Thursday, July 31, 2008

Responding To Romenesko: Thoughts On Your Comments

My post on entry-level jobs, featured on Romenesko yesterday, resulted in more than 1,600 unique hits and more than 50 comments here and on Poynter. Almost 20 people signed up for my RSS feed.

For a blog that has a steady readership of 50 a day with 93 on the feed, that's pretty astounding.

So I'm flattered that so many people had something to say about finding an entry-level journalism job, and some of your suggestions were great.

I thought I'd clarify and address some of the concerns that you, readers, wrote about. (And I'd like to thank Chase Squires for the little push to do so.)

First, I'd like to say that the purpose of my post was not to reiterate my resume and scream into the Web abyss. I wrote it because I felt that it was a telling lesson of our industry's health when a person can get the appropriate schooling, write the appropriate clips, put in the time at relevant internships, and still have a hard time getting anyone to pay him/her anything to continue doing so.

I'm not complaining about my own situation. I'm working hard, rolling up my sleeves, and making phone calls, sending e-mails, and checking job listings. I just think that my difficulty might be an indication of something greater.

I don't usually write about myself on this blog, but I wanted to use my experience in New York to act as an example -- after all, what about all the young journalists who aren't lucky enough to go to school in New York, and have such big-ticket internships? If I'm having trouble finding any paying journalism-related job, what about them?

Yesterday, Simon Owens of Bloggasm interviewed me about this subject as part of a greater piece about the tough job prospects in this industry. And I've seen several people come back from UNITY in Chicago this year with, well, less than hopeful looks on their faces.

That's really what this was intended to address.

After reading yesterday's comments, it occurred to me that much of the comments pertained to the newspaper industry. While that's surely indicative of Romenesko's readership, it didn't address the strategies for breaking into magazines, broadcast and online, which are different and equally as difficult.

I'd prefer to be in magazines. So while Wyoming may seem logical for an entry-level newspaper job, it would seem to be an ill fit as a place to start a magazine career. The magazine industry is largely in New York; going anywhere else would only leave regional magazines as options, which are no easier to break into.

The same goes for broadcast and online/new media. New York is the tech capital, don't forget.

There's another caveat, and that is the practicality of leaving New York. I can't leave this city. I'm not at liberty to say why -- it's personal -- but I can say that it's absolutely not an option for the next two years. Period.

Say what you will about professional connections, but most people who commented ignored the harsh financial realities of moving: I still must honor the rest of my lease, which does not expire for some time. It costs several, several hundreds of dollars to pack up and move. And most of all, anyone who works and lives in Manhattan would know that, in all the places that were suggested I move, I would need a car -- which I do not have, like most people who live in New York.

That's a big, big potential expense.

I'd also like to address the master's degree issue, which was a heated debate among you readers. I agree that a master's can be overkill in some markets. In New York, however, the bar is high. As I told Simon Owens, master's degrees are a dime a dozen in this highly educated city, and to think that it would hurt me in any way during the hiring process is just plain wrong.

Let me be clear: I went to j-school for myself -- not to expect a job in a year, and certainly not for the joy of $65,000 bounty on my head. So to think that so many people would jump to the conclusion that I was resting on my laurels really saddened me.

Furthermore, many of you readers who were previous HR employees expressed disdain for hiring someone with a master's and "no experience" and having to pay them what their degree commanded. I can say with confidence that anytime I've been requested a salary, I've put a figure that doesn't account for my master's, and accounts for the job that I'm applying to. So it's not as if I'm getting as far as an interview and then simply choosing to not take such low pay and walking out, elite nose tilted upward.

Nor am I only shooting high -- as an example, The New York Times Company owns far more than just its namesake paper: About.com, ConsumerSearch, etc. Conde Nast owns Vanity Fair, but also owns Footwear News. The bottom line? As I mentioned in yesterday's post: Having no job is an income of $0, no matter how you cut it. I'm not holding out for the Times.

This post isn't meant to be a rebuke -- rather, I just think life's a little more complicated than many commenters allowed it to be. I'll be a little honest -- I'm a little disappointed that among such a professional, qualified group of readers, people could leave such searing, personal, anonymous attacks. But it's not unexpected, given the format. And I'm glad that so many people had something to say, whatever it was.

In the spirit of transparency, I'm still looking and applying. I got a couple of "the job was filled internally" responses this week, but that's it. The hunt's still on.

