Working as a television producer for eight years has put Rachel Sobel (MSJ06) in charge of telling stories from very different walks of life. Every one of her producing jobs has been related to a new topic she had to learn about on the fly—a skill Medill prepared her to master.
Sobel has worked on a number of different documentary-style television shows from behind the scenes and was able to hone that craft while in the MSJ program.
“I always wanted to be a producer,” Sobel said. “In my broadcast classes, I got to actually go out there and do stuff.”
Sobel’s time at Medill gave her not just the skills to tell stories, but the confidence to tell them well.
“[Medill] helped me learn a lot about what I do now and to not be afraid to not know anything from the beginning,” she said. “Just go out there and learn.”
Sobel’s quarter spent reporting in Washington, D.C., most prepared her to master the world of television production. Producing stories for cable channel Current TV meant she was able to see her stories broadcast to a real audience and not just created for a class.
“Immigration reform was going on, so I filmed a young activist who was trying to rally young people to protest and get involved,” she said. “It was very documentary style. Current TV put it up on their website and played it on TV.”
Being unafraid of diving into a story has served Sobel well in her career. She’s worked on a number of projects with completely different subjects. One of her first jobs after Medill was working on a show for the Discovery Channel about life behind bars. She spent weeks shooting inside jails, interviewing inmates and correctional officers, and finding out their stories.
“I was using the investigative journalism I loved at Medill and taking my time to tell a story,” Sobel said. “It was hard, but really interesting. You get a feeling of what goes on without having to live their lives.”
Once her stint filming in jails was over, Sobel got a call to work on a show for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable channel, which was new at the time. The show, called “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman,” focused on helping couples with trouble in their sex lives. Telling the intimate stories of couples was a completely different experience from interviewing inmates, but helping craft ideas that both helped the couples and made for good television was something she enjoyed.
Sobel’s current and longest-running producing job has been with the show “Kitchen Crashers,” which is now in its seventh season and airs on HGTV and DIY Network. Her involvement in the popular home design show began without any effort on her part— Sobel was found by the company who pitched the show. She says many of her jobs come from the strength of the Medill network.
“People always ask me about the Medill name,” she said. “I get a lot of interviews just being a Medill grad.”
And she definitely pays it forward.
She recently found out about a young Medill alumna who was moving to Miami and looking for work in television. Sobel put her in contact with people at the CBS affiliate, where Sobel first cut her teeth in the television business after Medill.
She said the camaraderie of the Medill network, as well as the strong reputation the Medill name carries, are a big part of why she’s been able to have a strong career in television production.
“I’ve helped people and people helped me,” Sobel said. “Someone helped me and I felt like I needed to help someone else back. That’s the only way freelance will work.”