Image by Mike Bailey-Gates on Flickr (creative commons)

It’s an interesting time to get into journalism. (Yes, we’ll go with interesting.) No one knows this better than new journalists making their way into the field. This site is a collection of their hard-earned lessons, compiled by Fabiola Carletti. Enjoy!

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Advice from Alexandra Posadzki

The piece of advice that helped me land my first big break came from an unexpected source.

I was just finishing up my third year of psychology studies at York University and had just gotten hired as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, Excalibur. My business manager — someone who has never worked in journalism apart from running the finances and advertising of a campus rag — told me that I would never get a job if I was just a sheet of paper covered in type in a giant, toppling stack of resumes. I took his words to heart.

In an effort to create more networking opportunities for myself and my peers, I reached out to several media organizations in the Toronto area in the hopes of fostering some sort of mentorship. In the process, I met Roger Gillespie, the editor tasked with hiring interns at the Toronto Star. Next thing I know, I had landed an eight-month gig in the Star’s radio room.

Not a glamorous job, exactly, but not bad for a psych major with nothing more than a couple dozen articles in the student press under her belt.

Alex’s twitpic of a burning police cruiser garnered more than 15,000 views on her first day of a CUP intership.

In my opinion, there are three things necessary to succeed in journalism:

  1. Skill
  2. Persistence
  3. Luck
The first two things you can control. The third you can’t. But all three are crucial — here’s why:

You need to keep persistently trying in the face of one devastating failure after another until a bit of luck comes along. And you need to have the skills to succeed — scratch that, excel — when that moment comes along.

Below are a couple of tips that have helped me land not one but two miraculous big breaks (this past January, just months after my September graduation, I got my first job as a general assignment reporter — at the Canadian Press!).

1. Do the prep work

Preparing your an internship application starts NOW. Don’t think that you can pull together a solid cover letter, resume and portfolio in a week. The portfolio part is especially tricky. When I set my eyes on a particular gig I’d love to land, I often spend months in advance pitching and writing stories to make sure I have the kind of clippings that the employer would most value.

I applied for the radio room gig three times before I landed it. The final time I spent months putting together a portfolio of solid news clippings, drilling the one girl I knew who had worked in “the box” for advice and vying for a face-to-face with the hiring editor. It paid off.

2. Make sure your application is perfect

Your cover letter should open with an anecdote that’s so tight and loaded with action words that it would make any editor cream his or her pants. The anecdote must, of course, be about a significant piece of journalism you have done; something that showcases your quick thinking, your ingenious sourcing skills or your creativity — and makes good story.

All of your clippings must be neat and tidy; I like to photocopy mine on semi-glossy paper and in colour, even if the clippings are black and white. It just looks nicer and shows you really tried.

There cannot be so much as one comma out of place in your cover letter or resume. Have three copy editor friends proofread both documents to be sure. And make sure that your application adheres closely to the style guide that the publication uses (for instance, Canadian Press style) — especially if you’re boasting in your resume that you’re proficient in CP style.

3. Bring your A-game to the interview

Over-prepare for your interview, but be ready to ditch your notes and just talk; it comes off a lot more natural. If you can put your interviewer at ease and get him or her talking, that’s a huge bonus. It will not only foster a more genuine connection with the person deciding whether you’re a good addition to their team, but it also showcases your interviewing skills. After all, getting people to open up is an important skill in this industry.

Make sure you come prepared with at least three solid story pitches that you could write on your first day. They should be stories that are unique and compelling but that wouldn’t be out of place in the publication you’re applying to.

It’s not a bad idea to rehearse the interview with a friend or a mentor. Practice answering questions like “Out of all of the candidates, why should I choose you?” Be prepared to discuss your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what type of reporting you’d like to be doing five or 10 years from now. Your future employer wants to know that you’re someone with goals and a vision.

About Alex

Advice from Gerald Deo

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Your camera doesn’t matter.