With regard to the feedback to the post, a few people e-mailed me directly -- one even with a freelance offer ("no jobs," sadly). It was so kind, and above and beyond in my book. But, perversely, it was one more indication that perhaps it's just as hard for a young journalist to stay in the business as it is for the 30-year veteran -- just in different ways.

Food for thought. Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to.

-The Ed.

15 comments:

Chase Squires said...

Nice, and it explains a lot, your situation vastly different from my own, those 20-mumble years ago ... I had virtually nothing to move, no ties to anywhere, and a desire to work in newspapers, not mags, so pikcing an entry level gig was easy ... oh, and people advertised in newspapers back then, even to sell old cars, furniture, and the like ... today, I use Craig's List too, just like everyone else.

Good luck, and since you mention Footwear Mag (the centerfold is amazing) don't forget the many industry mags, such as AAA, Humana Healthcare, the magazine my car insurance sends me, etc ...

Anonymous said...

Also had a comment RE: magazines not based in NYC: In addition to regional pubs, you're also looking at trades and B2B titles -- of which there are tons. Of course, they do often require living in eastern Kansas and reporting on trends in the corrugated-box sector.

But seeing as how most J-school grads don't even consider these magazines as an option, jobs in this part of the market are there -- if not plentiful. Plus, the pay isn't bad (though the commute likely is).

Anonymous said...

Yes, it seems like so many who want to "get into magazines" want to start at consumer titles. Any magazine will give you the same experience. Getting experience in kind of business reporting will help get you into the big biz titles.

Anonymous said...

Your last name should have been Russert.

B.L. Mist said...

Hey,
Working journalist here who went through your dilema (sort of) many moons ago.

Keep applying to magazines, newspapers, trade publications. Check out the AP and other news services. it's much easier to get a job (even if a different part of the biz) if you've got a job and can show productivity and professionalism.

Good luck and don't give up.

Maria said...

You are an impressive writer who gets his point across elegantly and eloquently. Hang in there. A lot of people are rooting for you. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Bartend. We've all done it. Stop trying to sound like the bigger person. You're still an elitist.

rknil said...

You just need to get wired. [/howieowens]

I'm sick of the whining. [/jessicadasilva]

Nothing for Money by Local Hiring Exec

I look at young journos that’s the way I do it
I try to act like I watch MTV
I ain’t thinkin’ that’s the way I do it
Nothin' for money and clips for free
Now they like writin’ that’s the way you hook ‘em
Lemme tell ya young journos ain’t dumb
Maybe send a Twitter with their little finger
Maybe send a Twitter with their thumb

They’re hotter than a microwave oven
Summer sublets – with energy
I gotta know these Facebook wall writers
I gotta know these RCG’s

See the little journo with the flip-flops and the iPod
Yeah fuddy that’s what they wear
That little journo got his own Mac G4
That little journo he’s extraordinaire

They’re hotter than a microwave oven
Summer sublets – with energy
I gotta know these Facebook wall writers
I gotta know these RCG’s

I shoulda called my boss a dinosaur
I shoulda learned the word curmudgeon
Look at that drama, they got it bloggin’ in the newsroom
Man they can have some fun
And she’s in there, what’s that? Lovely and talented?
Bangin’ out a news scoop like Woodward and ‘Stein
She’s out bloggin’ that’s the way you do it
You do nothin’ for money get your clips for free

They’re hotter than a microwave oven
Summer sublets – with energy
I gotta know these Facebook wall writers
I gotta know these RCG’s

Now they’re out bloggin’; that’s the way they do it
You put the Webcam on the old PC
That’s their writin’ that’s the way they do it
Nothin’ for money and their clips for free
Nothin’ for money and clips for free

(RCG's = recent college graduates)

Anonymous said...

My guess is that most of the sneering responses you got came from editors and writers who have seen far too many young writers, copy editors and fact checkers with a sense of entitlement, but no initiative. I've seen it on a regular basis and it's frustrating trying to help someone who makes it clear that they believe they are better than the work you are giving them, then habitually misses the mark and the deadline. You got the blowback from a common situation in publishing.
So shrug it off and look for the kind of opportunities to write that you are probably ignoring. Look to companies that do custom publishing - check out the website of the Custom Publishing Council to see what's out there in New York. Open yourself up to working at a trade magazine, an association publication, a newsletter. You'd be surprised to see that the articles in these publications is not all that different than what you find in consumer mags.
Meanwhile, keep on piling up those clips. It is definitely tough to get that first magazine job, but once you're in, the second and third jobs are easy to nab.

