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’09 j-school grads: Don’t Panic.

March 24, 2009



My brother’s impending spring break reminds me that there are a bunch of j-school grads about to enter into the most hostile job market in the history of the industry. I graduated two years ago and despite being pretty highly regarded in my class, I spent almost six months looking for a job. Frankly, it sucked.

If you’re a grad-to-be, you may be in the same position I was: You can dig through public records and craft and upside-down pyramid with the best of them, but when you hear “HTML code” or “crowdsourcing,” you’re clueless. Listen to me:

Don’t Panic.

Even if you’re on a semester system, you’ve got a little more than a month to Web yourself up, which is plenty of time. Here are a few things I’d suggest:

Learn how to take good photos. I wasn’t so hot till I saw Kris Krug at Gnomedex 8.0 (this is like the twelfth time I’ve said this in an online forum). Wouldn’t hurt to start practicing those skills right away and posting your best shots to a Flickr account, which is free.

Start a blog. Usually it’s ideal to research a topic for a little bit and then blog about it, but if you’re strapped for time, just get out there. Comment on related sites and drop links back to yours. I’d highly recommend blogging on Wired Journalists, which is where I started. There’s already a built-in network of users who are more likely to read your work than your average Web user.

Learn some basic code. Knowing HTML ought to be standard for entry level positions at this point, but in a lot of cases, the people interviewing you won’t know a thing about it, either, so listing “knowledgeable with HTML” on your résumé is like saying “conversational in Spanish.” Everything you need is at w3schools.

Understand the new journalism landscape. You’re about to walk into a minefield. Fortunately, there are a ton of great bloggers out there talking about how the business is changing. Find them. Some of my favorites include Jason Preston, Patrick Thornton, Jay Rosen and Kathy Gill.

These things aren’t going to make you an expert right away by any means, and please remember: Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your boss or grandmother to see. If you can learn from the right people, however, and learn to use these tools effectively, they could very well help you out.

If you’re already in the business, or have spent time in it, please feel free to post comments here (or wherever) and make your suggestions known to some kid who could use them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2009 9:32 pm

    Good advice: Don’t panic. That’s what I’ve been telling more experienced journalists at the P-I. Here are a couple of other points of advice:

    You know more than you think: This goes along with your advice to learn how to take pictures. You’re not just a reporter. You’re a writer, editor, reporter, photographer and, I hope, you know some design and coding and how to shoot and edit a rudimentary video. And you might want to learn how to run Excel in case you have to do some number crunching. Sell your ability to do more than just one thing. Be willing to learn new things.

    Learn what you’re writing about: When I was in college during the last ice age, one of my teachers said that she thought there were many people who knew how to write (that might be debatable now), but few who knew what they were writing about. Learn the areas you’re writing about. Be the expert. One of the selling points for online news sources is covering things that no one else is covering. Find that niche and exploit the hell out of it.

    And remember: Don’t panic!

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