Don’t listen to all the doom and gloom you’ve heard about the economy and the journalism profession. There are still fabulous opportunities in the field — but they are competitive. Here are some tips for getting ahead of the pack.
- Build up a strong and varied portfolio. Take every opportunity you can to publish your work. Whether it’s classwork you publish on a blog, stories you produce for an internship or work you freelance for a professional publication, your online portfolio should have a rich variety of content that displays your strengths in different media and your ability to tell different types of stories.
- Hone your multimedia skills. While few can be truly gifted at photography AND writing AND videography AND social media AND data journalism AND graphics, you should have at least some familiarity with all of these skills. That’s what it means to be a 21st century journalist.
- Choose one or two skills to focus on. Even as you develop proficiency in a variety of media, you should find one or two to focus on. Try to be the best photographer or writer or videojournalist you can be.
- Look for challenges. You want to be able to show employers you’re game for anything. Working as a journalist in a foreign country or tackling an ambitious project shows you can work outside your comfort zone. Many ieiMedia alumni report that employers ask a lot about what it was like to work as a journalist in a foreign country; such experiences set them apart from other students.
- Develop your brand. Aspiring journalists should have a strong and distinctive professional identity. Find a focus for your journalism persona — environmental reporter, numbercruncher, fashionjournalista, global journalist — and build on it. Make sure your professional website, Twitter account, Tumblr, professional Facebook page and LinkedIn account (you do have all of these, right?!), contribute to your brand.
- Build your audience. Once you’ve got a brand, you need to have an audience for it. Gather followers and then continue to offer them quality content that will keep them engaged and coming back for more. Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter with journalism professors and journalists you admire.
- Be professional at all times. Assume that potential employers are going to track your social media trail. Don’t put up photos, videos or text online that you wouldn’t want an employer to see. We’re not just talking here about photos of drunken parties — you know by now not to post stuff like that! But misspelled words, clunky writing, poorly composed photos, factual errors and lousy sound on videos also chip away at your credibility as a journalist. You should have high professional standards for ALL work that you publish online — whether it’s a tweet, a blog post for a class or a 5,000-word story.
- Grab opportunities. Apply for internships, freelance work, journalism study-abroad programs, part-time jobs — anything that will give you professional-quality experience. And when you have these opportunities, make a great impression. Meet your deadlines; proofread your work carefully. Show everyone you work with that you’re a pro.
- Network, network, network. Take any chance you get to meet and mingle with media professionals. That means joining journalism organizations, such as the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, Hacks/Hackers, National Association of Black Journalists, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and Asian American Journalists Association and getting active. Go to conferences, training sessions, dinner meetings and other events. Many of these groups have student chapters or student board positions. Some, like the Online News Association, hire students to cover their events. Get involved.
- Foster that network. Simply joining groups and going to events isn’t enough. You need to follow up and stay in touch. Send an email message or, better yet, a hand-written note to people after you’ve made a connection. Stay in touch with your journalism professors and with professionals who speak at conferences and in classes. (A student of mine landed his first job with a magazine publisher who spoke to my class. The student asked great questions and after class the publisher invited him to stay in touch. That brief connection resulted in a part-time position that turned into a full-time job.) When you’ve published work you’re particularly proud of, share it with your network.
- Always be prepared. Make up business cards and carry them wherever you go. Make sure your resume and your professional website and/or blog are up to date and worth showing off. You never know when you’re going to run into someone who could connect you with a great opportunity.
- Do great work. Ask questions. Investigate. Probe. Capture details. Write beautifully. Shoot amazing photos. Tell great stories. Above all, the best way to become a journalist is to be one.
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“Time. It took me until my encounter with Italy to appreciate the importance of time and pace. I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the culture and people around me, connecting with them rather than sprinting through life in a blur. Urbino is a captivating town, from its rich history to its renaissance architecture to its bursts of green and mountainous views. Surprisingly, tourists are virtually nonexistent here and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. Making my way on the cobblestones everyday, familiarizing myself with the language (attempting to at least), and being adopted by the locals helped make this the growing experience I needed.”
by Urvi Patel, James Madison University, Urbino Project 2014
by Urvi Patel, James Madison University, Urbino Project 2014