The most surprising thing I’ve learned about journalism through my internships: The student-ran daily publication I worked at in college is more efficient than a lot of real-life newspapers.
What do I mean by efficient? Well, in college, when I submitted a piece as a reporter, my work was fact checked and grammatically corrected by three people: a copy editor, the chief copy editor and finally the editor-in-chief. If I ever had a question concerning the flow of a piece or an angle of a story, I could talk with one of my coworkers and we could work together to get things right.
At the two major publications I’ve worked at, when I submit a story, one person corrects it: my editor. That’s it. And, usually he/she goes through it only once. Why is this the case? Money is probably the most significant issue. At one point, both publications had a full copy editing staff; changes in the industry have disallowed that convenience now.
I guess also since reporters at the large publications are professional journalists, their work wouldn’t require as much editing as college journalism students. But, regardless of how talented of a writer you are, you will make mistakes, especially when you’re on a deadline. It worries me even more about the current state of journalism. I wonder: If you were to compare a newspaper from now compared to one 15 years ago, would there be a noticeable difference in errors in print?
I was watching a local news station the other night when a segment aired about a man who had applied to thousands of jobs online with no result. His confidence had been diminished; he had no idea what to do next. He blamed the poor economy, saying it was nearly impossible to get noticed.
Although I recognize the severity of today’s job market, I found myself shaking my head at the man, wondering why he had not yet learned better. The fact is, as I’ve learned through trial and error, the Internet is only so useful in finding a job. Yes, employers post ads all the time, but the process is more complicated — and, sadly, more unpromising — than it looks. This is something even my generation, a tech-savvy generation, is still coming to grips with.
When applying through a website like Craigslist, more likely than not, you are one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of applicants applying for the same job. You’re odds of getting noticed are more dependant on where you land on the employer’s inbox than your qualifications as a worker. What’s more, getting hired is very closely connected to making an impression on your potential employer — something hard to do online.
So, although the Internet is an amazing entity that is useful in a million ways, the best way to find a job is still through networking out in the real world. Start seeking out familiar faces, such as relatives and friends, and let them help you with the process; don’t view as an imposition, but rather an exercise in relationship building. It’s more work than just sounding out an email with a resume attached, but, as my roommate Charlie always says, “You gotta get off your butt to get shit done.” Well said, Chuck.
Last Saturday, I wrote my first sports piece for the publication where I intern. I had covered sporting events before for other publications, but this was the first time I had done so at a collegiate level. I wasn’t very nervous about the actual coverage of the game — I’ve been a football fan my whole life, and I understand the statistics behind it — as I was about the little things that went into the overall reporting process.
For example, I had never been in a press box before. How would I be able to read the numbers of the players? Where do I go after the game to interview the players? Do I need to find the school’s PR rep. to request interviews? The coach does a radio broadcast after the game, and I’m on a short deadline — should I wait for him to do an interview? How many sandwiches am I allowed to take off the press buffet table? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
Just like every other new reporting experience I have had, though, it went much more smoothly than I originally thought: the players numbers and statistics were shown on a screen in the box, the school’s PR rep. found me and quickly took me down to the field where I interviewed the coach and players and I was able to snag THREE sandwiches off the buffet table before an AP journalist started giving me dirty looks.
These are the types of questions experienced sports journalists don’t even think about, as they’ve probably covered hundreds of football games. But, as a young journalist, I’m learning that different types of events require different types of routines, authorizations and interview styles. With each new event I cover, I continue to grow and learn.
When I reached the midpoint of my internship last week, my editor sat me down to discuss my work thus far. Although she said my articles had been great, she pointed out one rather embarrassing problem: the leads.
As a journalism student, leads are the first pieces of the “inverted triangle” we learn how to write. They are often believed to be the most important part of an article because they let the reader know if it’s worth reading or not. After countless classes and a number of internships at large publications, I thought I was beyond this point. But, as I was rudely awakened to last week, I had become too concerned with the “style” of the article, which affected my leads.
Let me explain: Before I got the internship I have right now, I was writing at a more “alternative” weekly publication. Although it was completely respectable, it had a much different writing style than the publication I work at now — a more hard-news-oriented paper. I wanted to show my new coworkers that I was more than a music writer (my position at my last internship), so I cut the use of rich adjectives out, used less color and got straight to the facts. This was a mistake.
Yes, all my pieces had the “summary lead” — a point and factual lead meant to give the reader a quick summary of the story in as few words as possible — aspect down, but there was no imagery. My pieces were straight up boring, which is bad for business as it leaves the readers disinterested. For the second time in as many internships, I was told something that I often forget while trying to prove my competence as a journalist: Have fun with it.
Despite the seriousness or complexity of the piece, find the juicy details of the subject that make people laugh, squirm or cry (sometimes all three) and stick them in the lead. Hard-news publications are here to report the facts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun, too.
