Jo Ling Kent is a correspondent at NBC News covering business, technology and the economy and is an integral part of NBC News’ robust Business & Tech unit. In just the past months, Kent spoke with a former YouTube employee to reveal the secrets of the platform’s algorithm in an exclusive interview, chased Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg down the hallways of Congress, interviewed Facebook and Google whistle-blowers – one of whom called Facebook “a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election” – and scored an exclusive first look at Amazon’s new Echo edition for kids. She covers all aspects of tech giants’ influence on our daily lives, recently reporting from Facebook’s annual F8 conference.
Previously, Kent was a reporter at Fox Business Network and an investigative reporter at NBC Connecticut, where she won a Peabody for her team’s coverage of the Newtown school shooting.
Kent reported for NBC News on the campaign trail in 2012, covering the presidential election as an embed reporter.
For five years, Kent worked in China: first as a Fulbright Scholar focusing on women’s rights, then as a Beijing-based journalist for ABC News and CNN.
Kent has earned two master’s degrees in international affairs from the London School of Economics and Peking University, along with a BA from Rice University. She’s from Minnesota, fluent in Mandarin and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My family is Chinese and Texan. I grew up in Minnesota speaking Mandarin and English at home, doing student government and dedicating much of my childhood to competitive figure skating. Learning to get up after falling down (time and time again!) was a humbling experience and taught me about the value of hard work pretty early on. I dreamed of having many different careers — an Olympic gold medalist, a food scientist, a doctor, a lawyer — and that curiosity propelled me to eventually choose journalism.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
Every step along the way has informed the next. Each job has been pretty different. I’ve been a Fulbright Scholar to China, a web reporter for ABC News in China, a field producer in CNN’s Beijing bureau, an embedded political journalist for NBC News covering presidential campaigns, a investigative/local news reporter at NBC Connecticut and a correspondent at Fox Business and now NBC News. Each time I applied for a new job, someone at that news organization took a chance on me. I’ve been fortunate to have worked alongside world class journalists who are the gold standard. Does working at my hometown general store or local YMCA count, too? Having a diverse set of experiences comes in handy every day because every single one is wildly different.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
Covering the economy, business and technology for NBC and MSNBC is a huge privilege and responsibility. I can’t believe I have this job and I’m so grateful for it. It’s challenging and I learn something new all the time. Some days I’m asking the Federal Reserve chair about the economy or pursuing Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill, while others I spend interviewing a mom who is battling her son’s internet addiction or a family that’s been scammed by hackers. Together with our super smart and talented team, I travel across the country to gather original stories and we cover a lot of ground! Recently, I was on four planes in a day — that was a lot. But the opportunity to meet people all across this country from all backgrounds and help tell their stories is everything. I hope I can shed light on the economy and tech, hold leaders and CEOs accountable for their actions and help people better understand where we’re headed in the future through the eyes of the innovators trying to make it happen.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Go for it! We need more trailblazing journalists to cover this complicated, ever-changing world. There are all kinds of ways to get into journalism and it’s never too early (or late) to jump in and start. But you have to be ready to dedicate yourself to it. Journalism is a public service with lots of sacrifices, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Work hard, work smart, be prepared and never give up. And always, always listen. The best journalists are good listeners. Whether you’re in a packed press conference or a one-on-one interview, you’ll ask better questions and the conversation can you lead you in an unexpected direction. Sometimes you’ll even make news.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Is there such a thing? I don’t have the secret! I love spending time with my family and friends over good food, travel and just hanging out. You have to have a sense of humor and, for me, squeezing in a couple of workouts a week makes all the difference. Oh and having a cute dog is the best!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
We’re living in a remarkable moment in history. Women are speaking out and finally being heard and believed. It’s inspiring but also shows how far we still have to go. Harassment, equal pay and paid parental leave are at the top of my list.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
I cover Silicon Valley and hear many stories of how difficult it is for many women entrepreneurs to get access to venture capital, even in 2018. One estimate found women own 38% of American businesses but only have access to 2% of venture funding. Fixing that would be a start.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’ve been very lucky to have some generous mentors who have been there for the ups and down and all the uncertainty in between. I also have a tight-knit group of about 12 best girlfriends who I go to for literally everything from job negotiations to which flats to buy. We meet up about once a month and they’ve been a gamechanger professionally and personally. Mentorship isn’t just vertical – I find it in my friendships all the time!
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many. I admire women who have fought their way to the top of their fields, women who have spoken out against injustices and women who lead by example.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
There’s so much! I’d love to interview Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page. I’d also like to travel to two countries I haven’t already been to.
What are the top three tips you can offer to a journalist starting out?
Cover something you really care about and dig deep; stick with it.
Go into the field as soon as you can to cover what’s happening where it’s actually happening.
Do original reporting for multiple platforms — there’s nothing wrong with starting on social media.