This is maybe the most ridiculous thing to say when you’re writing a blog post about how to pick the right camera, but it’s also arguably the most important and I wouldn’t want to be accused of burying a lede.

As imaging hardware gets better, more and more of it crosses the “good enough” threshold for the needs of web, print, and multimedia journalism. The third-place story in the Pictures of the Year International competition was shot on an iPhone, using a free app called Hipstamatic.

That said, here’s what to look for in a camera: it needs to fit your hands, your needs, and your budget.

If it’s too heavy, an awkward shape, or has terrible ergonomics, it’s no good for your hands; you’ll never use it. If you require a discreet camera, or a sturdy one, or one with unusual features to fit your workflow (3D? High-def video? Waterproofing?), make sure the gear you choose includes said features; if the camera doesn’t fit your needs, you’ll never take it with you. If it doesn’t fit your budget, you’ll never buy it, and you can’t take pictures with a camera you don’t have.

There’s no one camera that suits everybody.

(Or we’d all have it, and this sort of post would be more moot and less frequent,) so make use of your resources when it does come time to pick one.

Professional and user reviews can reveal a lot about a camera, and hands-on time is absolutely necessary, even with a dummy body tethered to a post; buying a camera without picking it up and holding it to your eye is one of the greater disservices you can do yourself when camera shopping. Consider your habits (good and bad), and where possible, account for the growing you’ll do as a photographer and get a camera with some level of manual control (if not a full-blown manual mode.)

Don’t relax, just yet.

You’ve got a camera, but that doesn’t mean you know how to use it.

This seems crazy, but bear with me: if you have your eye up to an eyepiece as you follow a scene and need to change a setting on top of the camera, what do you do? Breaking concentration could lose you a shot, and shooting with the wrong settings could let you get a shot, but not the one you needed.

Learn to make the changes you’ll need without having to reorient the camera or break your concentration on a subject — or get used to losing a lot of the shots you wanted (and, in all likelihood, the respect of your editors.)

Once you get the hang of using the camera without looking at it, tweak the settings until it feels right. After all, it’s nobody’s camera but yours, so adjust it until you’re comfortable. Just like the hardware needs to fit in your hands with minimal discomfort, changing settings lets software go from “this camera I bought” to “this camera of mine,” and again: if you’re not going to use the camera because you don’t like the way it works, then you’re not going to get the shots you need/want.

Don’t let your camera make all the decisions.

Now that you can work it without looking, and the settings are to your liking, let’s make things a little more challenging. It’s easy to knock the camera into full-auto mode, and let it make decisions about how the light and dark parts of a scene should balance out, and what tint there might be on the lights inside the photo, and what should be in or out of focus.

It’s hard to make those decisions, and also challenging to figure out what changes to make to settings in order to ensure that what you want to happen is actually what’s going to happen. But as you get more comfortable doing adjusting your settings, you’re taking more control of how your shots turn out. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for automatic modes, or those hybrid settings that allow you to control one variable while choosing the others algorithmically; just that you should be able to get by without them in order to get the most out of them.

It gets easier with time and perseverance.

So now what? You’ve got a camera and a little knowledge on how to use it, (which is more dangerous than none, proverbially,) and to increase that comfort and depth of knowledge, there are three things you can do.

Queue up as many feeds as you can stand from people whose output you enjoy

These people aren’t necessarily photographers but also writers, journalists, scientists, and whoever else tickles your fancy. Read books, RSS feeds, and Twitter output with equal voracity. Deepen your perspectives and learn to see the same scene in multiple ways, and then to apply seeing the scene into portraying the same scene in different ways. Being well-rounded also gives you a foundation to build a rapport with subjects and there’s no harm in that; it could lead to a show-stopper of a shot, or to even more.

More likely, though, especially as you’re starting out, is that you’ll botch a lot of shots. This will lead to an editing process akin to pulling diamonds from the earth.  Although the shots may not work for the assignment you’re on, figuring out where the gap between intention and execution lay can help you get the shots you actually want in the future.

