Professional Advice for Journalism Graduates
It’s that time of year when thousands upon thousands of twentysomethings don caps and gowns of every sort of color and graduate from colleges and universities around the world. They have a spring in their step and stars in their eyes. Or at least they will until they have to find a job.
I had the luck of graduating twice, earning my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree during two recessions. The first was the dotcom bubble, the second was the start of the current recession in 2006. I have impeccable timing!
But I ended up landing on my feet—it just took a little longer than I had expected. I always worked, whether it was waiting tables at a restaurant outside of Fenway Park in Boston (where, admittedly, I made boatloads of money in tips) or working my way up from a receptionist to becoming the sole marketing person at a mid-sized staffing agency. I bided my time, worked hard, and kept my eyes open for other great opportunities.
When I felt uninspired, I started freelance writing, which led me to enrolling in NYU’s journalism school for my graduate degree. Graduating in another economic slump, I didn’t wait so long to start freelancing, and eventually landed an editing job at a great magazine.
In the early 2000′s blogs didn’t exist in my world. There was no social media to speak of. Finding a job was completely different. So what’s a new journalism grad to do?
I found this great post on Poynter that listed a round-up of sorts of commencement speeches from journalists. Here are some quotes the article mentions from recent commencement speeches:
- Eric Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, told students at Boston University to take a break from their screens. “Take one hour a day and turn that thing off,” he said.
- Brian Williams of NBC told students at George Washington University that he wished he had finished college. “Don’t forget that by being here today that you have now achieved something I was not able to achieve,” he said. Wow!
- Barbara Walters spoke at Yale, telling students to follow their bliss and that failure was an option. “If you have failure, you will rise…You will be fine. You will work your way back,” she said.
- Bob Schieffer told students at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications that the harder you work, the luckier you get.
This excerpt from University of Montana graduate Nick Gast’s speech on his commencement day pretty much summed up my feelings as I got ready to graduate with my master’s in journalism:
I think it’s easy to get stressed out about our futures, especially when every guest speaker we’ve had for the past four years talks about a new and exciting way our industry is dying. I’ve spent my fair share of sleepless night lying awake in bed wondering why I chose this degree and the answer I come to is as simple as it is true: because I love what I do. —jimromenesko.com
So here are some of my tips for journalism graduates heading out into the real world. If you have some you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.
It’s Not About the Money
If it was about the money, you would not have spent four years (or more) studying to become a journalist. I’m sure you have heard over and over again how much money you won’t make. It’s true. You will not make the same amount of money as your friends who are in business or who became doctors. That’s life. But the notion that you will be poor and starving are not true. Everyone has to learn to live within their means—you just get to learn how to do it while doing what you love.
Don’t Not Write
If you can’t find a journalism job right out of college, you’ll probably have to settle for doing something else—waiting tables, working as a receptionist—so you can pay your bills. Unless you come from a wealthy family who will support you financially—and what are the chances of that happening?
Don’t not write while you are looking for a journalism job. This is a perfect time to start freelancing! Start pitching story ideas to all appropriate outlets. I would suggest starting small and local—perhaps an alternative weekly or your local newspaper. Keep building up your clip file…plus, it’ll put some extra money in your pocket. Who knows? Maybe your part-time writing will turn into a full-time freelancing job.
Learn New Skills
Just because you are out of school doesn’t mean you should stop learning. I actually started learning how to use Photoshop on my own while I was working at a less-than-desirable job where I had a lot of down time. Teach yourself photography or start a blog. The more skills you can bring to the table of a potential employer the better off you are.