For many that graduated college years ago, the fear that embraced them as the graduation date approached is, if lucky, a distant memory. But, as you know, there is a new wave of journalists about to join our industry… so, I’ve collected stories from journalists when starting out. Through a Google form, Twitter, email and comments, here’s the collection.
Responses via email:
First gig after college: Missouri statehouse intern for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
First full-time job: Politics reporter for a now-defunct Kansas City website
Now: I cover campaigns and elections for POLITICO
Best advice: You can’t make a first-impression twice, so get it right the first time. Whenever you’re in a professional setting, be it a conference, meetup or internship, treat it as a job interview. You never know who you’ll meet along the road that will play a huge role in your career trajectory going forward.
Also, never stop learning and don’t be afraid of change or to look for jobs in unexpected places. We all dreamed that we’d graduate and land a plum reporting gig at the New York Times (or, well, I did), but that’s just not reality. There’s great meaningful work to be done in lots of newsrooms – large and small – and in fantastic startups nationwide.
Responses via comments:
Khadijah M. Britton
My first paid gig was actually when I was 15, writing a column for a biotech company’s internal newsletter. It took me, oh, ten years to land another gig that sweet! My first GROWN-UP paying job was writing for Healthcare Investment Digests (now OneMedPlace.com), though I’m pretty sure I was mostly being paid to establish relationships with companies so we could get their data. I couldn’t say anything negative about the companies. Getting paid has really been a corporate-world reality for me; I’ve never been paid to write anything I feel proud of as a writer. That’s the hard, cold truth, kids! :p
Now working at my first “real” job, a part-time reporter and online coordinator for Heritage Media, which is a chain of weekly papers near Ann Arbor, Mich. Took me a while to find one, but was lucky in finding it: the lead came from a response of a tweet I sent out. You never know where jobs may pop up, even in economically-challenged Michigan.
I guess to add to my initial Twitter comments, not everyone has to end up at a big-city metro to “make it” or “to grow.” I have learned a lot in my five years at the Yakima Herald-Republic and there’s still plenty of things to learn. Likewise you may have the skills to start out at a big-city metro. Or perhaps you thrive best by going from job to job. It depends on what works for you not on some formula or “right way.”
And in addition, newbies should go outside of the newsroom for professional development. I’ve learned so much from my involvement with organizations like AAJA and SPJ and through online venues such as #wjchat (an online journalism Twitter chat). With all that’s out there, I think one would be hard pressed to not grow wherever they’re at.
At age 16, I started as a sports stringer for The Frontiersman in Wasilla, Alaska, covering high school sports in the Matanuska Valley, while also playing some of those sports (including basketball, against you-know-who, who tells the world she was an aspiring sports reporter. While some people in Wasilla were supposedly dreaming of it, some of us were already doing it).
Some years later, out of J-school, I came back to The Frontiersman, under new management. At the time I was very disappointed in the assignments I was getting, because I got stuck with the Beauty Pageant beat for every podunk town and hamlet in the Valley (including you-know-who as a flute-playing competitor).
I couldn’t take the coming darkness of winter and the isolation of Alaska, after so many years in the light, so I took off for parts South, where I happened to land photojournalism jobs at various publications and newspapers in Northwest Arkansas. I often found myself shooting events with state notables, including the genial governor and his very ambitious and activist wife…
In the end, I had to leave there too, because Reagan deregulated media ownership rules and venerable newspapers all around me were merging or shutting down, laying off my colleagues by the thousands.
Center-spread double-truck photo essays and feature stories, my stock in trade, disappeared overnight with the cookie-cutter layouts and short stories of the USAToday template-driven approach to newspapering. I saw my best work being reduced from the size of dinner plates in the Daily Fishwrap to the size of postage stamps.
Plus, nothing would ever happen in podunk Alaska or Arkansas. Why would anyone want to stay there? ;-)
With no real emphasis on social media in my undergrad study I lucked into a part-time Social Media Strategist job with a journalism foundation. It took about 2 1/2 months to land something after my graduation in May 2010, but since then it’s evolved into a full-time position with more of an emphasis on multimedia production for some of the publications under our umbrella. If you would have asked me a year ago I could have never of guessed I’d be in such a position, but as the industry changes so must the industried.
First gig after college: Intern at the St. Petersburg Times
First full-time job: Reporter/News Technologist at the St. Petersburg Times
Now: I work on servers, blogs and help build interactive apps for a chain of papers at The New York Times Regional Media Group.
Best advice: They won’t hire you if you have the same skills as everyone else. I differentiated myself by attempting to learn more about building online projects. That doesn’t mean “Hey I can shoot video and record audio.” Everyone has those skills. Not everyone knows how to set up a server, do SQL queries or code for a production environment. If you can prove to your bosses that you have skills that set you apart from the influx of cheap labor, they may employ you. You could also do what I did: Get another job offer halfway through your internship, which pushed the St. Pete Times to hire me.
Everyone can be taught to be a reporter. Everyone can be taught to be a better writer. But not everyone can be taught how to build truly web-oriented projects. Only you can teach yourself that, with some help from the journalism community, of course. And don’t be shy about thinking your skills are worth value. Basic economics: If you have skills that not many have, and people are looking for those skills, your value goes up. So, make your value go up.