Whether the feedback is good or bad, you want it to be specific.

Now that you’re taking photos (and hopefully the ones you want) the next step is to get feedback to make your photos better. One of the best practices I’ve picked up about feedback (on photos but also on pretty much everything) is to ask for specifics, whether the feedback is positive or negative. Specific feedback lets the recipient know exactly what they’re doing well or need to work on. And when you’re giving pointers to another photographer, be careful to focus on the effect, because you’re doing this to help them get better and burning bridges by insulting someone is going to be harmful to you both in the long run. Take the feedback you receive, and incorporate it into your self-knowledge and workflows, but don’t be ruled by it.

That was a lot, given that this was originally a short post about picking cameras, but there you have it.

Remember: don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just be sure to make interesting ones.”

About Gerald

Gerald Deo

  • Name: Gerald Deo  (a.k.a. “Man with Camera)
  • J-school: none.
  • Publications: the Ubyssey, Discorder, Exclaim!, Canadian Immigrant, ricepaper.
  • Platforms: @heeeraldo on twitter (and tumblr but that’s not for work.)
  • Website and sample work: giant-squid.ca

Advice from Madeleine White

Whether you like it or not, selling yourself is a part of journalism. The art of freelancing is not that dissimilar to the art of selling shoes. You have to convince your customer (in this case an editor) that you’re knowledgeable about the product that you’re pitching, and that it’s good.

It’s been my experience that many journalists hate to talk about themselves, let alone their strengths. The good news is that a well-written pitch can let your work do most of the talking, but you also have be prepared to back it with some ego and expertise. To help build your confidence, here are five strategic points to consider when you’re putting a pitch together.

1) Do your research first.

Figure out which section of the website/paper your story would go in and then find out who is the editor. This may require that you make a phone call or two. Once you’ve found the decision-making editor, get their business email address and phone number.

2) Keep it short.

These section editors are usually incredibly busy people, assigning their own staff to stories, managing freelancers and working under constant pressure to produce award-winning journalism. Do not send them a pitch that is over 250 words long. They won’t read it.

Things to include in your pitch email are:

  • the nut graf of your piece (this gives the editor a sense of your writing style as well as the essence and importance of your story)
  • a brief (one, two sentences maximum) reason why you are the best person to write this piece (do you have an inside edge? are you more knowledgeable than others on the topic?)
  • the time line of your piece (is it embargoed news? can you have it done in less than a day?)

3) Give enough detail to intrigue the editor but don’t ruin the surprise.

A major fear with pitching is that the editor will take your idea and assign it to one of their reporters. There is no way to prevent this from happening, but one way to decrease the chance is to give only a bit of the story. Choose one tantalizing detail. But that’s it. You can also be a little coy and suggest there is more where that came from but make sure there is. There is nothing worse than a pitch tease.

4) Don’t expect to make riches at first.

Different sections pay different amounts for the a story of the same length, so try to freelance for different editors. But don’t balk at an offer. As a young journalist you need the clippings more than you need the money. Shitty medicine, but something we all have to swallow.

5) If someone takes you up on your pitch, work your ass off.

A big factor in freelancing is your reputation. As a rookie freelancer, you need to prove that you can develop your pitch into an engaging, well-written story on time. No pressure, right? Good work will help solidify professional relationships and once you’ve been published by an editor it’s a lot easier to go back and get published again.

Remember to keep trying if your first pitch isn’t successful. Like anything in journalism, it can be hard but it’s totally worth it when you do succeed.

Happy freelancing!

About Madeleine

    Madeleine White

  • J-school: MJ at Ryerson University, undergrad in Women’s Studies, Political Science and Zoology at UofT
  • Publications: Toronto Star
  • Platforms: web, print, video
  • Twitter: @mjwhite27
  • Most notorious piece of work: Why I look good naked
  • Previous incarnations: Political staffer from 2006 to 2009, Running Room manager

Advice from Sachin Seth

Internships are the key to the industry. If you want to make serious connections in the field, the best way is by completing as many internships during your university career as you can.

