Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What would you tell an aspiring journalist?

I'm heading down to my hometown tomorrow, to be on a Career Day panel at my old high school. But given the current state of the journalism industry, not to mention the turmoil at the newspaper where I've worked for 15 years, I really don't know what to tell them.

It just seems wrong to tell these young hopefuls, “Look, you really don’t want to be the last one driving this bus. Study something else.” But it seems equally wrong to be idealistic about print journalism right now, what with newspapers going online
or folding entirely or being threatened with closure or going bankrupt.

So, I’m going to tell them a few things that I wish I knew 20 years ago, when I landed my first paid byline and decided that journalism was the field for me. I think the advice applies for pretty much any career path — even ones you might consider for a later-in-life switch. ... [

The details are at The 36-Hour Day, as usual, but you can get the basics right here:

1.) Be open to everything. Even if you’re certain that your major is perfect for you, try something else. You never know… a night-school cooking class might prove that real-life in a restaurant isn’t quite so much like “Top Chef” as you had hoped.

2.) Learn how to promote yourself. One of the most difficult things for me as a journalist is trying to market my brand and promote myself. After years of learning how to be a fly on the wall, it can feel awkward to have to deliberately call attention to yourself. A marketing class -- or a marketing minor -- makes sense, no matter where you hope to work.

3.) Think in terms of gaining marketable skills. Journalism is a trade; the more you do, the more you know, regardless of what you’ve learned in school. In the same way, on-the-job experience is essential no matter what field you choose.

4.) Get a mentor. I didn’t really have one, and to this day I wish I had done more to pick people’s brains and learn the ropes.

5.) Network, network, network. It’s so much easier to do this now, with email and Facebook and LinkedIn, than it was I was in college. Take full advantage of your connectivity!

What field are you in, and what advice would you give to a young hopeful who is interested in following in your footsteps?

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