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Ten Tips for Getting a Print Journalism Job

April 2nd, 2008 · 1 Comment · Sports Journalism

Someone who saw my entry on 10 tips for keeping a print journalism job … sent in a comment asking how one goes about getting a print journalism job in the first place.

A fair question. One I will attempt to handle here … once we stipulate that print journalism jobs are disappearing out of the workplace at a frightening pace. Caveat emptor, y’all.

Let’s say you’re just out of college, or you’ve decided on a mid-life career change. How do you get into print journalism? I mean, you probably shouldn’t bother, but let’s say you have the bug; I can relate; I was like that, once upon a time. How to get your foot in the door?

Let’s give this a whack.

1. Be prepared. That means real journalism experience. Your college newspaper, for sure. An internship at a professional newspaper is even better. Employers are in position to be choosy, and they don’t want to train some liberal arts major from the ground floor up. You need to know about libel law and the Five W’s before you walk in for your interview.

2.  Have something more than your journalism degree. Maybe an advanced degree, especially in another field. Newspapers always have liked reporters with law degrees, and once upon a time they paid real money for those people.  That probably isn’t the case anymore, but a master’s in this or that, or life experience in the Peace Corps or Marine Corps may give you a leg up on the competition.

3. Have a specialty but sell yourself as a generalist. Sure, you may know rock music like Robert Hilburn, and make sure that is on your resume. (The reality is, nobody is hiring music critics anymore.) Newspaper employers like to see expertise in military history, pro football, etc., but you must be prepared to cover the basics — city hall, cops, high school sports, charity fund-raisers. Appeal to an editor’s old-time snobbery … while making clear you’ll cover the school district, no problem.

4.  Be willing to start small. This always has been true. It’s more so. Weeklies appear to be the one area of print that isn’t imploding, and even well-prepared graduates from well-known J schools should be willing to take a job their parents never would have considered: The weekly in Smalltown USA. It’s not the career death-sentence it once was. You go there, write seven stories a week for a year, show energy and initiative … and you have a better shot of moving to a daily.

5. Consider alternative media. You know, the local web-oriented, no-charge quasi-paper staffed by the artsy malcontents — dropouts or toss-outs from traditional print. Some very good writing and reporting goes on at some of these places. You probably will not be paid a living wage, maybe no wage at all, but you will have a forum,  often a high-visibility/controversial one, and you will get some clips.

6. Network, network, network. This has always been the secret to career movement in journalism. A few of us managed to get along without constant schmoozing, but don’t try it in 2008. Keep in touch with everyone in school who gets into the business. Stay current with the editor who oversaw your internship. Cozy up to the faculty member who actually knows working journalists. You may hear about jobs before they are posted … and be thought of first if/when someone is hiring. And your pal could make that key recommendation for you.

7.  Be computer savvy. As newsrooms practically demand web-oriented content from its employees, and across a range of platforms, they are going to prize people who can walk in and handle this stuff without guidance. Your value goes up if you can put up digitial photo pages, slide shows, podcasts and blogs with all sorts of links … without having anyone train you. A lot of you college-age folks can do this already; if you’re old-school … you better learn. And this is for writing jobs, not just web-producer jobs.

8. Be willing to work cheap. The Great Journalism Bust of 2008 is throwing scads of qualified people into the job market. Your advantage is your ability to work for peanuts because you can live on Top Ramen and tap water and share a two-bedroom condo with three other people. Don’t dicker over salary when what you’re being offered clearly is an entry-level job. (It’s a good idea to be single and childless, too.)

9.  Be presentable. Middle-aged managers like having around handsome young people. Make sure the tats are covered, during your interview. Dump the exotic piercings, at least for the day. Wear business attire.

10 Be a vulture. It sounds ghoulish, but some of the best opportunities are going to be at solid suburbans that are shedding veterans right now. Some of those papers are going to downsize themselves into nothingness, but eventually — and this could be months or years — the better-run papers will find some equilibrium and want to sneak a new face into the newsroom. Take note of papers that make drastic cuts, wait a month or three and then send in your resume detailing your bright-eyed enthusiasm, instant availability and willingness to do any job they offer.

Good luck with this. I feel bad, really, I do, for that fraction of folks who want to help shape public opinion or believe they can Make a Difference in a First Amendment sort of way. Your ancestors were able to indulge those impulses and make a decent salary.

For you, the job options will be fewer, the chances of writing that city hall expose more remote and you may never make enough money to support a family. But if you want it badly enough … SOMEbody is going to be writing for and editing whatever remains of daily newspapers. It could be you.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Char Ham // Apr 2, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    An addition to tip #2, and maybe even #3. Prove your ability to do research. Research is valuable, esp. in writing stories and doing interviews. To explain more about the interview end, I’ve learned that it takes as much work to do the research BEFORE you interview the subject. That is half the battle right there. When I interviewed musicians, they appreciated I knew something about them and were MORE willing to talk. It draws people to continue reading the article beyond the catchy first lines.

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