I got really, really lucky. I scored two really great internships in 2010, one at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, and the second at the CBC’s foreign bureau in London, England.

It was a great opportunity for me to see the contrast between two of the biggest journalism organizations in North America.

I learned a lot, but there was one thing I learned that made me especially happy. If you’re a visible minority (I’m South Asian) don’t pay attention to the stats that tell you that you have a less of a chance of making it big. In a world that’s this globalized,  journalists of diverse backgrounds are gaining a lot of support from upper management in big organizations, so the shift in employment is in your favour.

Since finishing the pair of internships, I’m frequently asked two questions:

Question One: “what does a correspondent actually do on a daily basis?”

Sachin worked with CBC correspondent Susan Ormiston (pictured) in London

Last fall, I got the incredible opportunity with the CBC’s new London correspondent Susan Ormiston for six weeks. The London bureau was really small (about 11 full-time staff) and the place gets pretty hectic on filing days.

For example, when Susan had to file a story on the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement, we were out all-day shooting visuals, interviews by Buckingham Palace, and doing live hits with the studio back in Toronto. Susan was writing her script for the final piece while out in the field, and when we got back in the evening, she voiced it and oversaw the editing process through until the end (which wrapped up around midnight or 1 a.m). That was a 14-hour day.

The days can be long and jam-packed, but really, the work is incredibly fun and there is very little repetition. You come into work with something new to do everyday, and that’s one of the joys and main attractions of the field.

In short, a correspondent may not have the same thing to do on a regular basis. Depending on his or her position, he or she may or may not file everyday. On non-filing days, the correspondent usually works on future stories, by researching and doing pre-interviews with future subjects. Their interns or assistants help with streeters*, doing pre-interviews, researching and, on occasion, writing.

_________________________________________
*streeters: non-gender-specific version of what used to be called the man-in-the-street interview. “Go out and shoot some streeters on gas prices.” Also known as voxpops (Latin: vox populi, voice of the people).
_________________________________________


Question Two: “What does an anchor do all day before going on-air?”

Sachin worked with CNN's Don Lemon (pictured) in Atlanta

Before my internship in London, I was at CNN in Atlanta for 9 weeks, working almost 60 hours a week. I worked, for the most part, on a specific show called “CNN Newsroom with Don Lemon.” I got to see first-hand what a national anchor does every day, and how crucial his supporting cast is to the successful execution of the show.

Don, like most anchors, does not write his full script (that would be impossible, especially for shows that go on for one or two hours). He did however write the tease* for every show, and read over his scripts several times before going on-air, just to make sure he was familiar with the material.

He also made executive decisions on which stories to include and not include, and was heavily involved in story meetings on the two days leading up to his weekend shows, as well as on the day of the shows.

Don did a number of live interviews on his shows as well, many times with questions that were written for him but that included a lot of his own input. Of course, the live follow–up questions were his responsibility.

Being a correspondent/anchor/reporter/any type of journalist is really hard work. As you’ve probably have heard a thousand times already, the hours are horrendous, the pay is usually pretty sub-par, the work is stressful and can be depressing. But the type of people who work in the industry are probably the kindest and funniest people you’ll ever meet. The people who practice journalism do it for the love of the work, and because they feel a responsibility to educate others on subjects that they care about.

If you feel the same way, then you’re in the right field.

_________________________________________
*tease: a promo which doesn’t give away the kernel of the story. “This man has committed no crime, but he’s wanted across Canada. We’ll have his story…later on the show.”
_________________________________________


About Sachin

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYH2_0UC%5D

Advice from Lily Boisson

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Maiko received bad news. An earthquake struck her home country of Japan.

Maiko is a J-school grad who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She couldn’t reach her family and she was worried. As soon as I found out I sent her a text saying, “I know how you feel.”

