For aspiring journalists, the news about the news business can be pretty depressing. Each week seems to bring fresh stories about print or online news outlets laying off reporters and editors in order to cut costs.
This was brought home to me recently when the New York Daily News, the once-mighty Big Apple tabloid where I toiled as a reporter and editor years ago, cut its newsroom staff in half, leaving a skeleton crew to cover the nation’s largest city.
Statistics tell the story. The Pew Research Center recently reported that at least 36 percent of the largest newspapers in the U.S. – as well as at least 23 percent of the highest-traffic online-only news outlets – experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that between 2014 and 2017, the number of newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 15 percent, from about 46,000 to about 39,000.
But as some news sites cut jobs, others are hiring. As I write this, job-hunt site JournalismJobs.com lists over 1,300 openings. Meojobsonline.com, which lists gigs in media and communications, has dozens if not hundreds more.
So what should a journalism student do to land a job in this gloomy labor market? Here are some tips:
Be geographically flexible – As I said, there are jobs out there. A quick scan of JournalismJobs.com shows openings spanning the country, from Eugene, Oregon to Muenster, Indiana and El Paso, Texas. The lesson is obvious: if you’re willing to pull up stakes and move across the country for a job, you’re going to have lots of options. If, on the other hand, you never want to leave your hometown, then you’re limiting your career, big-time.
Be tech savvy – The days when an entry-level reporter could get by with just writing and interviewing skills are long gone. In the digital age, journalism and technology go hand-in-hand, so the more tech skills you can acquire in college – digital video, blogging, web design and so on – the better. That doesn’t mean you have to be a tech wizard. But it does mean you should have at least some tech expertise in your skill set, and be ready and willing to learn more. Scan journalism job sites to see what kinds of skills are in demand.
Create your personal brand – If you haven’t done so already, you should create a Facebook page, Twitter account and blog or website devoted exclusively to promoting yourself and your work. This is where you will post links to articles, your resume, contact information and so on. Leverage the power of the Internet and social media to promote yourself and your journalism skills.
Specialize – A college buddy of mine dreamed of covering Russia, so he majored in Russian studies instead of journalism. He learned about the country’s culture, language and politics, all while banging out stories for the student newspaper. After college he got a job with The Associated Press and within a few years became one of the AP’s Moscow correspondents. My point? If you dream of covering the White House, study politics in college. Want to be a film critic? Learn everything you can about not just Spielberg and Lucas but Kurosawa and Bergman. There’s nothing wrong with being a general assignment reporter who covers a little bit of everything, but if you know you want to specialize, the learning process begins now.
Be willing to pay your dues – Too many journalism students think they’re going to waltz into a job at The New York Times or CNN the day after graduation. Here’s a hint: they’re not. In the news business you have to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. That means your first few jobs are likely to be at small to medium-sized news outlets not in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but in places like Dubuque, Iowa, or Columbus, Ohio. In other words, your first, second or even third job probably won’t be your dream job. But if you work hard and stick with it, you’ll get there eventually.
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