Ryan in DC said...

It's rare that some gets a job at a magazine right off the bat. It's also rare that magazines have staff writers these days (other than the major ones or the newsmagazines). I freelanced for a few regional magazines, but it seems that if you want to get a staff writing job you have to demonstrate your chops at newspapers for a while first. That's what I see at least.

The Editorialiste said...

@Ryan in DC:

No expectations to write on staff at a magazine. I'm fully aware that most features and some department pieces at most magazines are freelanced out, with assistant and associate eds handling the rest.

As I mentioned, I'd like to edit, not write. If there were EA or AE positions to apply for, I would.

Thanks for reading and commenting,
The Editorialiste.

Lisa R. said...

So...imagine taking a multi-year haitus to raise kids (and freelance) and go to grad school...which makes one older and with less FT jobs on the resume, at the worst possible time in the print media industry.
Yes, I've learned to write for the web and downwardly-adjusted expectations. Still. It's tough.
Not complaining; just that there are huge challenges to the job hunt at all ages, situations, etc.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just read this post and used it as an occasion to go back and read all those comments. Some of them were pretty nasty, I hope mine didn't come across that way. I commented on your first blog (I said not to leave NYC, and left a few other ideas, namely to focus on websites). I have a couple other thoughts, and I hope it doesn't come across as mean at all -- I really just want to help.

First, on this idea of leaving NYC. I started out in Minnesota, and there were two journalism jobs, both of which I applied for. One was as editor of a hockey magazine (the publisher sent me a nice email saying he wanted someone with experience). The other was as a reporter at a weekly community paper, and I was one of the final candidates but was turned down. Sure, there are a few jobs out at Wyoming public radio stations. But there are also people graduating from college in Wyoming and applying for those jobs. New York has by far the greatest concentration of j-jobs, and I think it's the best place to be if you want a j-job.

Second, you mentioned you want to edit, not write. That concerned me a little bit. I think you may be going at this the wrong way. First of all, 99% of editors start out as writers. You just can't be a good editor without having a lot of writing experience. I became a mag editor with only a couple years of writing experience and it is doable, but it's a challenge. I think if that's the way you're presenting yourself to editors, they may think you're over-reaching. On the other hand, it is easier to move into editing if you take a job online.

Third, on EA or AE jobs: Let me tell you what I've seen. First, a lot of EAs or AEs do not move into editorial jobs; rather, they move into other administrative or managerial jobs within publishing. Second, a lot of them pay their dues as EAs and then use that to get a reporting job somewhere. It is NOT a route to becoming an editor. It is truly an entry level job, and by that I mean it is even more entry-level than being a reporter, and it is NOT a way to skip over being a reporter and moving into editing.

Finally, I have one more tip: you may be doing this already, but if you're not, make sure to pitch stories when you apply for jobs and when you go on job interviews. Most people don't. You will set yourself apart. Even if the editors don't immediately say, "Wow, I want that story now!" they'll appreciate that you made the effort. They want to see that you know that pitching stories is a key part of any reporter/editor/writer's job.

Anonymous said...

One other thought ...

You mentioned that you went to the top j-school in the country. I'm assuming you meant Columbia. Here's what I've seen with Columbia grads: I think Columbia teaches students writing and reporting, but doesn't always teach them what it really takes to pitch real stories to a real editor. I worked once with a recent Columbia grad who didn't know that when you're working on a story, you have to read EVERYTHING else that has ever come out on that topic before. I have also heard of Columbia grads writing -- and winning school awards for -- stories about crimes that happened years ago, with no new news hook. That's a good writing and reporting exercise, but it won't get you very far in the real world. Editors want always want to know, "What's new? Why do I care about this now?" Maybe they teach you that on Day 1 at Columbia and this is a big "duh" for you, but this is just what I've seen.

Anonymous said...

... and one other thing: consider taking on a part-time or full-time internship. Even if it pays $10 an hour, that's better than $0. And, to be honest, it may be worth it even if it's unpaid. I know you've already done internships, but you may have to do one more. It's a lot easier to get a job if you can say you're currently working somewhere already, even if you're a lowly intern. Plus, many publications hire their interns eventually; we've recently hired two.