My advice starting a career in journalism

Photo credit: Alan Levine

A lot of advice for young journalists are written by people who haven’t searched for a job in the past five years, and it’s even harder to find advice for journalists trying to get into public radio. I know because I’ve looked.

If you’re a budding journalist, you probably did your research before you decided to enter the career. What do I have to do? Is it possible? Is it a path I can afford?

No matter how much research you do, it’s something you have to take a leap of faith on. No one can tell you it’s for you, you have to believe it for yourself. And no one can tell you you’re definitely getting a job, because that would be a lie.

Even if you don’t want to work in public media, finding a job in a respectable outlet, or a national broadcast you feel proud to be a part of, is not something you can count on. As a recent graduate of a journalism program, I’ve been monitoring my peers, my classmates, and my fellow LinkedIn journalists trying to find a job at this time. It’s bleak, but it is not hopeless.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s all about connections. If you’ve done any research, you know that without connections it’s hard to get someone to pick up your resume in almost any career. If you don’t have a cousin in TV or a former professor in a current managing position, it’s a tough road.

To tell you my path, I started off at a college that had a strong student-run radio station. This is a really good start, especially if you want to end up in public radio. Any college journalism experience is almost necessary. This will be your jumping off point.

INTERNSHIP

The experience you get at your school’s newspaper, TV station, radio, etc. will help you get your internship. This probably won’t be your only internship either. If you’re like most young journalists, it will be one of many.

Internships are crucial. You must take these positions as seriously as your career. Making a good impression on your managers may be part of the reason you get a job or not. Show up early, stay late, and get enough sleep so that you can function during the day.

Try to get internships at outlets that take their internship program seriously. Many newsrooms have interns, but do not have a program in place. Interns are eager to help and newsrooms usually need help, but there isn’t anyone able to organize the two enough to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

You may find yourself in an internship where you don’t do much of anything. Newsrooms are busy places and most reporters don’t have time to teach (or don’t want to), so you may be on the sidelines longingly looking in, but take this time to be observant. How does the newsroom function? If you get a chance, take a look at their content management system and familiarize yourself with it.

One of the hardest things you may have to do is pitch stories. Make it your mission to define the stories your editors want and start looking for them. Also, talk to as many people as you can at your internship. You never know who is going to give you good advice or connect you with an opportunity.

The work that you do at your internship is going to be part of what you put in your cover letters as experience, so make note of all the things you do and keep a record of it. I started a website that archived all my larger projects from grad school and the work I did at my internships. Having a website is crucial at the beginning of your journalistic career. Get one together pronto to showcase your skills and widen your online presence.

THE JOB SEARCH

Once it’s time for the actual search to begin, I highly suggest keeping track of your applications with a spreadsheet. You can check back on places you’ve applied, and if someone gets back to you, you can recall what the job was and where. Chances are you’ll be applying to many places and will lose track of them.

This is an example of my Google docs job spreadsheet

There are a lot of great websites to search for public media jobs. One of the most helpful for me has been the CPB Jobline. It’s where I check first for up-to-date job openings. Check Current.org for listings, and Twitter’s #pubjobs. Also, NPR has a full-time, paid internship program that is great for current grads.

Other good resources for finding journalism jobs and fellowships:

http://www.npr.org/about-npr/181880514/fellowships-at-npr

http://careers.journalists.org/jobs/

http://www.mediabistro.com

http://poynterorg.thejobnetwork.com/BrowseJobs

http://www.massbroadcasters.org/

http://www.journalismjobs.com/index.php

http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/272241/here-are-27-great-journalism-internships-and-fellowships-for-application-season/

http://www.nationinstitute.org/internships/1000/

http://www.indeed.com (Although not a journalism focused search, the site has a surprising amount of listings)

Try going to each station’s job page on their website: http://www.npr.org/stations/pdf/nprstations.pdf

If you’re like many journalism students, you’re graduating in a dense area with a bunch of other communication specialists. It takes time. Keep applying, but consider freelancing in the interim to keep yourself active. Websites like Medium are a great way to keep working.

THE INTERVIEW

I’m going to assume you know the general rules of interviews: do your research on the company, come up with questions, know your interviewer, etc. However, there are some particular things you need to prepare for in a journalism interview.

If you are interviewing for an outlet out of your state, you need to know that state’s current issues and get to know some of their recent stories. Research some of the state’s history as well. You’ll need a couple story pitches in your back pocket for the program, so get to know the type of stories they broadcast and their region.

You will come across some outlets that ask you to do writing tests even before they talk to you on the phone. It’s time consuming, but be prepared for this. I’ve been asked to write blogs, create newscasts, and take AP tests.

You may also have some employers administer a news quiz at the top of the interview. Keep yourself updated with current events, leaders’ names, and the news the outlet has been covering so you are prepared in case this happens.

Interviews vary, but you will probably speak with multiple people at once, and go through a couple of interviews with one outlet. And don’t be surprised when after multiple interviews and tests you get silence as a form of an answer. If you’re out of the running, don’t expect to get an email saying as much. Don’t be offended that they didn’t let you know their decision, just be thankful you were able to practice your interviewing skills.

If you’ve gone through schooling and the internships, and know that this is the career for you, then you will get through the hard time of finding that first job. Good luck!