So You Want to be a Journalist

by - July 10, 2015

An open letter to new journalism students:

So you're the next generation of reporters, producers, anchors and editors. You've got some pretty big shoes to fill with all of these news veterans with decades of experience starting to retire.

As if that's not enough, being a journalist entails a lot more today than it used to. Not only will you be expected to generate news for a broadcast or newspaper, but you'll also be expected to generate news for websites and social media.

In today's world of journalism, no one does just one job, especially when you're just starting out. More and more stations are looking for true multimedia journalists, people who not only report but who also know how to produce and maybe even anchor.

With all of these expectations waiting for you right after graduation, it's important that you take full advantage of your days in college. Trust me when I say that just going to class will not fully prepare you for the real world of journalism.
If you do nothing else recommended in this post, do this: Volunteer and/or work at your school's TV station or newspaper depending on your major. While this still isn't quite like the real world, it is much closer than a classroom is going to get you. While you're volunteering or working there, don't just pick one thing and stick with that - try them all. What other way are you going to learn that you don't like reporting or shooting or anchoring or writing or even journalism at all?

If an internship is not required for you to graduate, do one anyway. Sure you probably won't be paid, but you'll get to see the action up close. You'll get to see the stress, feel the hectic nature of news and get an even better sense of whether journalism is really for you than at a student-run station or publication.

Another thing I would recommend is to join journalism-related clubs, especially ones that do stuff. For example, I was a member of the Advertising & Public Relations Society for three years, and each of those three years we took on a business in the community as a 'client' and put together a marketing kit for them based on their needs. It was great experience dealing with an actual customer and working with a team to get something accomplished that I wouldn't have gotten in a classroom.

Be smart when choosing your electives. If you want to be a sports reporter, take some sports-related classes. If you want to write features, take a creative writing class. If you want to cover politics, take political science and government classes. If you want to be a business reporter, take business classes. Si quieres trabajar en una zona con una gran población hispana, tomar unas clases de español.

Some tips from other journalists include being versatile and proficient in as many angles of the business as possible; having tough skin and being ready for criticism; and not confusing a significant job with being significant and becoming self-important.

Oh, and have fun! If you're not in this because you enjoy it, you might as well bail out now. You won't be making enough money to hate what you do. Being a journalist is a labor of love. If you're not called to do it, you shouldn't. Plain and simple.

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  1. this is such good advice!

    i would add that taking a film or photography class couldn't hurt either. figuring out how to compose shots, plus properly light them could only help.

    oddball question: did you see that movie Nightcrawler? YIKES. it made me look at footage used during the news in a whole different way, whether that is fair or not.