If I only had two career resolutions for this year, it would be these:
1) Become invaluable, and
2) Network like mad.
Every goal I can think of would fall under these two categories, and it works with any career. But since I am currently a journalism student, I naturally have a lot of specifics for those of us in the same boat.
But these resolutions are more than just some j-school student spouting off edicts from on high. Many extraordinary people in the profession and in the schools have submitted their advice via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Also, having been a copy editor for three years myself before returning to school, I have seen glimpses of the other side of the equation, and I can see exactly what it takes to be really, really good at your job. And in the interest of full disclosure, I still have plenty of work to do — many of these goals are for me, too.
So with that, here’s what every journalism student should aspire to accomplish this year, in a two-part blog post (EDIT: Part II is now up here.):
Write like crazy.#
If you’re not composing pieces for student media, write anyway. Write in your blog (start a free one here), write for a local blog, or even keep a private journal and write every day in it. This is my big resolution right here. I have to force myself to get into the writing habit. Analyst Anne-Marie McReynolds (@amcreynolds) gives some good ideas via Twitter: “Collaborate w/citizens, launch hyper-local blog, pitch investigative stories to Spot.Us.” (See the “Start pitching stories to publications” for an explanation of Spot.Us.)
# Produce multimedia like crazy.
Robert Courtemanche (@teach_j), a journalism/media teacher in Houston, Texas, says this: “Learn EVERYTHING you can about the web. Learn how to make good visuals. Learn video editing. Learn to shoot video/photos.”A perfect starting point is KQED’s Digital Storytelling Initiative, which you can download for free and includes audio/visual tutorials and advice on crafting a good story. Also, Brandon Mendelson (@BJMendelson), a graduate student at UAlbany, says, “Journalism students should learn the basics behind web coding (php,ect.); Others in the newsroom will depend on this knowledge.” A great resource to learn anything computer-related is Lynda.com, which for $25 a month will offer you video tutorials on just about ANY piece of software you can imagine. Absolutely worth the investment — and so much cheaper than a textbook. EDIT: Alfred Hermida (@hermida) of PBS’s excellent MediaShift blog interviews several industry professionals about what they’re looking for in a journalism grad. All of them say that in addition to the basic core of journalism skills, you need new media skills.
# Meet your deadlines.
Every journalist I know is a natural procrastinator, including me. That’s why we thrive on tight deadlines. But you won’t thrive in the industry if you don’t meet them. This is my confession: while I meet deadlines, I don’t pace myself well AT ALL. It’s always a last-minute rush, and quality suffers as a result. This is my other huge goal for this year: Start on an assignment either the moment I get it, or within the hour.
# Grow some cojones.
Let me level with you. The world doesn’t need more music reviewers or opinion spouters. The world needs more people willing to ask tough questions. The first step to reversing journalism’s tarnished image is to have the guts to dig for information the public can’t easily find themselves, and be an advocate of unbiased, straightforward truth. If you can show depth and research with your reporting clips, if you can show you can ask the tough questions and be more than just a parrot for your interviewee, if you can fact-check the living snot out of your articles, you will rise to the top of the crop. EDIT: Alan Kellogg commented here with an important addendum: “Have the courage to acknowledge and correct your mistakes. You will make mistakes. When you err tell people you erred, where you erred, and fix your error. Your audience will think better of you.”
# Dig for better stories beneath the surface.
Former CNN anchor Miles O’Brien (@milesobrien) was kind enough to send me a short yet complex New Year’s resolution: “I resolve to stay relevant amid tectonic changes.” The world may seem to be crashing in on journalism, but if we don’t stay relevant to people and their information needs, we might as well dig an early grave. That also means finding different, deeper angles to the same old stories and providing context to the public. Alex Kellner (@kellnaaah), a political blogger and Master’s student at GWU, says it best: “Bring intellectual curiosity to the profession of journalism, don’t just write about what MSM and Drudge tell you is a story.”
# Know AP or Chicago style, and LURN TOO SPEL.
You can’t aspire to be a cabinetmaker and not know how to use the tools. Likewise, you can’t write without knowing the mechanics of English and the standard rules of media style. Make it a goal to plow through your stylebook page by page, and if you’ve already done that, do it again to refresh yourself. That’s my goal. The AP Stylebook is used more widely and is available in a searchable online format here for $25 a year (a fair price!), and the Chicago Style is also available online here for $30 a year. Or buy a hard copy and a good old-fashioned highlighter.
# Be absolutely, 100% ethical.
In my emails to my San Jose State professors, this one was the common thread. Professor Tom Ulrich says he has the same simple resolutions every year: “Meet all deadlines. Write bullet-proof copy. Abide by the ethics of the profession. Sounds quaint, but your reputation means everything.” Read, reread, and re-reread SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Then use it to decide beforehand what you would do in certain situations before those situations even arise.
# Treat all your school assignments like your next ticket to a job.
Because they are. All of them. Even reading that stupid textbook, the one the teacher never teaches from. Don’t tailor your homework assignments and projects to meet the teacher’s standards; tailor them to a potential employer’s standards. I wish I took some of my school projects more seriously, because I would have loved to have shown them off if they were done to a higher quality than just the instructor’s expectations. The more material you can flaunt in your portfolio, the better.
