When I reach out to Reed Alexander about this interview, he responds almost immediately. The following morning, Alexander’s platinum blond hair has a silvery sheen over Zoom. He is seated on a dense gray sofa, wedged between several massive pillows that swell at his sides. He dons a navy Tommy Bahama polo, attire that is certainly apropos; Alexander is calling me from his apartment in Delray Beach, Florida, where he tells me the heat has been “vile.”
This is not my first interaction with Alexander. I knew him, of course, from his role in Nickelodeon’s iCarly, in which he starred as Nevel Papperman alongside Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Kress, and Jerry Trainer from 2007 to 2012. But we formally met in late September of 2019; a tepid climate had comfortably occupied Manhattan, the first indications of autumn settling over the city as summer weather slowly abated. At the time, we were both attending Columbia University—I had just begun my senior year as an undergraduate, and Alexander was a graduate student at the journalism school. What started as a happenstance meeting on the red-bricked walkways of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus resulted in Alexander enlisting my assistance with a project he was working on about proposed changes to New York’s subway system. I recall being instantly impressed by Alexander’s demeanor; he mingled levity with sincerity, achieving a magnetic balance that embodied both the sunny charm of a sitcom star and the adroitness of a confident investigative reporter.
Considering that Alexander is perhaps best known for his role on iCarly, his journalistic endeavors may come as a surprise to some. This is partly because, despite appearing in only eight episodes during the show’s five-year span, Alexander’s character remains one of its most memorable. His character, Nevel, is a young boy who runs a popular review website, dreams of owning a haberdashery, and has a propensity for nefarious behavior.
Our conversation comes at a unique juncture in time; the 26-year-old’s burgeoning career as a financial journalist at Insider, Inc. has somewhat abruptly amalgamated with the reprisal of his role as Nevel, via iCarly’s recent revival. “It was really a mix of, I think, tremendous enthusiasm and a healthy degree of anxiety,” he says, laughing. “I feel so fortunate and blessed…to be called back to be part of the show in its second chapter, its second life.”
Second lives are all too familiar to Alexander. His willingness to re-immerse himself in the beloved childhood television show—what he refers to as “a family reunion”— is a decision that was at odds with his career as a financial news reporter. But in a world that often advocates for stringent singularity in people’s career paths, particularly for young adults, Alexander’s finesse is iconic. He is proud of his entertainment roots, acknowledging that they are a “really formative part of my life… I loved acting—it’s just that I found a path that I loved more in journalism.”
Interestingly, despite the seeming disparity between the Alexander of then and now, our conversation focuses on the concept of symmetry: be it a fictional on-screen portrayal or a breaking news segment, storytelling is the commonality that lies at the heart of his multifaceted life. For Alexander, his iCarly days are not a bygone era; they are what shaped his second coming. Throughout the interview, Alexander’s zeal for discourse is palpable, as is his belief in the power of interconnectedness.
Lithium Magazine: So, we’ve just seen the revival of iCarly and Nevel. What was it like to revisit that world?
Reed Alexander: I took a step back from the acting world about eight years ago, and I had been very vocal with people that I really did not think that it was something I was going to do again. But when this opportunity presented itself, it was a very quick decision to say yes. These people that I’d worked with since the age of twelve had seen me through so many chapters. And we’ve stayed in touch, we’ve stayed friends, so what was I going to do? Be the only person who didn’t want to do this? This was such an exciting chance to be back on set and get the gang back together and try something that I had thought maybe the door was closed to.
Lithium: You’ve previously discussed the tension between you as Nevel Papperman and you as a journalist, and how your initial foray into the world of reporting was somewhat stymied by your entertainment presence. Now that you’ve firmly established your reporting career at Insider Inc., how has the reboot of iCarly affected that sentiment?
Reed: Wow, nobody’s asked me this. I’m very passionate about hard news and storytelling, and I never really gave much thought to being an entertainment reporter. So when I was starting out, I think there was a barrier to entry a bit—nobody ever said “you can’t become a journalist,” but I got a lot of questions early on in my career like, “you were on a kids’ sitcom, why do you want to be an investigative reporter? How do those things compute?”
Lithium: As if you can’t shift careers. That’s kind of a silly question to me.
Reed: Yeah! I didn’t think that what came before had to define the rest of my life. But I will say that being on a kids’ sitcom and then writing a nutritional cookbook are not necessarily prerequisites for covering global investment banking. (Laughs) It’s hard to see that correlation. So I had to consider what going back [to iCarly] would do. But I don’t think it’s had a harmful impact; people on Wall Street are very aware of this and they find it very fun. I’ve talked to a lot of sources—senior dealmakers, for example—who will reference it in the middle of a phone call, saying, “My kids loved your show.” Junior bankers will ask, “Why are you covering our lives? We grew up watching you!” I’ve gotten a lot of support from people on Wall Street.