This week’s assignment for class was to speak to our internship employer about our performance thus far and to find out if there are any employment opportunities down the road. I haven’t done this yet — I’m meeting with one of the editors later this week — but once again I feel a little uncertain of what my next step will be — a common feeling shared by recent journalism graduates.I’ve put my best foot forward each day, and I’ve tried to treat each moment as an interview for my candidacy. And, I think my employers have noticed, complimenting me often on my work. But, the publication I work for, similar to most publications, made a lot of cutbacks this year, firing a lot of its long-time staff. Every day, my coworkers speak on “how quiet the office is nowadays.” Money is always a big issue at the weekly editorial meetings, too.
So, I sometimes wonder: Would a publication that just fired a number of dependable and experienced journalists hire a 22-year-old recent college grad for full-time work? I tend to think it would be more of a freelance gig, which would be great experience (I freelance on a weekly basis for the last publication I interred for), but I’m not sure it would be the next best step for my growth as a writer. Plus, as I’ve grown older, money has become a more significant issue, as I now have bills to pay, and freelancers don’t get paid much.
Many of my fellow SOJC classmates who majored in journalism have taken jobs at small town publications; it is now a common belief among recent graduates that it’s necessary to work at small publications before you can move on to big-city papers. If possible, I would like to avoid this step, as my resume now has a lot of big-paper experience. It may be unavoidable, however. We’ll just have to wait to see.
With all this said, I should say the job-finding process has not frustrated me. When I entered journalism, I understood that the field was in a transitional period and would probably continue to be for a while. I didn’t and still don’t care — the risk has always been worth the reward. If I need to work in Boring, Ore., in order to continue to do what I love, then so be it.
This blog is devoted to the journey of a young journalist, though, so I thought it would be imprudent to not touch on the uncertainty that comes with the territory; it’s something that’s a large part of my life right now.
On a semi unrelated note: In addition to writing, music is also a love of mine, and they often go hand in hand. As I’ve faced the whole concept of “growing up” in recent years — getting a house, paying bills, facing the fear of the uncertain future, etc. —my music and writing have reflected these changes going on, as art often imitates life. I thought it would be pertinent to post a song I helped create — I made the music side (piano, drums, beat) of it and wrote the lyrics together with a vocalist — while I was trying to find a newspaper job:
Although I’ve learned a huge amount from my internship while working in the field, some of the most stimulating and educative experiences have been the weekly editorial meetings. There, I really get a chance to interact with my colleagues, giving suggestions for their ideas while also presenting my own.
Often, this is my only chance during the week to explain myself as a journalist — why I used certain angles in stories, who I chose to interview, what I would like to write about next. My colleagues give me great feedback and are there to help me work through any issues I face in the field — I learn greatly from the dialogue of it all. Plus, it’s an extremely gratifying feeling to help a colleague with his/her piece; it really makes me feel as though I’m contributing, which, as we’ve touched on multiple times in class, is a big deal for us “millennials.”
Going into the internship, though, the editorial meetings were an aspect of the job I was actually somewhat worried about. At my last internship, I worked at a publication with a much larger staff. Its meetings were pretty intimidating, especially since they chose not to put me on the weekly peer-editing list. Eventually, I fell into an unhelpful routine of not speaking at all during the meetings. I even became a little angry for their initial refusal to hear me out, when I should have been concentrating on finding other ways to contribute (one of my few regrets of the experience).
So, when I first entered the office last month at my new internship, I made sure to try to make a big impression at our first meeting. Since then, I’ve developed a routine of speaking often with enthusiasm. Although I never felt disrespected at my last internship, I feel much more of an equal here. And, I believe I’m getting a lot more out of my experience, as the meetings really are useful in continuing my growth as a writer.
What I found most interesting about my personality “type,” as well as the information I found online concerning it, was how accurate it seems to fit me. I normally don’t buy into tests like these that generalize people by their strengths and weaknesses, but in terms of how I conduct myself in the professional world, this is pretty accurate.
My personality type is “ENFJ,” which means I’m a loyal people person who has a desire to succeed but can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. One characteristic of myself that I’ve always been proud of is my loyalty towards those that have treated me with respect; I want to do right by the people that have done right by me. As Mirror, Mirror warns, though, being over empathetic can sometimes lead to a lack of success.
My extraverted personality from time to time leads me to wonder if I have the competitive drive to survive in the world of journalism. Not to say I don’t have a desire to succeed; I do very much. And, writing is and always will be my passion. But, I sometimes look at my SOJC classmates — the way they treat each other, the way they try to edge the competition — and I find myself indifferent towards it. It doesn’t feel right to me. I rather let my work do all the talking than enter a competition with someone, which may be the completely wrong attitude in this transitional business. I have yet to find out.
I do, however, know I work well with other generations, as I make sure to give them the respect they deserve. I care about what they think because gaining their respect equals more responsibility for me. But, this may lead to another problem that I believe a lot of my generation, “ENFJ” and beyond, shares: expecting and over thinking feedback.
Our generation, and I guess “ENJF” types especially, has such a desire to contribute that they expect feedback all the time. If we don’t get it, we think we’re doing something wrong. And, even when we do get it, we tend to sometimes over think it. I know if I get negative feedback, it puts a damper on my day. I try to not do dwell on it, though, and I use it as motivation.
I’m sure as I grow older and become a more experienced journalist, my desires and expectations will change. Like I said before, however, I pride myself in being a certain way, so I guess we’ll see.