On August 8, John Surico awoke abruptly to a 6 a.m. phone call from his editor at The Wall Street Journal. More than 250 demonstrators were protesting a Bronx grand jury’s refusal to indict a police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham inside his home last year. “I had to ask the Graham family how it felt that their son’s killer got off,” said Surico, 22, recounting one of the most memorable times of his budding career as a journalist fresh out of New York University. “And it’s hard to ask, asking the dad of the kid who died, ‘What will you do if you fail?’” Surico covered the emotional demonstration from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as they marched from The Bronx to Harlem – shutting down Grand Concourse along the way – all while continuously emailing his editor reports on his dying phone.

Surico’s eventful four-month gig as a stringer for The Wall Street Journal ended in October as the New York City mayoral campaigns drew to a close. But the dogged Long Island native stepped up his freelancing at every opportunity.and continued contributing to GQ.com out of his Crown Heights apartment. By November, Surico had started stringing for The New York Times metro desk – but still, seven months out of college, it’s no full-time job. Given his robust credentials – four years of brand name experience in media as well as bachelor’s degrees in journalism and politics from NYU – Surico’s part-time employment is indeed discouraging, but he joins the 55.4 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 who do not work full-time, according to Gallup’s most recent Payroll to Population poll.

“What he’s doing now is the bravest thing,” said Jeremy Unger, NYU senior and Editor-in-Chief of NYU Local, a student-run blog where he and Surico together used to head the website’s national section. “I would love to be a journalist, but I personally don’t know if I have the passion to do the freelancing. I think I’d be too worried about a stable income.”

On the NYU Local website, the group proudly displays a list of blog alumni who have moved on to jobs in media since its founding five years ago: nine names, including Surico’s, next to brands such as New York Magazine, Buzzfeed and MSNBC. “For a website that was started by students and has no affiliations, I consider that to be a pretty good amount,” said Unger. Still, noting the irony in how the entry-level journalist positions he has found typically require two or more years of experience, Unger isn’t bullish on careers in media. When it comes to landing jobs in journalism, “You basically have to hit the ground running,” said Unger, “Or be already running – they want you to have ‘no assembly required.’”

Unger sees in Surico a quality that sets him apart from the other writers he has worked with. “Where you just keep getting knocked down like that and you’re willing to just keep going because you are really in love with something,“ said Unger, referring to Surico’s “permalancing” at The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal and GQ.com, “It’s passion.” The problem, says Unger, is that “It seems like the older, more experienced crowd is pulling up the ladder behind themselves.”

Jennifer Maureen Henderson, a Gen Y journalist, career expert and media consultant “at the upper end of the millennial scale,” has her own explanation for this canny analogy. “The old equation of education plus experience equals job stability really doesn’t hold true anymore,” said Henderson, giving career advice to a small group of soon-to-be graduates from New York University, “There’s definitely the opportunity for success but the path there just doesn’t look like it used to. Now the ladder really has been kicked away.”

As the only son in the family of a mortgage foreclosure lawyer, Surico thought that his life had been mapped out for him. “The first son is supposed goes into law,” said Surico. “Apparently that’s what happens.” At his father’s office parties, a teenaged Surico would feign enthusiasm whenever someone would pat him on the back and tell him that they couldn’t wait until he joined the firm. In fact, when he did work at his father’s law firm during the summer before his junior year of high school, breaking box after box after box in the office basement, it was there he discovered that he wanted to become a journalist.

Alone and growing increasingly bored, Surico would groan, “Dad, I need something to read,” and his father would hand him The New York Times Magazine. At first, Surico was happy occupying himself only with the crossword puzzles, but over time the profiles of Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, John McCain and the other politicians entering the 2008 primaries captivated him. “ I started to realize that there’s this whole world that I never really struck an interest in,” said Surico, “It was as if I needed this moment all along. It’s weird to think that I had literally this tangible object that I would devote my life to later on and it was just sitting on the table,” he said.

Surico’s career in journalism began when he joined Washington Square News, NYU’s official student newspaper, as an opinion columnist. “It was fun but I didn’t feel like I was doing journalism,” said Surico, also noting that he wasn’t able to actually study journalism until sophomore year. Unfortunately, the first journalism class he took, an introductory lecture focused on media criticism, left him discouraged. “The class wasn’t that good, because you didn’t do any reporting,” said Surico, matter-of-factly, “Your first class should be: get a notepad, go outside, talk to a New Yorker, find out their lifestyle and write about it. Don’t tell me about media criticism. I want to learn how to be a part of the media before I criticize it.”

Disillusioned and needing to escape, Surico decided to study abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester. “I wanted to see the world with my own eyes and learn how to perceive culture before I start reporting,” said Surico, “Florence really made me come out of my shell.” While there, he only took politics classes, but still made time to get out of his comfort zone and get to know Italians – in their own language, no less. “There are these human characters in the world that I need to meet,” he realized, “And the way I can meet them is through journalism.”

NYU journalism professor Vivien Orbach-Smith, who became a mentor to Surico after teaching him in a reporting class during his junior year, shares this appreciation. “Part of being a journalist, part of the thrill of this profession is the lifelong learning by speaking to people from worlds different than your own,” said Orbach-Smith. “He radiates this un-cynical appreciation for understanding human beings and their lives. It’s not something one can teach – I bet he was that way when he was three!”

Since returning to New York City in the summer before junior year, Surico has navigated through positions at The Village Voice, switching from WSN to NYU Local and freelancing all while pushing forward on his academics in journalism. “The main thing that stands out immediately is how extraordinarily prolific he has been,” said Orbach-Smith, “I think that it requires a tremendous amount of discipline and passion and focus to be that prolific and write informed pieces for major outlets.” Indeed, Surico estimates that he was writing around 5,000 words a week between the articles he was writing for class and the copy he produced for several outlets.

Today, Surico is happy with his situation, despite not having yet achieved the job stability many in his generation strive for. “I started to learn when I got into media that you can’t go in with a set plan,” he said, “I think if I went back to that time [in the office basement], I would tell myself, ‘Everything falls into place. There is no method.’” And without the method, there is no madness.