Getting that first job in journalism

Internships. Portfolio. Real work (not work assigned in a class). Not necessarily paid work — but journalism work that some respectable organization saw fit to publish, with your name on it.

Lacking these, a new journalism graduate is behind the curve. There are not so many jobs out there that you can afford to make excuses for why you didn’t get it done.

I came across a recent post by a young journalist: The Future Isn’t the Present: A J-School Grad’s Roadmap to Journalism. He says:

I did more-or-less what ‘the industry’ told me to do at the time. I was on all the social media sites, concentrated on multimedia/visual production … built my own arsenal of photography equipment, interned (granted only once …), worked with student media and generally did my best to reach out and start making some contacts in the industry.

So what’s wrong with that list? One internship. That’s the first glaring deficiency. And the other one, from my perspective, is a lack of emphasis on achievement.

If you want to tell me you’re good, you’re better than all the rest, then say something about what you have accomplished. Won any awards? Published a three-part series? Worked on a team with reporters, data journalists, graphics people, to produce a complex story package?

Show me that you have:

  • Taken the initiative, gone out of your comfort zone, hauled your butt out of the chair and went out to dig up something original and fresh.
  • Learned something all on your own that no one required you to learn for a grade.
  • Made sacrifices to ensure you are better prepared to get a journalism job than all the hundreds of others who have applied for the exact same job as you.

To be fair, the paragraph I quoted was not the young man’s “hire me” pitch. I’m just trying to point out that when you tell people how you did everything you were supposed to do, you don’t get any points for explaining that you were too busy to get more than one internship (for example).

There is some good advice in the post, and journalism students can learn from it. My favorite item:

Don’t wait until graduation to make connections – My biggest regret is letting graduation sneak up on me as quick as it did. It’s easy to do, but the earlier you can start networking the better.

From my observations as a j-school professor, a lot of students have this problem. Graduation seems to sneak up on them suddenly, and then they feel a terrible panic.

Start reading all the journalism job ads right now — even if you are a freshman this year! These three sites are really great for scoping out the available jobs in our field:

Smart idea: Make it a habit to visit at least one of these sites once a week throughout the school year. Browse for about 15 minutes, and make some notes about what the employers are looking for — especially for the full-time jobs.

7 Comments on “Getting that first job in journalism

  1. Mindy,

    First off thanks for taking the time to read and write about my little blog article.

    Secondly, I completely agree with your analysis and suggestions for students/early grads. Part of the reason I wrote it out as such is because I fell into exactly the same rut as many (most?) journalism students.

    If more professors, like yourself, recognized the need for extracurricular work and reemphasized it to the students it may do a good bit in preparing the next crop of j-schoolers for life after graduation. With that said, I only blame myself for my lax resume come commencement time.

    In the end, great advice.

  2. Hey, Clay, I hope you know I did not mean to bust your chops. One of the frustrations for us professors is that many of us feel like all our advice in this direction falls on deaf ears. What can we do to make the students follow the right path?

  3. “What can we do to make the students follow the right path?”

    In short? Absolutely nothing except pointing them in the right direction.

    I love having my work critiqued, especially when it adds context to my own thoughts. Not to mention some of your advice is probably better than my own 😉

  4. Clay,
    I’m not sure how it is at other schools, but at Eastern, where I teach, and at South Carolina, where I did ph.d. work, there is an enormous emphasis on extracurricular activities, specifically internships. We emphasize it in every class, and yet every year there are a few students who graduate with just course credit, no work on campus media outlets and one internship that’s required.

  5. Hi, Bryan. At UF we also emphasize the need for students to get out and work on the student daily, magazine, and the radio and TV stations in the college, and to get multiple internships. However, so many seniors I talk to (every year) are panicking because they have not done it. We do have quite a large student body, so maybe the majority are doing what they should — I certainly don’t speak with all of them. 🙂

  6. I think one thing that often gets lost is that it’s not necessarily the number of internships you do, or for whom, but what you a) learn and b) accomplish during those internships or other professional/semi-pro opportunities outside of class.

    I don’t think there’s any magic formula as far as work in the student media, journalism internships, internships outside of journalism, and “internships” you create for yourself (i.e. by freelancing, starting and maintaining a legit blog/news site/alternative outlet, etc.) I do think that as a rule of thumb, it’s good to have three of the four under your belt going into senior year, so you can spend that last year achieving excellence in one of them.

    By excellence I mean work that earns recognition outside the campus bubble. Break a series of stories that get national/statewide attention, or that prompt people in the community to take verifiable action they wouldn’t otherwise have taken. Or create an innovative project that generates buzz in professional journalism circles (and hopefully gets imitated elsewhere).

    The bottom line is that I recently got hired to my second full-time reporting gig not because of any impressive line on my resume, or because of my stunning portfolio (my homepage is anything but) but because of the work I did, the attention it got, and — this is crucial — the contacts I was able to make along the way.

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