Going to College for Journalism? Read These Six Tips

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.

Be Entrepreneurial

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.

HTML, CSS and JavaScript are good places to start. With a background in journalism and coding, you’ll be well-equipped to create innovative journalism for the web and mobile devices – this tip goes hand in hand with being entrepreneurial. You might check out CodeAcademy to start.

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.

Get Social

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.

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Does the Internet Have a Political Ideology?

When Internet users rallied to defend their much-loved network from the dual threats of SOPA and PIPA, Washington took notice. The newly formed Internet Defense League and the hot-off-the-presses Declaration of Internet Freedom have gotten participation from several members of Congress, most of whom have already gained a track record as being among the few Congressmen who understand technology issues.

But Libertarian icons Ron and Rand Paul threw me for a bit of a loop when they released “The Technology Revolution,” a 4-page manifesto calling for the application of traditional Libertarian values to net policy, earlier this month.

Putting aside the contradictions and shortcomings inherent in the document (already well-documented by Mediaite’s Josh Fledmen) my first thought was: wait, isn’t the Internet already pretty Libertarian?

The Internet’s Libertarian streak was, after all, why SOPA and PIPA were considered so onerous by many: they represented a government intrusion into regulating cyberspace, a violation of the hands-off norm set during the Clinton administration and generally respected thereafter.

The only obvious answer was an the obvious grab by the Pauls at a budding constituency which increasingly ranks Internet freedom at the top of its “most important issues” list. But there’s something more here, too: the manifesto’s very existence suggests there’s a difference between traditional Libertarians and the Libertarian-style beliefs of many Internet users.

My “a-ha” moment came out of an e-mail exchange with Democratic Representative Jared Polis, who’s among the few technologists that are also sitting members of Congress. Here’s what he had to say:

“The ideological Libertarians view government as inherently evil. Online Libertarians view government as generally clumsy and inept, but not inherently good or evil. If anything, governments are sometimes well intentioned but so clumsy that their efforts can be counterproductive. Vibrant governments and corporations are both important to a dynamic internet, but neither any particular government nor any particular corporation should be able to co-opt the internet.”

Polis hits the nail on the head: while traditional Libertarians dismiss any government interference as unwanted (such as net neutrality, because who’s the government to tell an ISP how traffic ought to be treated?), “Internet Libertarians” view government and business as counter-balances to one another: they might want the government to write a law preventing Facebook from spying on users’ online behavior and selling that data to advertisers, but they also applaud Google and Twitter’s efforts at being transparent about government requests for users’ data as a check on government abuse of power.

This is, like every label, a generalization with plenty of flexibility in the fine detail. But I think there’s something potentially powerful here – one needs only look at the death of SOPA and PIPA and the sudden (if still minor) rise of the Pirate Party in Europe to see how Internet Libertarians are gaining clout in the political world.

Whether the Pauls’ attempt to capture that growing constitutency will be successful remains to be seen, but I have the feeling that the transparency-loving Internet Libertarians will see right through the attempt, even if they’re glad to have another voice in Washington paying attention to the issues that matter most to them.

Posted in Op-Eds, Politics/International Affairs, Tech | 36 Comments

Is Reddit a Journalist?

A piece by Slate writer Farhad Manjoo made waves this week for exposing the secret behind Buzzfeed’s viral success: repackaging content from online communities such as Reddit in a way that’s easier to consume and appealing to a broader audience.

Manjoo’s post is a great springboard for something I’ve been thinking about for months: Is Reddit a journalist?

Socially savvy journalists already recognize that Reddit is a veritable cornucopia of story ideas and content. However, if you go a little deeper (“we’ve got to go deeper!”), you’ll find the Reddit community does a lot of what a good journalist should do: it reports news, it checks sources, it calls BS on false information. Possibly most importantly: it creates and curates.

The OPs of Reddit — the Original Posters — create an enourmous pile of content on a daily basis for the much-revered “Knights of New,” who stand at the Gates of Creation to determine which content will have a chance at making the beloved front page. Redditors with an expertise in a certain field correct invalid information, seemingly hyperbolic claims are met with skepticism at best.

So there’s creation, curation, source-checking and fact-checking. The Reddit hive-mind is, I believe, a journalist.

This is really an open-ended thought piece that I’d like to prompt a couple of discussions: Is Reddit a journalist, and should journalists cite it (and other similar platforms) when repurposing content posted there?

I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below or shoot me a tweet at @AlexJamesFitz.

Posted in Journalism, Op-Eds, Social Media | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Experimenting With a New Direction

I’ll be using my WordPress account for creative writing, longer thought-pieces and photo galleries from here on out. I’m resurrecting my Tumblr for the more-than-daily short, punchy thoughts about digital politics and tech policy. 

Let’s see how this goes – I think it’s a good strategy.

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I’m Growing a Playoff Beard! (It’s for the Kids)

The playoff beard is a time-honored hockey tradition. Once the regular season ends, no player is allowed to even think about touching a razor until they hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup or get knocked out of contention (probably because their beards weren’t manly enough).

This year, I’m growing one, too – even though I’ve only known how to skate for a couple of years and my body would be shattered if a pro hockey player shook my hand, let alone hit me on open ice.

It’s a charity beard for the Garden of Dreams, Madison Square Garden’s non-profit that helps disabled kids learn how to play sports. The fact that it’s all for the kids is probably the only reason my girlfriend’s actually letting me grow my face long, actually.

Here’s day one:

Five days is about how long I’ve ever gone without shaving, so I’ve got no idea how this thing will grow in. The NHL playoffs can stretch into June, meaning I’ve got over a month of potential beard-cultivating time.

If you’d like to donate to my beard (and to the kids, I guess) you can do so right here. My very scratchy face thanks you!

Let’s go Rangers!

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I Killed a Mouse

I killed a mouse last night. Or, more accurately, I set up a trap filled with delicious peanut butter that, in turn, killed the mouse.

I’ve been thinking about it all day. It wasn’t very Buddhist of me, but I’m not Buddhist, so I’m not sure that matters. I wanted the little guy out of my home, because he was eating my favorite chips and he might’ve been carrying the Black Death. If I could’ve captured and released him peacefully outside, I would’ve – but the little bugger was quick on his tiny feet.

At the end of the day, all I know is that if I was rummaging around a strange room in search of a spoonful of Skippy’s, I’d be mighty upset if I met the end of my days just before that sweet, sweet peanut butter touched my lips.

What can I do to offset this karmatic unbalance? Plant a tree? Buy a box of Girl Scout Cookies? Help me out, Internet.

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Wandering Around New York: The High Line

The High Line is a much-hyped urban transformation project. Once a derelict overhead railway, it’s being transformed into an elevated park and public space.

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