Rethinking journalism advice
About a year and a half ago, I gave the following advice to a young professional who wanted to break into journalism. Given the changing landscape of our field, do you think it’s still valid? What about it is still good and what needs to be reworked?
1) Write, write, and write some more. Start a blog about something you’re really interested in. I know a guy who only blogs about The Beatles. The Beatles, as musical icons, are intrinsically linked to every aspect of his life and it shows in the care he takes with writing about them. Make it meaningful to you and the writing will be meaningful to others. If you’re interested in music, go to live shows and write reviews. Write the reviews short. Write them long. Just write them. Experiment. Write every day; set daily deadlines for yourself. Keep in mind that a blog of this nature isn’t to necessarily draw millions of readers, but to work on your writing “voice.” I’d say do it as a journal and not for the world to see, but some internship coordinators take well-written, thoughtful blog entries as clips/writing samples when “traditional” clips/writing samples aren’t available. No one’s going to give you a chance to write if you haven’t demonstrated in some form or fashion that you already know how to write.
2) Learn different aspects of multimedia. By the time you graduate from grad school, simply being able to write more than likely won’t get you a job. Journalism is moving to the Web. Learn to shoot and edit video. Learn how to create podcasts. Know how to do the basics in Flash and Dreamweaver. Know how to use social media. Whatever you do, do it well. The more you know, the easier it will be to position yourself as the candidate outlets want to hire.
3) Hone your voice by reading the work of good writers. Writers don’t operate in a vacuum. Reading good work begets good work. If you want to be in magazines, you must read the annual editions of The Best American Magazine Writing. If newspapers are your thing, read the annual editions of Best Newspaper Writing. Part of finding your voice comes from knowing what has and hasn’t worked for other writers.
4) Get involved. Join some associations. There’s the Society of Professional Journalists, the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, and the Radio Television Digital News Association, to name a few. There are so many associations out there. It doesn’t make sense to not be involved with those that fit your needs. Establishing relationships in the field goes a long way in helping you achieve your goals.
5) Know that you’re getting into a field where your earning potential is stunted from jump. You will have to take a vow of poverty to be in this business. Don’t be surprised by that. People don’t get into media for the paycheck. They get into it because they want to tell good stories (and see their names in print).
The bottom line: Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity you can create yourself. You have to take the initiative to make your dreams come true. That means when you get to grad school, you write for the school newspaper, magazine, yearbook, online venture…whatever’s available, you do it. If writing is what you want to do, take—and make—every opportunity possible to help you get to where you want to be. It may not pay off immediately, but it will eventually pay off if you’re serious about it.