Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tips For New Journalists, Vol. 1

With all of the sarcasm and scaremongering evident in the journalism profession, many new journalists can get easily jaded before they've even begun. With the few digital places of community journalists can go - the Poynter Institute or the Committee for Concerned Journalists for provoking thought, MediaBistro forums and (to a much, much lesser extent) Gawker comments for nuts-and-bolts daily operations - it's not easy to find a place for support.

Heck, even most Ed2010 topics aren't answered by more than two or three people - and that's assuming they told you a positive comment backed with experience, which is rare.

So I thought it would be best to throw together a list of what I've seen work and not work.

Just graduate and the ink is still fresh on your degree?

Switching professions and don't know how to break in?

Switching jobs and don't know how to bolster your resume?

This list is for you.

1. The Pitch
Don't be afraid, and try, try, try. Don't rely on one place to pitch - pitch your story high and low. Call the publication or Google it to find the e-mail address of who you need to contact (look at the masthead to figure out who best to target). These are real people, and their e-mail addresses, while not readily available, are not a state secret, either. Most people will be welcome to read what you've got, provided they're not on deadline. Remember: publications need ideas, even if you think they've got it covered. Don't be afraid of the cold pitch. Some of my best clips were out of the blue - but I made sure they were well researched. Don't be afraid to pitch a pre-written story - it's hard to turn those down if the idea's on par! (So long as it's timely - see below) Remember: journalists are real people. Some editors might be averse to responding to e-mail, but a good clip (good, by definition, one that you are happy with - NOT necessarily the cover of TIME magazine) is worth the effort.

2. For Journalists Moving to NYC
First things first: New York is not the only place to go. You may not want to stay in Peoria, but there's plenty of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington to go around. Move for you, not for your job. If you can't deal with the summer heat in Atlanta, don't get a job there. It's the same theory behind picking a college: if you aren't happy living there, you won't be happy working there. That said, let's face it: New York is expensive. If you're moving, do research plenty of months ahead of time, but expect to not make any real moves until 1-2 months prior to your planned move-in date. With such quick turnover, it's impossible to secure a place early. Know that you're on your own. Know that New Jersey and the other four (well, maybe just three) boroughs are all the same commute time as Manhattan, short of living by where you work.

3. For the Students
You know all those assignments you have? Complaining about how you don't have time to really freelance? Reappropriate your classwork for the real market. It sounds obvious, but so many students see the finish line as the day the assignment is due. In class, reach higher: Write like you're writing for a big-name publication. Get better sources, write cleaner copy, and think about who you could pitch while writing it. If your assignment has required draft stages, write your drafts almost to completion and pitch that version out before you hand in the assignment. Don't be that guy who wrote 2,500 words with a killer lede and miss your chance to get published before everyone else writes a story on it. I did, and nothing hurts like seeing the New York Times effectively rewrite the piece you wrote three months prior but never pitched. Remember, timing is everything.

4. The Resume
Keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep it readily available in many formats. Mention your best clips, or if you have none, emphasize any writing you've done, no matter how small. You can spend all night and day arguing over the finer points of resumes, but in the end, the time is better spent actually sending your resume out and ensuring good presentation. Got a website? Clean it up and get your resume on there in three formats: an Adobe PDF, a Microsoft Word document and barebones text. In a world with spam filters, it's much easier to send a link than an attachment, and even easier to let your future employer choose the format themselves.

5. For Journalists Living In NYC
Sick of hearing about how there are no jobs (MTV employees, I'm talking to you)? Sick of hearing about how you need to move to Small Town, U.S.A. to get anywhere? While no one denies the competition of the New York media market, don't let anyone talk you out of your own convictions. If you're a suburb or country guy/girl at heart, without a significant other to consider, go for the move. Take an adventure. If you're "tied down" or a city guy/girl - particularly a New York City guy/girl - don't let anyone make you think that you can't make it in New York. Journalists like to tout their own achievements (came from the aformentioned Small Town, U.S.A. to the big leagues), but it's all overblown. If you ride the subway like a pro, you'll do better than most out-of-towners.

That's all for now - more tips to come in the future. If you have a great tip, feel free to comment anonymously with your own experiences!

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