Career advice from journalists on entering the professional media industry

On Tuesday, April 30, I asked my newsletter subscribers to share their wisdom with journalism students who are about to enter the challenging news industry. This is what they said.

From Ernesto Aguilar ( @eaXLR)
Best advice I can give, and received: * Assume the best in everyone. * Location is less important than your passion for the organization. * Understand that you lead from day one, and what you do with that opportunity is up to you.

From Rebecca Plevin (@RebeccaPlevin)
Go to a smaller market for your first, even second, job! In a smaller market, you’ll have the opportunity to cover a huge variety of things and you’ll learn the importance of reporting in/for a community. Bonus: You can hone your skills and make your mistakes there, before you break into the bigger leagues!

From Patrick Schmiedt ( @pschmiedt)
Networking is key. Every job I ever had in journalism, I knew the person I was applying to work for. Don’t put coursework in your portfolio. Employers want to see what you’ve done for the public, not for your professor. Don’t be worried if you graduate without a job. When I graduated with my journalism degree, I had no job waiting for me. Within three weeks, I had two solid offers. Make every cover letter unique. Employers can tell when you’re using the same template on every cover letter.

From Mary C.
If you don’t get a journalism job right away, you aren’t a failure. It took me 1.5 yrs after college to land a Staff writing gig at my local news paper. I worked jobs I hated and freelanced when I could just to get practice. But I kept applying, & once I landed my first writing gig, everything changed. So don’t give up & keep applying! Also, be sure to align w. and apply to brands/publications that have a similar vision &are on the same wavelength as you. It will workout better in the long run.

From Susan Wiesinger ( @susanwiesinger)
Start local and build a solid portfolio. Work on your college newspaper for at least two semesters and take on a leadership position. Take every skills class you can — copy editing, web design, photojournalism, multiplatform storytelling. Take a PR class or two. Learn to use social media well by following journalists. Get to know alumni from your program who are successful journalists. Seek out internships. Be curious. Think critically. Challenge power. Follow CA//Media//Jobs and @RunGomez. :-)

From Christine Mahoney ( @cmciinternships)
As a former journalism student, journalist and now internship/career coordinator, I have a unique perspective on this. Be flexible (be willing to move to someplace you’ve never been, be willing to work hours you never thought you’d work, be willing to write about and cover things that you’re not comfortable with — yet…). Apply to many more jobs than you think you need to. Be ready to show your work — have a great online portfolio. Network — with professors, their contacts, etc. Good luck!

From Jerry McCormick ( @jerrymccormick)
My advice is this: Go small and work your way up to large. Use your network and let them know you’re looking for a job. By now you should have built a substantial network of journalists to look out for you, if not, that’s on you. But it’s never too late. Post on your social media that you’re graduating and you’re looking for a job in journalism. Reach out to local journalists and let them know you’re looking and ask them for advice. NONE of us got to where we are without help.

From Joanna Clay (@joannaclay)
Regarding resumes/cover letters, definitely include examples and anecdotes relevant to that specific job. If you’re applying to an editing job, you’re going to amp up different experiences than for a reporting or social media job. Have friends read it and give feedback. Also, don’t wait for permission to try stuff. If you want to shoot, start shooting. If you want to produce a podcast, do it on the side.

From Grace Hase ( @grace_hase)
Make sure you tune into your connections (professors, alumni network etc.) They can be so valuable when it comes to learning about new opportunities you may have never thought of. Don’t be afraid to apply and take jobs at small news orgs in small towns. It can be some of the best experience you get out of college. Many smaller news rooms operate so you have to do a little bit of everything. The experience gained will put you in a great position in the long run.

From Christian Fahrenbach ( @cfahrenbach)
At every new job/internship, use basic manners: Shake hands and introduce yourself to at least everyone in your department. Be nice. Listen more than you talk. Make sure you have a precise knowledge of the product. When people introduce you to the CMS and formalia (What kind of „“? Max length for a headline/teaser?), write these things down, otherwise you‘ll have to ask twice and be embarrassed. Solve more problems than you cause.

From Amanda Lien ( @AmandaJLien)
Write a cover letter like a short feature. Tell the story of how you found your calling in sports journalism in high school. Show what it was like to write your award-winning article in college. Link that experience to your passion for the job and all it represents. It’s far more compelling than just a standard letter of interest. Also, underselling your skills isn’t humility. It’s self-sabotage. Be bold, be proud, be honest.

From Hanaa’ Tameez ( @HTameez)
Find out what mechanisms are in place to support you as a person in your first job. What is the daily workflow like? What is your editor’s editing style? How does the newsroom measure success in your position? Are there internal opportunities for professional development? Will you be able to attend workshops and conferences? The transition into your first journalism job can be hard and you’ll want to be in a newsroom that’s understanding of that, while challenging you and pushing you to grow.

From Leigh Hopper
Don’t be too proud to take a job at smaller outlet than you originally hoped for. You’ll learn a ton anyway, and be well on your way to a better job.

From Darren Weaver ( @dgweav)
Take some time to research a place before accepting an internship. Contact past interns to find out if the place actually hires it’s interns, or if they simply treat you like an unpaid janitor. You would be surprised by bad how some well-known companies treat their interns and how little that does for your career.

Do you have advice for journalism students entering the professional field? Use this Google Form to submit your own.

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