Growing up in Athens, Greece, Joanna Nikas was enthralled by Greek mythology. But it wasn’t just the stories—the visuals engaged her just as much as the characters did.
“I knew I always wanted to be a storyteller,” Nikas says. Today, she’s a staff editor at The New York Times, currently conceptualizing articles and assigning writers on self-care. Last year she was the editor of Surfacing, a visual-first storytelling initiative that covered communities. Her love for visuals also found a home on social media: Nikas runs The New York Times Fashion Instagram account, @nytimesfashion, with 2.7 million followers.
She’s adding to her list of responsibilities this fall: Nikas will teach a social media class (Social Platforms, Processes and Perspectives) for Newhouse NYC starting this month.
“I’m thrilled to have Joanna join the Newhouse NYC faculty,” says Cheryl Brody Franklin, director of Newhouse NYC. “She’s been extremely generous over the last two years to host students at The New York Times, and I’m excited they’ll get to meet with her weekly now.”
Nikas also taught lectures for a class this summer at The New York Times Journalism Institute, where she focused on fashion.
“I found that I learned just as much from the students—well, I learned a lot from the students, hopefully they learned a lot from me as well,” she says.
Starting Out: Journalism 101
Covering visuals, fashion and self-care comes after a journey of filming, producing and a lot of what Nikas calls “Journalism 101.” As an undergraduate at New York University, she learned the nitty-gritty of reporting: shaping stories, writing nut graphs and digging for ideas. For a class at NYU, she covered the Lower East Side, finding stories in part by going to community board meetings.
Once she graduated, Nikas discovered that she wanted to learn the art of visual and digital journalism, which led her to a digital media master’s degree at Columbia University.
It was while Nikas was at Columbia that she found the story that would eventually be partially aired on public television—a documentary about an all-girls robotics team at the Bronx High School of Science, one of the only schools at the time to have both all-girls and all-boys teams.
“That experience was so amazing to me because I loved being able to tell stories through video and spending time with these young women who are incredibly smart,” she says.
Nikas and her peer, Yolanne Almanzar, filmed, edited and transcribed the documentary over months that saw several late nights on campus.
“Although I was very sleep-deprived, I had this body of work that I was really proud of,” she says. “I was able to tell their story.”
Finding a Mentor
Nikas interned with The New York Times while she was at Columbia, reporting and collecting data on education. Her editor caught her looking at fashion shows and suggested she meet with the Styles team, where she met Simone Oliver, professor of the class Nikas is teaching this semester while Oliver is out, as she’s expecting her second child in September.
After she graduated, Nikas began at the Times as a web producer for the Styles section and managed the Times’ Facebook and Twitter accounts with Oliver, who now works at Facebook.
Nikas stresses the importance of finding a mentor like Oliver. Shy as a student, Nikas found that the guidance Oliver offered helped her find a voice. It’s a practice she hopes to bring into her own classroom, during which she will offer office hours for one-on-one conversations and building relationships with her students.
“I try to bring her ethos into every situation I am in, helping people and young journalists—because it’s really hard and it can be kind of intimidating to enter a space,” she says. “I do want to foster an environment which is welcoming and successful.”
The Future of Social Media
Today, Nikas is excited about live events and using social media as a tool for breaking news reporting. She also hopes to engage her class in creating consistent content specifically for social media and learning how to adapt to an ever-changing social media landscape.
“Consistency is key,” she says about posting on social media. “So even if, let’s say, a post doesn’t do well or doesn’t engage with an audience, then that’s just a learning experience on how to pivot to a different strategy.”
Learning from professionals in the industry is one of the many perks of participating in Newhouse NYC.
“There’s no question that our students understand social media from an everyday perspective,” says Franklin, “but in this class, they learn firsthand how companies and brands are using social platforms in a professional setting. Joanna lives and breathes social—from writing posts, to tracking data and growing engagement—and I know the students are going to learn so much from her.”
Nikas will begin teaching at Newhouse just as she reaches her eight-year mark at The New York Times, where she has juggled several roles and responsibilities. She doesn’t take it lightly, she says.
“I have constantly been learning,” she says. “I started with producing and then did writing and then editing. I just feel like I am growing still, every day, which is really amazing.”