill Nye.
What advice to you have for those following in your footsteps?
I would encourage people to take a chance. When I first left Michigan State, I had no intention of ever leaving the state. I wanted to come back to Detroit and do something positive for the city. Life, however, had a different plan for me. So I packed everything up and moved to Washington D.C. for the internship. I never thought three years later I would be managing the news coverage. Be willing to take a chance.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.