I know all about the initial panic—the mad dash to reach family members, the anxiety as images of destruction flash across the screen and the harrowing thought that loved ones might be hurt.

I lived through all those same emotions last year when my home country was stuck by a natural disaster. I was in Fredericton, where I live and study, when I heard the news that Port-au-Prince had been rattled by a strong earthquake.

As a Haitian-born Canadian and a journalist, I gained a different perspective on disaster stories and the people affected. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1)  Speaking to the media isn’t a priority for everyone

When I first heard about the earthquake, my immediate thoughts were with my family members. My father, aunts, uncles and cousins all live in Haiti. It was two hours before I could reach my family. Those two hours were the darkest hours of my life.

It wasn’t until after I heard from my dad that I even considered doing interviews with local media and writing about the earthquake.

When trying to reach a source for a comment or an interview keep in mind that talking to the media may not be their first priority. That being said, many people will be eager to talk to the media and bring attention to their situation.

2)  Don’t let the disaster define the people affected

There are many dimensions to every culture; don’t let your subject be defined by the disaster. We are all too familiar with images of devastation and strife on the news. Unfortunately, these images can come to over-represent an affected area.

When I spoke about Haiti after the earthquake I soon became aware that many people were associating my home country with poverty, devastation and death. I tried to balance this by telling them about all the wonderful things Haiti has to offer.

On the ground in Haiti many reporters covered religious services after the quake. In Haiti these ceremonies are accompanied by singing, dancing and impassioned sermons. This was a good way to showcase Haitian culture and tell the story of a grieving population.

3) Be compassionate, be human

While people shouldn’t be defined by their suffering, the gravity of their situation should not be downplayed either. Journalists on the scene in Haiti were overwhelmed with the suffering they saw around them, but they managed to produce some excellent work.

CBC journalist Paul Hunter’s story about a makeshift hospital is a good example of this. Hunter, doesn’t mince words about the dire conditions at the hospital. During his stand up he draws attention to the cries of a young girl receiving treatment.

4) Stick with it – cover the recovery

Any good journalist should always be thinking of follow-up stories. Natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis are just the beginning. In Haiti, a Cholera epidemic followed. In Japan it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster.

The effects of the earthquake are still palpable in Haiti’s capital. In fact, tent cities once thought of as a temporary solution for the newly homeless, are now being considered permanent settlements.

Often the most captivating stories happen after the initial disaster. Stick around, there will be more stories to tell.

About Lily

Advice from Adam Avrashi

Broadcasting is very technical and, popular belief aside, it’s not about shoving a microphone in someone’s face and hoping for the best. It requires a lot of preparation: know what questions you want to ask, know what sound you will need for your report and be prepared for difficulties.

Questions should be specific ( because a microphone just incites most people to just blather on) and you need to be very attentive. Also, as an interviewer, speak as little as possible. You should be listening to what your interviewee is saying and be prepared to ask a follow-up question based on that.

1) Your story is too long

You should know what clips you want to use for a report before you get into the editing booth. Know your material, and the piece edits itself.

In my experience, the best editors aren’t the ones who know how to create cool effects. They are the ones who insist you cut down your story. And trust me: your story is too long. It always is.

It took me a while to realize this, but the audience has a short attention span, and no matter how much you like a particular clip or sequence, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to tell, take it out.

Broadcasting is not about quantity but about quality. If you’re story is two and a half minutes long, try cutting it down to one minute 45. Chances are you are saying something superfluous or belabouring a point, and your audience will definitely appreciate a more concise piece.

2) You don’t have to have a “voice for radio”

I don’t have a God-given voice for radio. And yes, some people just do have that booming presence. I’ve worked with and gone to school with a handful of them. But having a booming voice isn’t really that important, but sounding authoritative and interesting is.

If you are like me, and just have a normal speaking voice, there are a couple of things you can do to try and improve your on-air delivery.

