It’s nearly September, and a fresh batch of undergraduates are entering college — some with dreams of becoming journalists. While there are signs of life in the hiring prospects for new journalists, student journalists still need to do everything they can to make themselves stand out from the pack.
A friend who’s starting college soon asked me for some advice along those lines, and I decided to turn my responses into a blog post.
Many of the young journalists with bright futures I’ve met in the past year have already had a hand in experimenting with building unique, innovative journalism products.
Take business courses to get a feel for that side of the industry. Look for openings in your local market and find ways to fill them with student resources — perhaps by innovating at a campus media outlet or by building something as a class project.
Learn to Code
Print is dying, web is thriving. Taking some computer science courses and learning to code can help land you a job when you’ve got your degree in-hand.
Extracurriculars and Internships
I learned by far the most valuable lessons of my undergraduate career working for the campus radio station and newspaper and interning in Rochester.
Journalism classes are great and provide excellent fundamentals, but don’t expect to be able to jump into a newsroom after graduation without hands-on experience: it’ll help improve your work and build your portfolio, employers expect it on your resume and it’ll help you build lists of contacts, sources and references.
You Don’t Have to Major in Journalism
You should take Journalism 101 and courses relevant to the kind of journalism you think you might like to do, but you don’t have to major in journalism to become a great journalist (dual majors are also a great option).
My degree, for example, is in International Relations, a multidisciplinary field that gave me a wide intellectual background I apply to my work every day.
This rule ties in with the one on Extracurriculars – many things thought in a journalism class can be learned in an internship or on the job.
If you’re not learning how to use social media platforms to break news and curate content for an audience, you’re missing a valuable and free lesson. Social media is learned by doing: get started right away, dive into a platform on which you feel comfortable, learn from the best people already there then figure out how to do it even better.
Consume and Talk About Journalism all the Time
Read, watch, take in journalism in all its myriad forms, and more importantly think about what you’re consuming: how did this author create this piece? What sources did the author use? How might I have done this differently from another angle? What’s missing? These critiques will help you learn in a sort of reverse-engineering process.
On the same lines, everyone around you who also want to become a journalist are in one sense your competition, but in another sense your allies: Sharing ideas about journalism and otherwise building friendships with them is a great idea. Those friendships will help keep your mind sharp and will prove invaluable down the road as people who used to be your classmates become successful journalists themselves.
Have any advice I’m missing for a young soon-to-be-Journalist? Share them in the comments below or tweet them to me at @AlexJamesFitz.