# Apply, apply, apply.
You can’t get internships or scholarships if you never apply. Find internships at Journalism Jobs, CubReporters.org, Ed2010 for magazines, on your local craigslist, through your school and via your instructors. Apply for scholarships through FastWeb, CubReporters.org, American Journalism Review, and again, through your school and via your instructors. Make a goal to submit a predetermined amount of applications in a predetermined amount of time.
# Talk with your teachers about something other than class.
Psst, here’s a secret: Teachers are itching to swap real-world stories and insider information with students, but not nearly enough students ask. If you can’t make their posted office hours, take them out to lunch. They’re also a gold mine of connections, and they really, actually, DO want you to use them.
# Start pitching stories to publications.
Just start. See where it gets you. It could get you 100 rejection letters, but you might break through somewhere. Make this the year you got published and — *gasp* — got paid for it. Look at Writer’s Market, select the publications for which you want to write, learn how to write a good query and start pitching stories. If you can’t find the book at your library or bookstore, subscribe to the online version. It’s searchable, current and affordable. Also, if you have an idea for an in-depth report, you may want to consider Spot.Us, a Web site where you can pitch a story idea and ask the public to fund your freelance wages. It’s a bit harder for students to convince the public that they are qualified enough to handle a story worthy of their money, but the platform is there. EDIT: Came across a great blog post from Ben LaMothe (@benlamothe) explaining why writing for the student paper may just not be enough anymore.
# Take a business course, or five.
It’s not easy, and I hate math, but I’m minoring in business for several good reasons. I don’t need to tell you this economy is in the dumps and this profession is in trouble. Adam Hemphill (@ahemphill), a freelancer and former CoPresser, says, “Journalism students should resolve to make their news organizations self-sustaining.” Your knowledge of the world of business will help you tenfold in landing a job — or creating your own (see next item). If you’re not able to take courses at your university, try the community college nearest you, or contact the Small Business Administration. They often give free seminars across the nation and are ready to give you advice. Also dig up information on the business side of journalism: I keep tabs on Poynter’s Biz Blog and NewsPay, Reflections of a Newsosaur, The Media Business and Monday Note as well as devouring the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual State of the Media report. (EDIT: I wrote a follow-up blog post for this: “14 of the best blogs about the news business.”)
# Be prepared to go entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurial journalism is something every single j-school graduate should be prepared to jump into. MediaShift agrees, as does Eat Sleep Publish. The Online Journalism Review has a number of great posts on it here, not the least of which is this one. Don’t attempt this until you 1) network like mad and 2) learn how to talk business.
# Learn something that doesn’t earn school units.
Do you feel like your j-school not teaching you what you need to know? With impossible budgets and a crazy bureaucracy to battle, they try to do the best they can, but they can only do so much for you. Your education is in your hands, so take command of it. I already mentioned Lynda.com for learning multimedia software, something every journalism student should know. Another fantastic resource is NewsU to relearn (or learn) everything you only skimmed over in class. On top of that, if you want to be a reporter and your school shamefully doesn’t require a minor or academic focus outside of the journalism department, dive into a second subject of interest that you want to cover as a reporter. Environment? Politics? Schools? Crime? Business? International relations? Make it a goal this year to do some research online and read books (remember books?) on the subject. Which reminds me…
Read for fun. Read for learning. Read voraciously. But read quality materials. Scott Fosdick, a professor at San Jose State University, has this excellent resolution to offer: “I resolve to regularly monitor my media consumption, with an eye toward increasing the meaningful and deep and decreasing the trivial and shallow.
Chrys Wu (@MacDivaONA), a journalist and editorial consultant, puts it eloquently: “A respect for experience and a willingness to teach.” All of this information you’re soaking up should be passed along, don’t you think? Teach others what you’ve learned, whether it’s to fellow students, through your blog, or even your teachers and other professionals. Yes, you might know something they don’t (but don’t let that get to your head!). Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) posts here about journalism students who learn new computer applications and turn around to teach the professional journalists how to use them. It’s an excellent idea. Nothing ensures you know a subject more than having to teach it, and programs like the one Jeff mentions ensures that others in the profession know it too.
A bit too much? Well there’s more. Part II: Network Like Mad is now up!
Want to add a resolution? Please add your own in the comments below!
Related posts from me:
- Tips for an awesome student newspaper experience
- How our university newspaper used social media to find news and break it
Excellent related posts elsewhere:
- Top ten list of tips for journalism students by Greg Linch (@greglinch)
- 2008 objectives for today’s non-wired journalist by Howard Owens (@howardowens)
- Wiki: How To Be A Journalism Student, based on a post on OJB by Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw). (Psst: the password is “howto.”)
- “Forget survival: The Journalist’s Guide to Owning 2009 and Beyond” by Shawn Smith (@shawnsmith)
- New year’s resolutions for graduating journos by Whitney Rhodes (@wrhodes)
- My hopes for journalists in the future by Gina Chen at Save The Media