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What I’d do as a journalism graduate

May 20, 2009

This is a response to Megan Taylor’s “You Don’t Have to Be a Journalist to Be a Journalist.”

I don’t want to be a downer, but it’s undeniable that for most college students graduating with a journalism degree in the next couple months, their diploma will basically serve as a pink slip. They’ll go from sucking up knowledge on a daily basis and producing portfolio-worthy content to being unemployed and back at the bottom of the journalism ladder.

I was in a similar situation when I graduated in 2007. True, things weren’t as daunting back then, but I still spent almost six months unemployed. A lot of that probably had to do with some mistakes I made and perhaps there are some lessons to be gleaned from those:

  • Know what you want, but accept that it may be further off than your first job. I had it in my head that I wanted to work for a mid-sized daily (yes, paper), but the job I ended up taking was at a small, (then) twice-weekly. Maybe I was a little too confident, maybe I had been talked up too much by my peers and professors—whatever. The fact is, whatever you think or are being told about yourself right now … the industry probably thinks you’re about two or three pay grades lower. You aren’t necessarily less than you think, you just have to think of yourself and your skill set relative to the now thinner, tougher journalism herd.
  • At the same time, apply for jobs you don’t think you can get. Why not? Worst case scenario, you’re in over your head, they realize they’re paying you too much and you get fired, which leaves you back where you started, but with more money and experience.
  • Have someone else edit the hell out of everything. I think I sent out about 20 résumés before I realized there was a pretty egregious typo in my cover letter. Bears repeating.
  • Make lots of friends, in real life and otherwise. My biggest mistake by far: Not getting my name out enough. I hate shaking hands at those Old White Guy Cocktail Parties as much as anyone, but if there’s a connection to be made, you should make it. Make friends online, too. Set up a Web site for yourself with your portfolio and maybe a blog. Start reading blogs by other journalists; comment on them and leave links back to your site or some of your work. I’m not worried about losing my current job, but if I ever did, one of my great comforts is that I’ve spread my name around decently. (Another key point: The more content you create online that you want people to see, the less likely they’ll find something you don’t want them to see.)
  • Freelance, even if you’re not getting paid. If you keep getting rejected for freelance work, why not start your own gig? Publishing’s free these days.
  • Expand your skill set.

Got more advice? Please comment.

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