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IRE Mentoring works

By Reyna Gobel and Margaret Engel

Here's a reminder to those attending this year's IRE convention — don't forget to sign up to be a mentor or a mentee.

We did and lives changed as a result.

Three years ago, we were matched by IRE and had breakfast in Phoenix during the annual conference. The result was a friendship, a new career path and a book from a major publisher — all because we took advantage of the long-standing IRE practice of having experienced journalists sign up to give help to those wanting help at the beginning of their careers.

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Over a breakfast at the conference hotel, Reyna Gobel, then a graduate student at the University of North Texas, told longtime IRE member Margaret (Peggy) Engel about her desire to write personal finance articles for a larger audience. At the time, she was contributing to a local giveaway newspaper. Her interest in financial journalism was personal. She, like so many of her generation, had more than $60,000 in student loans and had accidentally defaulted on one of the many loans, resulting in ruined credit. This early financial disaster had propelled her to double major in graduate school to get an M.B.A. in order to learn about money, credit and finance while pursuing her master's in journalism.

Peggy read her clips and realized that Reyna was speaking to a young audience — students and recent graduates — who were adrift in debt with little forewarning. She needed more experience in writing about personal finance, but her life lessons were invaluable and fresh. Previous to financial writing, she wrote about pop culture, mainly comedy reviews, for magazines and alternative newspapers.

Peggy encouraged her to make good on her desire to help others fix their financial mistakes. The vehicle? Writing a book about her hard-won knowledge.

In the following months, Reyna showed the persistence and energy that separates actual authors from dreamers. She and Peggy exchanged many emails, polishing a book proposal. At the same time, Reyna started contributing stories to on-line personal finance sites, including Yahoo!Finance and Investopedia.com.

Through the advice Peggy had given Reyna about looking through acknowledgements in books in the same genre, she was able to find New York-based agent, Grace Freedson. Grace worked tirelessly for a year on further refining the proposal and pitching  publishers .  By the time the proposal was sent to Greg Tucbach, an acquisitions editor for the CliffsNotes division of Wiley & Sons, it was a persuasive account of how Generation Debt could avoid financial pitfalls .

The publisher, widely distributed in bookstores and college student unions nationwide, signed this young, unknown author. After two years of hard work, Reyna completed her first book: CliffsNotes Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life. It was published this spring and is featured on the For Grads books table at Barnes & Noble and the After Graduation table at Follett's college bookstores.

Reyna has done many radio and print interviews, book signings and on-line columns. The best result? The chance to help others avoid or fix mistakes similar to hers.

Our experience showed us that you literally cannot know how valuable your IRE mentor/mentee links can be.

So please, take the 20 to 30 minutes to meet with an aspiring journalist during the IRE conference. You'll be doing the profession a favor.

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