Q&A with Dillon Fernando ’18, Senior Researcher, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
In this interview for the Duke Entertainment, Media, and Arts Network (DEMAN), Dillon Fernando ‘18 shares how he made the transition from Duke to late night TV. “Even though I was a biology major at Duke, the cool thing about television is that you need very little prior experience for entry level jobs,” Fernando says.
Major: Biology / Minor: Chemistry
What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?
Chatting with alumni from the Duke network and attending DEMAN events helped me understand what career paths existed in television beyond just being on-screen talent. I could not have done the internships I did without the summer internship grants at Duke. New York is expensive, and I didn’t have to starve because of the generous funds I was grateful to receive. Take advantage of these! Being a part of Recess (the arts and culture section of The Chronicle) helped foment my love of writing and gave me the foundations for my journalism and fact-checking skills.
How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?
I graduated a semester early to beat the influx of spring/summer graduates to the job market and moved to New York immediately without the prospect of a steady job. I emailed everyone in my network to let them know I was moving, and I lucked out—one of my emails was sent minutes after my connections at Full Frontal decided they needed someone to work a two week gig for a field piece. That’s how it started!
Takeaways: Pick either New York or LA and then move as soon as possible. Usually, people pick the city where their network (and support system) is stronger or the type of TV they want to work in is produced there. For me, most of late night is in New York. Be open to not getting your dream job, or even something remotely in your field for months, even years. It’s okay to do other jobs to survive. Everyone does it as long as you focus on your goals. Every month I would ask myself, “Am I doing what I came here to do?” If I wasn’t, I’d take steps to correct it—apply for jobs, cold email, find freelance gigs as a PA for a day.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?
When I graduated, my first goal was to be a researcher because that’s the type of work I did in my internships that I enjoyed. Even though I was a biology major at Duke, the cool thing about television is that you need very little prior experience for entry level jobs. It’s all about working hard, being willing to start at the bottom, and also, just knowing people.
My first step was to get my foot into the door of a late night show doing literally anything—no job was too good for me and I did my very best at each. Because of my work, people were willing to take a chance on me for the next stage of my career. Usually, people in research have some sort of seasoned journalism background. I didn’t. But I made up for it by asking people at the show if they needed help with any research requests while I was doing PA work. I made up for a lack of qualifications with proven work experience. My internship led to my freelance jobs, which led to my staff PA job, which led to my fact-checking job, and so on.
What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?
My favorite thing about my profession is that I never stop learning. Each week, there’s always a new topic to fact-check or some breaking news to research. Often, I know nothing about these subjects prior to a piece and have to become a pseudo-expert in just a few days!
The most challenging part is making sure we’re doing justice to the people, topics and subjects we cover on the show. Are we discussing the nuances of a topic as well as we can in seven minutes? Are we being respectful to sensitive issues? Above all, is it factual? Some people get their news from political satire, and so I need to make sure that those non-funny parts are 100% based in the truth…even if it’s about someone we at the show really don’t like. Everyone deserves a fair shake.
What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?
Explore your interests while at Duke. I often thought that I was ten steps behind my peers because I wasn’t doing certain clubs or creating certain content for a portfolio. Focus on pursuing the classes, extracurriculars and passion projects that appeal to you. Many of my pitches, research, and fact checks have spawned from random classes/activities from undergrad.
When things get hard (and they will), never forget to be the first person to validate yourself. Breaking into late night is hard, so find your in. It might come early through an internship or finding production assistant work, or later on, after you’ve done journalism-y things and have built your network. Once you get in somewhere, prove that you are indispensable—they can’t get rid of you.