Jamie Perez is a poet at heart.
She remembers going to community college in her native Sacramento, unsure exactly what path her career might take. A counselor there asked what she liked to do.
“And I said, ‘Well, I like to write poems, but I don’t really want to make a career out of that,’” Perez said in an interview last week. “And (the counselor said), ‘Well, you like writing, so let’s just put you in journalism and see how you like it.’ And it just stuck with me.”
She went on to study journalism at Cal State-Northridge in the Los Angeles area, where she got a taste of several forms – print, radio, digital – and gravitated toward television.
“I just stuck with TV because I thought it was the coolest and those internships were the ones that I really enjoyed the most,” she said.
She landed her first job as a multimedia journalist (MMJ) in Sioux City, Iowa, meaning she was responsible for not only the reporting, but all the camerawork and editing herself in a new city with no friends or family nearby – and very few people of color anywhere to be seen.
“It was not okay,” she said. “It was honestly two of the hardest years of my life just because it was so different. I think one of the hardest parts honestly was the complete lack of diversity. I mean, people literally stared at me because I looked different than the rest of them. It was really hard to acclimate, especially not having any friends or family around. It was very lonely, but I knew that I needed to get my foot in the door. I spent most of my time working anyway. That was helpful, taking up a lot of my time and keeping me busy, but it was definitely very challenging.”
It was also a challenge to work both behind and in front of the camera – a challenge she came to embrace.
“When I first started in the Sioux City, Iowa market, I literally told myself, ‘I can’t wait till I get to a market big enough where I have a photographer, I have an editor, I have a sound person,’ because I hated it first, doing all that stuff on my own,” she said. “And then I actually grew to start enjoying the creative process and the creative control of doing it all myself. So when I got to Madison, I actually specifically requested to be an MMJ.”
That move to Madison came in 2018, when she joined News 3 Now.
“It’s still mostly white but it’s a lot better than Sioux City,” she said of her new city.
“I loved storytelling, and I loved getting better at camera work,” she said. “Not just the on camera stuff, but behind the scenes, putting a story together and editing. The days that I enjoyed the most were when I could tell heartfelt, impactful stories that really made a difference to people and made people feel something. I’ve never enjoyed the crime, politics, siren chasing.”
Even though she loved the storytelling, she started to feel some friction with the profession – especially in the midst of a pandemic that caused many people to reevaluate their priorities.
“There were lots of things in the industry that were no longer suited to my lifestyle. It just wasn’t financially stable for me,” she said. “I was approaching 30 all of my friends that are achieving all these milestones like buying a house and building you know families and having the money to go on these vacations and getting time off and … I’m just never gonna have that and I don’t want to live the rest of my life that way.”
She left for another job in media, but that didn’t stick.
“The best part about the journalism field for me was storytelling, and I loved being able to use a camera to tell people’s stories. The job that I left news for didn’t have that in the way that I thought it would,” she said. That’s when she started thinking about going out on her own.
“My partner actually has his own business that he started during the pandemic and he said, ‘I’m telling you, working for yourself is the most rewarding thing and you are so good at storytelling. You can do this on your own and there is a demand for it,’” Perez recalled. She also had built a pretty solid network of contacts in Madison during her three years at News 3, and felt prepared by her experience.
“I was an MMJ. I was doing everything on my own. Getting the story leads and reaching out to people doing the actual camerawork, writing the web story, doing everything on my own,” she said. “So I think having six years of that type of experience prepared me to become a business owner, a startup business owner, where you do everything on your own.”
With a loan from her partner to buy a laptop, financing from a camera company for equipment and a small grant from Doyenne Group – a consulting firm that supports women entrepreneurs – she was up and running. Beyond Words Productions launched in November 2021.
“There’s so many people here (in Madison) that love supporting small local businesses, entrepreneurs and startups. At least that’s the feel that I’ve gotten from all the networking events that I’ve gone to,” Perez said. “There’s so many nonprofits here. That is really helpful too, because nonprofits are actually a huge client base for me just because of the types of stories they want to tell, the impact they’re making, the social good aspect that they have about them that we naturally kind of like magnetized towards each other. So Madison’s a really good place because it’s a small enough but big enough city to support you regardless of what your venture is. And it’s a really good place to grow.”
Some of those nonprofits include Gio’s Garden, a respite care organization for families of children with disabilities, and Free Bikes 4 Kids. She’s created digital videos for clients to post on their websites and social channels, for brand awareness as well as fundraising purposes. She said the fundraising video she created for Gio’s Garden set helped the organization set fundraising records.
Perez said running a business is challenging – especially since she has to spend roughly half of her time drumming up work – but it’s also rewarding.
“I never really expected to do it. This was never in my plans to be a business owner,” she said. “But now that I’m doing it, I don’t know if I can ever go back to working for somebody ever again.”
Perez said she enjoys working at home, but might be able to grow into a studio space sometime over the next couple of years. One of her primary goals is to spend less time landing work and more time doing work.
“I hope in a couple of years I’m just so heavy on word of mouth that work is just flowing into me seamlessly,” she said.
Like many entrepreneurs, she urges anyone with the itch to start a business to go for it.
“The things that are most worth having do not come easy. If it were easy, everybody would do it,” she said. “It will also probably be one of the most rewarding things you do to take that challenge because you grow in so many ways that you would not have otherwise experienced had you just stayed comfortable.”