Job info: in the tweets above.
My best advice: Say yes more than you say no: say yes when a reporter offers to take you out to lunch, say yes when the editor-who-isn’t-your-editor asks you to pick up an extra assignment, say yes to working the holiday shift during an internship, say yes to applying to jobs you never expected to get, say yes to a shift on the copy desk or a night cops shift, say yes to working with photographers or videographers.
Say no to working without being paid a liveable wage.
Responses via Google form:
I asked colleagues to talk about their first journalism jobs to help recent graduates as they begin their careers in the journalism. Here is a collection
Metro reporter, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. I covered education, but also sometimes cops and courts. I also covered a public execution at this job.
I wrote 5-7 stories a week about a rural part of Kansas City. It paid about 25,000 a year. After a year, they gave us a “raise” to 28K. No one stayed there past 1.5 years, even though it was a 2-year fellowship. I got a great backbone, but I almost burned out. Plus, I ate way tooo much spaghetti.
Working for a five day a week newspaper, The Angleton Times, with a circulation of 5,000. I made $200 a week in 1987. I worked as a bartender at night to make enough to pay the rent, for groceries and car repair bills. I did everything from taking photos to laying out the paper. I gained so many skills and I made so many mistakes at that small paper. But I tell aspiring journalists to start small and make your big mistakes in small places. If you make big mistakes in big places, it’s a lot more painful.
Page designer – straight out of college. Worked there for two years. No copy editing or headline writing. That was done by a different department. That has all changed and designers now edit copy/write headlines, proof pages, etc. And sometimes a lot more than that, too. We used to also have specialties, like sports or features. It’s a one-size-fits-all now.
I produced podcasts for The New Yorker.
Entry level online producer at the Hartford Courant. (Assistant Online Producer)
I started working at the paper I’m at now as a news assistant. It was a lot of grunt work but I made it very clear to the editors I wanted to be a writer. Two days after I started I was given an assignment and now I’m an education reporter.
State copydesk, taking the adjectives out of school lunch menus (“fresh green salad” = “salad”).
My first professional, paid journalism job after graduating college was a 5-month contract position doing research for a well-known business trade magazine. I got the position because of a professor that I did an assistantship with in graduate school who happened to be a former executive editor at another publication for the company. She knew they were looking for someone and she recommended me. That job led directly to a full-time position within the same company at another business trade mag that was the no. 1 publication worldwide covering that business trade.
Capital News 9 in Albany. One man band station. (I think they now are called Your News Now).
I talked my way into a job as an assignment editor at the Telemundo station in Miami.
I was taken on as a contractor doing web production for DenverPost.com while a junior in college. After graduation, I was hired full time. It has actually been my only paid work as a journalist, though I have done several paid and unpaid internships and some freelance work.
Town hall and health reporter for the Beaufort Gazette in Beaufort, South Carolina (circ. 12,000).
Contributor to the now folded Georgia Guardian writing pieces on urban affairs and revitalization efforts.
My first “real” newspaper job was copy editing and designing pages at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi. After three months, I became a producer/developer/designer/fixer-of-things for the paper’s website.
Reporter copy editor at Lexington Herald-Leader. John Carroll era.
General assignment/night cops reporter for 12K-circulation local newspaper
Staff writer for Midwest Real Estate News, a trade magazine in Chicago. Also, I never had an internship, for what it’s worth. Went straight into the job market in 2004. Was unemployed for 7 months before landing my first gig, though.
Copy editing and design at a smallish newspaper.
Staff reporter covering education/courts/cops/features and monthly columnist (outdoor adventure themed) at the Jackson Hole News&Guide in Jackson, Wyoming.
I started out as a casual reporter on a weekly community newspaper. I mostly wrote arts & lifestyle pieces. I landed the paid gig after completing an internship at the publication.
Writing for the technology section of a major newspaper
newspaper reporter at a small daily
I was an editor with the weekly community sections published by The Dallas Morning News. It was kind of life being in a small town paper, having to do everything for my sections — write, edit, blog, tweet, photograph, proof, content development, etc.
Freelance stories for a regional biz newsweekly.
copy editor at a small daily paper
Just got it! I’m the mobile/search/social producer for azcentral.com. I work 6a-3p M-F, managing the Facebook and Twitter accounts and helping our journalists with personal branding and social media education.
It was while I was in school. Clerk job at local paper.
editorial assistant for data and research at The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Job at The St. Ignace News. General assignment reporter.
I was a reporter at the Employment & Training Reporter, a weekly newsletter published by BNA in Washington, D.C. ETR covered employment and training programs for disadvantaged, chronically unemployed and laid-off workers.
copy editing on the Universal Desk at the Dallas Morning News
Well, it’s happening right now. I work for Sun Newspapers (@sunnewspapers) – a chain of 11 weekly community newspapers around Cleveland. I scored this gig (in my hometown, no less) five months out of college (Ohio University).
The job I have now. Associate producer for MassLive.com.
Neighborhood reporter, St. Petersburg Times
Reporter/Photojournalist at a 150th market TV station in North Carolina.
Research librarian at The Palm Beach Post
Responses via Twitter: