Freelancing around the world led journalist to Wharton


Twice Paul Sherman found himself in the right place at the right time for an aspiring young journalist.

He had just completed his junior year in college when Yugoslavia started to break up; he caught one of the last trains into Slovenia and was the one of the few journalists able to cover the beginning of the war there, working as a stringer for Associated Press radio.

"It was my first big break," he said.

The second break was working for the New York Times in Mexico City, first as an intern living on tamales, then as a news assistant and finally as a freelance writer, covering Mexico's transition from boom to bust economies.

"In 1994, everything crashed, starting with the Chiapas uprising, then a series of assassinations and the devaluation of the peso," Sherman said.

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Freelance required "incredible self-discipline," said Wharton student Paul Sherman.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Sherman is now completing his first year in the MBA program at Wharton, and he has been coordinating a freelance writing seminar series at Kelly Writers House.

The move to Wharton was inspired by the economic upheavals he had witnessed in Mexico. "I wanted to have some sort of expertise, a deep understanding of one issue," he said.

The move to Wharton was also inspired by his experience freelance writing. He'd had enough of it.

"It required incredible self-discipline."

But he also loved it. He liked the freedom. He could write about what interested him; he could travel when and where he wanted.

Much of Sherman's undergraduate career seemed focused on journalism. A graduate of Brown University, he got a degree in political science and Latin American studies. He interned at the UPI bureau in Providence, R.I., one summer, and he worked on the student newspaper and the school radio station, which, like WXPN, was professionally run. Because the station was part of the AP news network, he was able to do feeds for AP whenever someone newsworthy came on campus.

The experience of covering the break-up of Yugoslavia as well as the on-campus events led him to the job in Mexico City..

"It's a mind-boggling city, with 20 million people. When you fly in you see lights and lights for what seems like forever."

During his time there, Sherman lived in downtown Mexico City in an old apartment building with roommates -- his salary was too low for him to live alone, even though he was paid in U.S. dollars. He ate Mexican food and took the bus and subway.

"Every day there was something new. The changes that were going on in Mexico, the events that were going on in Mexico, literally you'd open up the newspaper and didn't know what would happen the next day, and in 1994, things that you'd assume would never happen, happened."

After working as a news assistant and freelancing on the side -- the turmoil gave him opportunities to write stories the Times correspondents were too busy to cover -- Sherman took off for Asia, traveling through Japan, Indonesia and Nepal, among other places.

Then he returned to Mexico, freelancing for places like Time magazine, the Miami Herald, and the Economist Intelligence Unit.. "I focused more and more on economic and financial issues as a freelancer."

The focus led him to Wharton and then to Writers House.

When Writers House Resident Coordinator Kerry Sherin learned of his freelance writing experience, she asked him to coordinate a freelance writing seminar.

He thought it over and said yes. "I'm close enough to that age. I can remember what it was like six years ago, when I wanted to freelance. If anything, it seemed so unreachable.

"I wanted to demystify it and show people you can do it. You're definitely going to be rejected, but you just have to try."

Originally published on April 30, 1998