Posted on February 1, 2009
Advice for journalism students now
If you asked editors and publishers today to offer advice to journalism students, what would they say?
In response to a survey preceding a journalism job fair, 86 newspaper editors and publishers from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio said these are the skills students need to put themselves in the strongest position to land an entry-level job in the newspaper industry today:
- Diverse skills: multimedia storytelling, including audio and video; Web-first reporting; report/write for both printed publication and online (45 out of 86)
- Writing skills: writing on deadline; writing brief and fast, including for Web site; attention to grammar, spelling, clarity, organization (40 out of 86)
- Curiosity and enthusiasm (16 out of 86)
Survey respondents could mark more than one answer; these were the three answers that scored highest.
What positions are you likely to fill in your newsroom in the next year or so?
- Reporters: 34 (including for Web site, interns, and possible positions not currently existing or open)
- None: 27
- Copy editors: 9
So, young journalists, take note: While “none” got a lot of votes (as expected, in this economic climate), “reporters” got more votes. And jobs like Web designer or programmer? Not in the top three.
But DON’T RULE OUT the Web skills that are necessary for you to GET that first reporting job! Look at the responses to the first question above, and look at the responses to the last question below.
This is not your mother’s or your father’s old reporting skill set we’re talking about. You need to understand that well and thoroughly.
Could you suggest any reason(s) for college students to consider a career in newspapers in light of the downsizing in our industry today?
- Skills of a journalist will always be in demand regardless of format: 29
- Important work: 27 (serve as watchdog for the public; expose corruption; ensure justice and freedom; make a difference; do some good)
- Still can be a rewarding and satisfying career: 7
Would you recommend that college students/recent grads become a freelancer — either as a way to get experience before becoming an employee, or to make a career of it?
- Yes: 71 (provides experience/clips; gets your foot in door; proves yourself valuable to decision-makers for hiring)
- Hedged response: 11 (difficult to make a living; not as a career; only as last resort)
- No: 4 (difficult to make a living; cannot hire experienced writers in entry-level positions)
This set of answers is quite significant, and I hope that journalism professors (and others who advise young journalists) will pay attention. Out of 86 respondents, 71 said YES, they would recommend freelancing. That’s 82.5 percent.
What would be the single most important piece of advice you could give to aspiring journalists at this time as they see a shrinking job market in the newspaper industry?
- Become diverse in skills: 25 (be versatile, including in multimedia reporting; prepare for a career in journalism, not just in newspapers) [I would add: and not just in magazines, or TV, or Web]
- Be determined: 12 (never give up; have patience; don’t be discouraged; be aggressive in job search)
- Be willing to start at a small paper: 7
This summary is shamelessly lifted from an e-mail sent by my colleague Ron Rodgers, who based it on an Associated Press report published Jan. 31, as seen in The Indianapolis Star. The questions and top three answers have been copied from a sidebar on the Star’s online story page.
I found a PDF summary of another survey from one year ago (post-job fair) that included some great advice for students on what journalism employers look for in a resume, among other things:
Responses from surveyed students indicate there is a high level of just the kind of multimedia experiences that editors said they desire.
When asked to identify multimedia skills they possessed, nearly three-fourths (70%) reported they could assemble photo slide shows; 56.7% said they could create a “reader/user blogging feature”; 46.7% said they could both shoot video and record audio; 23.3% said they could both edit video and prepare a podcast; 20% said they could edit audio.
About a third (30%) reported knowledge of Web and design editing formats (HTML, CSS, InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, interactive graphics).
While the director of student publications thinks that glass is half-full, I might be more inclined to see it as half-empty. Keep in mind that the students surveyed are those who attended the job fair. You’re telling me that almost half of them did not know how to set up a blog? Only 20 percent know how to edit audio?
I think those numbers are far too low for students who are trying to get a journalism job or an internship today.
Some of the 2009 pre-job fair survey results were blogged earlier by Meranda Watling.