Jim

How did you get started in journalism?

In The news biz on October 27, 2007 at 9:15 am

In one of SmartNews’ Myspace groups (add us: myspace.com/smartnews), some college kid asked how to become a journalist. Evidently, he’s a poli sci major. Here’s what I said:

1. Be an entrepreneur. Big Media is bleeding, and not doing much to heal itself. So if you’re going to perpetrate journalism, you may have to find ways to support yourself or start new ventures.

2. Can’t hurt to take a few journalism courses.

3. Work for your school’s newspaper, radio station, TV station, what-have-you. You can’t learn to report, research, shoot, edit, write and/or design the news from a book. Your clips will get you your jobs, not your transcript. And you’ll be exposed to the many specialties within the news world, which may help you find your niche.

4. There are some ass-kicking internships out there. I had no idea about them when I was a college kid. I come from the print design side, and have seen some visual journalists’ careers get a real jump-start through interning.

So how did you get sucked in the journalism swamp? And, if you met someone foolish enough to want to jump on the journalism gravy train, what would you advise them to do?

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  1. Was on track for law enforcement (Boy, would THAT have been a mistake) in college when I got sucked into journalism courses (as a kid I had wanted to be either a cop or a writer, go figure) and eventually cobbled together my own major from English, philosophy, photography, and various other courses under my university’s independent curriculum program. That plus getting named my college paper’s Editor in Chief for my senior year pushed me into it wholesale. Got my first real j-job the day after I graduated and 30+ years later am still at it. Travelled through a lot of different positions, from general assignment to re-write to beat reporter to copy desk to Sunday editor (travel, home, sections, etc), outdoor editor, columnist, designer and design chief, to name a few. Got to meet and talk to lots of interesting people (Steven Ford, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Ted Nugent) cover really interesting things (launching of the nuke sub USS Ohio) and got to play with new technology (started on a Royal manual typewriter, graduated to an IBM Selectric, then to a CRT, on a dumb-PC pagination system and finally to the Mac and into online).
    I’d recommend journalism to anyone . . . who really didn’t mind not being fabulously wealthy but who wanted to have a lot of job satisfaction. I know, there are a lot of “old turtles” out there who hate what is happening to the biz. But, they don’t seem to realize that this biz has always been one of change, often not so visible or all-encompassing as the change that is happening these days, but changing nevertheless. So, go ahead, jump into it. It can be mightily satisfying.

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