The news about the news business is bleak: industry-wide layoffs; corporate control of content; less-than-princely salaries for young workers; and ongoing uncertainty about the changes wrought by that darn Internet.
Young news hopefuls nonetheless continue to pursue degrees, reporting for student newspapers, snagging internships, and pursuing freelance opportunities, all in the hope that they will land jobs after graduation, score some big scoops, and maybe even cause change.
But with newspapers and even some TV stations cutting jobs, how is the outlook for these rookies to score a paying gig after graduation? And what opportunities actually exist?
“The common bond between student journalists is the question of ‘Am I going to have a job when I get out?’ ” says Brenna McCabe, the editor-in-chief of the University of Rhode Island’s student newspaper, the Good Five ¢ Cigar. McCabe, a senior who hopes to land a newspaper job after graduation, interned this summer for the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald, most recently reporting a series of articles on the homeless of Warwick.
The media downsizing trend can be seen in job-reductions near and far, including a recent buyout at the Providence Journal. Yet according to the trade publication Editor & Publisher, a University of Georgia survey found that “the job market for journalism graduates has remained largely unchanged for the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008.” The number of bachelor’s degree recipients in the field with a full-time job had remained at about 64 percent from 2006 through most of 2007.
So what’s the best advice for aspiring media types? It turns out to be pretty traditional, with a new media twist: be hungry; understand the basics of reporting; keep your op-tions open; and be technically facile, since being able to shoot and post your own video, for example, will only help your prospects.
On the way up
Louis Lopez, human resources director for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, says it isn’t necessarily shortsighted for aspiring journalists to want to work exclusively in print. What is unwise, he says, is ruling out some proficiency with the tools that are becoming increasingly commonplace in the field.
“I don’t think newspapers are going to become completely extinct,” Lopez says. “I think that more and more there’s going to be a convergence of the two [Web and newspapers]. Having some video and audio experience will only help you.”
Internships, including those offered by such metro dailies as the Post, can be a way for ambitious scribes to get a foot in the door. “We’re looking for people who can take a par-ticular news story that exists and synthesize it and make it for the Web,” Lopez says, adding that internships often lead to jobs if a position opens relevant to an intern’s proven skill area.
Washington Post recruiter Kathryn Tolbert says the print aspect of the newspaper looks for job applicants with experience, typically three to five years at a daily, and impressive re-porting skills.
For examples of how some aspiring reporters and other media types made their way after graduation, we talked with some former Phoenix interns.
California native Te-Ping Chen, 22, recently moved from a Washington, DC-based blogging position with the news-and-opinion magazine the Nation to work for the Interna-tional Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is also based in DC and which backs investigative reporting projects.
As a student, Chen helped Common Cause of Rhode Island introduce a Clean Elections proposal in Rhode Island. She later interned with and freelanced for the Providence Phoenix, and graduated from Brown University in December 2007.
“I guess my advice based on personal experience is to get to know an outlet by freelancing or interning first,” Chen says via e-mail. That’s how I first started talking with my editor at the Nation about staying on full-time, and that’s how I got my current job with ICIJ.”
Magazines, books + publishing
Magazines, especially mass-circulation publications, have a reputation for being tough nuts to crack for job-seekers. So what’s the way into a consistent, non-freelance magazine position, short of having been hired in the more free-wheeling mid-’90s?
The answer once again: score an internship.
“All the current Esquire assistants are former interns,” A.J. Jacobs, an Esquire editor-at-large, Brown grad, and best-selling author, says via e-mail. “And for the Esquire internship, the cover letter is important,” he notes. “The guys who hire the interns are looking for writers, so I’d recommend against a formal boring business-like letter, and instead write one that is funny or vivid and shows your love of the magazine.”
Being very familiar with the publica-tion for which you want to write is another time-tested requirement. But networking and thinking creatively also help.
Jacobs recalls having pitched his first book, The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person In the World, in which he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, blindly by sending query letters to 50 agents. “I don’t recommend this way, though,” he says. “The better way is to track down a friend of your uncle’s manicurist who knows an agent, and then drop a name in the query letter.”