Lithium: Do you find that being an actor and a journalist occupy different spheres of your life?
Reed: In the past I probably would have said they were very separate, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. First and foremost, I am a hard news investigative reporter. That’s really the identity that I affiliate with the most. But who I am is nuanced, and one very important layer that brought me here is [being] an actor who portrayed this character on a show that meant a lot to many people. It’s not something I would want to cut out of my life—I’m so proud of it. I don’t think they’re separate lives. What I’ve gained from acting, as a reporter, has been so profound—how to feel confident in front of a camera and project confidence in an interview.
Lithium: You grew up in Boca Raton, and have talked about how the Parkland shooting in 2018 was formative for you because of geographic proximity and personal investment in mental health issues. Now that you’ve shifted to financial news reporting, how do you see that passion for mental health play out in your life, journalism or otherwise?
Reed: I’m really grateful that you asked this question that no one else has asked. I love investigative work because…it’s very human-oriented and allows you to advocate for people. When I got into financial services, I could have focused on senior dealmakers. But that didn’t move me in the way that I felt when I talked to younger bankers. Their energy was palpable… They’re really going to diversify the industry and represent a changing Wall Street. When I met many of them, though, they were working from home in severe social isolation, so their mental health had deteriorated. As a former mental health reporter, I had so many ideas: what does that say about social connectivity, loneliness, and workplace burnout? All of those themes were pervasive throughout this junior banking beat, and I was able to pull upon what I enjoyed as a reporter.
Lithium: You received your undergraduate degree from NYU and your graduate degree from Columbia. Do you think that spending so much time in New York affected your decision to pursue a career in financial reporting?
Reed: Absolutely. Many of my friends at those two universities went on to work on Wall Street…but I had always felt like finance was closed off to me. I felt like I wasn’t well-read enough about financial services to be able to keep up in conversations. Now I feel like I can. And by virtue of being a financial beat reporter at Insider, I have to be two to five miles ahead of where the civic conversation is.
Lithium: You’re not just facilitating the conversation, you’re starting the conversation.
Reed: Absolutely. I have to identify the nascent trendlines before they can be publicly understood, and seize upon them and draw people in the industry toward the flame. I was genuinely concerned that I was in over my head at first… Those first few months, I would keep a notepad next to my desk when I spoke to sources on the phone so that I could keep track of terms I didn’t know and look them up after.
Lithium: Another passion of yours is nutrition—you’re the author of Kewlbites: 100 Nutritious, Delicious, and Family-Friendly Dishes. What have you been cooking at home recently?
Reed: I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t been cooking as much as I should be. There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with cooking and would make really ambitious recipes with globally inspired menus. But now I’ve become a very simple cook. One recipe I’ve really been enjoying is, you take a piece of salmon and marinate it with maple, soy, lemongrass, ginger, and scallions. I usually roast that with some fingerling potatoes and herbes de provence. I also do a lot of overnight oats. You can see the pattern here—it’s ease!
Lithium: How much do you feel you identify with Nevel? Especially now.
Reed: I like him much more now. (Laughs) He’s still a schemer, but a little less harmful than he was. And I do think that, shockingly, underneath it all, Nevel does have a decent heart. There are parts of us that are very similar. He has a big vocabulary, speaks in a very Shakespearean way, and clearly also loves writing. Ultimately, he’s totally out there and off the beaten path. Do you want to see something that you’re going to laugh at?
(Writer’s note: At this point, Reed leaves briefly and returns with a shoebox. He opens it and holds up a crocodile-patterned, chrome-colored platform sneaker.)
Lithium: Let’s see it.
Reed: I have friends coming over tonight, and we’re going to watch “iRobot Wedding” together. But look at this—it’s been a while since I’ve gone out out. And Nevel wore that crazy silver outfit in the episode, so I got these as a tribute to Nevel. They’re silver, like the suit!
Lithium: Wow, those are fabulous! What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring journalists and writers?
Reed: You have to read everything. There are so many kinds of advice I could give around networking and producing clips to show… But I think really, reading is key. All the other things will come. The reason I think this is so important for young writers is that you become a better writer by absorbing other people’s styles and approaches to storytelling. You need to interrogate those pieces. Ask yourself, “Why did they choose to start the story here? Why did they lead with this?”
Lithium: What gives you hope for the future of journalism?
Reed: Readers’ consistent demonstration that they respond best to deeply reported work. That’s what people are willing to pay for. Those kinds of stories give me so much hope for people all across the industry. Journalism is about digging up information, going where people don’t want you to go, fighting harder to pull the story out of the darkness and toss it into the light…that’s what people want. And that makes me feel like, in spite of all the headwinds in our changing business, we’re going to be sustainable. Because ultimately, the demand for what we’re supplying is so robust.
By Gabriella Ferrigine