Guest post: 10 tips on getting a job in journalism

by andybechtel

Jessica Stringer recently graduated from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. While at UNC, she worked as an assistant city editor for The Daily Tar Heel and the editorial director for Rival magazine. She has also blogged at Her Campus. Despite her dedication to the Tar Heel basketball team, Stringer has returned home to the Washington, D.C., area to job hunt and begin her career in journalism.

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up early, took the Metro and attended the National Press Club’s 2nd Annual Journalism Boot Camp. The theme of the day was “surviving and thriving in a changing industry.” After sitting through panels and small classes, I walked away inspired and armed with plenty of insight. Here are the 10 most important things I learned at the conference:

1. Have an online presence.

The first group of panelists suggested that employers are using Google to find out more about potential employees and their social media skills. They are checking not only if you use Twitter, but also who you follow and what kinds of topics you are posting about. Recently, in an interview with someone at NPR, my friend was asked “Are you on Facebook and Twitter?” before she was even questioned about her reporting skills.

2. Buy and own your own domain.

Everyone at the conference emphasized just how important it was to have your own website. Call it “johnsmith.com” or “jsmith-journalist.com” but make sure it has your name in the address. Even if you don’t use the domain right away, register for your namesake before some reality star or a teenage hacker with a similar name does.

3. Use that domain to build a portfolio.

Once you’ve got a domain, you should start simple and use it to show off your work. Don’t try to put every single piece you’ve ever written or designed on the site — this is the place for your best work. Mark Young, the former website editor for Media General’s Washington Bureau, recommended WordPress and Weebly for building a portfolio.

4. Need to learn new software or a skill fast? Try Lynda.

I think I was the only person in the room who did not nod my head in agreement when one of the panelists mentioned Lynda. I had to slyly search for “Lynda” on my BlackBerry under the table and discovered it is a website with online tutorials for learning software. I was impressed that I could learn Flash, Dreamweaver and Final Cut Pro all without leaving my room.

5. Blog!

You should start a blog now even if you only use it in the short term. Panelists said blogs were a great way for employers to hear your distinct voice, so remember to include a link to your blogs on your website. Give yourself a project or narrow focus like summer movies, your eBay finds or your preparation for your first marathon, and it will be easier to stay motivated.

6. The platform is less important than the work you do.

Beth Frerking, assistant managing editor at Politico, said good writing stands out above all else. It is OK if you write on your own personal blog or for a community newspaper and not The New York Times. Despite the changes in the industry, the values of reporting have not changed, and both deep reporting and thoughtful analysis are important.

7. Practice your freelancing skills.

Andrea Stone, senior Washington correspondent at AOL, predicts that many people are going to have to turn to freelancing to sustain their careers. Stone says that AOL is also looking for writers who have access or have extensive Rolodexes of sources. Stay in touch with your sources if possible and learn how to pitch to different publications.

8. Watch the ones who are doing local journalism well.

What publications will be around in the next decade? The Bay Citizen, Honolulu Civil Beat, Oakland Local and Windy Citizen were just a few examples of local journalism that the panelists thought were doing great work. Andrea Stone at AOL also promoted Patch, an AOL-owned hyper-local platform, that is hiring local editors. I’m partial to The Carrboro Commons, a news site run by Jock Lauterer and his Community Journalism class at UNC-Chapel Hill (along with help from Andy Bechtel’s Advanced Editing course).

9. Mobile news is the future.

During the last decade, newspapers and magazines acquired separate online staffs that use search engine optimization for headlines and were no longer limited in story length. With the growing number of iPhones and BlackBerrys, the future is mobile news. Applications that allow users to receive personalized news are becoming more popular as an increasing number of people rely on their phones.

10. Be positive.

The conference ended on a positive note for the future of journalism. Ultimately, there will always be a need for good writing and well-edited stories. Do whatever it takes to get (and keep) your foot in the door. Network, eat lunch with colleagues and mentors (even if you are not actively job searching) and increase traffic on your blog.

If you have a trip to D.C. planned for this summer, take a look at the National Press Club’s calendar, because there’s probably a worthwhile event planned. I had a great time mixing with seasoned journalists and listening to their career advice.

Now I just have to decide whether it is worth it for an aspiring journalist like me to be become a member of the NPC. I’d appreciate any advice left below in the comments.

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