A Calculated Risk

Journalism and finance alumna Maddy Simpson left her well-paying job as a data analyst to pursue a passion she had long shelved: storytelling. Now, she works at the intersection of data and journalism as a reporting fellow for Business Insider.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, lead communications specialist

December 10, 2020 | 11:30 a.m.

Maddy Simpson

Having recently earned an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University, Maddy Simpson '17 now works as a data reporting fellow at Business Insider.

While most of the country waited anxiously for presidential election results, Maddy Simpson '17 was reporting on them. Nestled in the living room of a friend's apartment with a plate of freshly baked cookies to sustain her through the long night ahead, Simpson—a data reporting fellow for the news website Business Insider—was having the time of her life. And it almost didn't happen.

After graduating from Bethel with degrees in journalism and finance, Simpson landed a well-paying job as a data analyst at a large compensation consulting firm, paid off some student loans, and signed the lease on a cozy apartment near her friends and family. She was happy, comfortable, and—eventually—bored. 

“I was never really a risk-taker, but after a few years I knew it was time for a change,” Simpson says. “Even though I loved my job, I wasn’t fulfilled by it—and I didn’t know what to do about that.”

The answer came to her over coffee with a former Bethel journalism professor, whose advice encouraged and emboldened her to pursue a passion she had long shelved: storytelling. Before she knew it, Simpson had put in her two weeks’ notice and packed her bags for New York City as the newest member of Columbia University’s master of science in journalism program—an experience that led to her current position at Business Insider

“Like any new experience, it changes your life forever,” she says. “You meet new people, see new places, and learn more about yourself. I never imagined I’d be here, but it’s so much fun and so fulfilling.”

"Like any new experience, it changes your life forever. You meet new people, see new places, and learn more about yourself. I never imagined I’d be here, but it’s so much fun and so fulfilling."

— Maddy Simpson '17

As a data reporter, Simpson hunts for news that might have an interesting compensation angle. One of her recent stories featured the salaries of executives at Moderna and Pfizer—the companies on the leading edge of COVID-19 vaccine development—and she’s also covered the compensation of big-tech executives at companies like Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, and Amazon. Because her work sits at the intersection of data and journalism, Simpson leverages her finance education and experience to set herself apart in a competitive field. 

“Knowing how to code and use Microsoft Excel isn’t a typical skill set among journalists,” she says. “I love taking big data sets and transforming them into a beautiful visualization or a story that translates numbers to something meaningful.”

Simpson hopes to one day turn that passion into a teaching gig at Bethel, where she envisions an interdisciplinary partnership between the computer science and journalism departments. Until then, she’s made it a point to keep in touch. She sends rapid-fire texts to journalism professors whenever an idea occurs to her and recently started a Facebook group where alumni can connect, share career opportunities, and reminisce. All of it is a testament to her positive experience in the program, which she says laid the groundwork for her commitment to truthful storytelling.

“At Bethel, I learned to let go of the idea that being liked was more important than telling the truth,” says Simpson, who once served as editor-in-chief of Bethel’s student newspaper. “You’re going to write some stories that people really hate—but what matters is knowing that what you’re doing is right.”

After her fellowship ends, Simpson hopes to score a full-time job at Business Insider—but if it doesn’t work out, she isn’t intimidated by the possibility of a blank canvas. “I took a calculated risk, and that risk paid off,” she says. “No matter what happens, I know I can do something like this again—and I can confidently say that any journalist who went through Bethel’s program could do it, too. There are a lot of great opportunities out there, if you’re just willing to step outside your comfort zone.”

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