First off, record yourself having a regular conversation, just on the phone with someone or speaking with a friend in person. Then listen to it. Chances are, you will be very surprised with what you hear. We are used to hearing our voice in our own head, so having our actual voice played back is a strange phenomenon.

Once that’s done, try recording yourself reading some news copy (don’t just read an article online—go ahead and actually write yourself some news copy. Remember, the shorter the sentences, the easier they are  to say). Now record yourself, with headphones in your ears to hear the resonance, reading the copy. Try to make your voice sound powerful, use pauses and try to alter the speaking tone and insert emotional flourish when appropriate—no newscast should be read with a monotone drone. Practice and repeat.

You know you have found your broadcasting voice when you can listen to yourself without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious. You should be able to listen to the piece and hear your story instead of your performance. Then you’ve got it.

3) Tips on hosting a radio show

I have hosted my own current affairs radio show for nearly two years on campus radio. If you are interested in broadcasting, this is some of the best practice you can get. Booking guests, preparing interviews, producing discussion topics and segments all take practice and it’s something you won’t learn in class.

I’ve interned in two different radio newsrooms and the equipment and the preparation process aren’t so different than working on campus radio.

My tip would be to over-prepare — know your topics and discussion points so well that when you go on air, you barely need any text in front of you. All you should have are facts or story details—you shouldn’t have everything you want to say written out or the show won’t feel organic and result in boring radio. And remember, radio is the theatre of the mind, so make sure you are descriptive and illustrative when recounting a story. Make your audience sees what you are talking about.

4) Where to get story ideas

Story ideas can come from anywhere: a newspaper article, a press release, something I overheard on the bus or a story my grandmother told me. But remember that not every story will be a good fit for every audience, so make sure you know who is listening to your show or report. Read newspapers and listen to radio, that is how you develop a good sense of an interesting story. But if you get a tip that excites you and you think would be of interest to others, it is worth exploring.

5) How to address controversial subjects

When talking about something that could be construed as controversial—religion, politics, sex, etc—don’t panic but bring your A-game. This is the type of show or report where you need to triple check your facts. Also, if you are concerned about saying something that may offend others, try picturing those people sitting in the radio booth beside you. Would they be offended? Do they have reason to be offended? Are you treating their point of view fairly?

As a show host, you have the right to say something controversial—it is stipulated under media law as fair comment—but it is important that the comment actually is fair and based on truth. A Muslim woman in Quebec refused to give a presentation in front of her class because she claimed it was against her religion. We covered this topic on my show, and it was important for me to express my point of view, but I imagined that the woman and her family were sitting next to me. It is easy to say something into an empty room with a microphone, and much more difficult to say the same things in person.

Final thoughts

Practice, practice, practice. If you can’t get your own show on community radio, make a podcast and put it online or play it for your friends and family. The more practice you get, the better you will become. And have fun.

About Adam

Introduction by Fabiola Carletti

I’m going to break from the usual format to introduce this next blog post. So far, we’ve been talking about good journalism, and some of our noblest principles.

Public relations or communications personnel have a different set of priorities. Their job is to protect the public image of the person or organization that employs them. They are trained to stay on message, and often to communicate strategically with the public through the filter of a journalist.

As you can imagine, the relationship between the two camps is complex.  Journalists often use pejorative idioms like “going to the dark side” and “crossing the floor” when a reporter decides to become a “flack” or a “spin doctor.” But there is an entire spectrum between the most virtuous journalist and the most manipulative propagandist. (I highly recommend Ira Basen’s six-part podcast “Spin Cycles” for a fair and principled assessment of the landscape.)

As an aspiring journalist, someone has probably told you to get into PR if you want something more stable. To help you think through the differences, we’re going to hear from a bright and talented young woman who launched her career in communications after having been trained as a journalist.

Karen Ho graduated from journalism school. She did three internships in three mediums. She attended workshops and conferences and networked with fellow reporters … but, after a dry spell, she got a communications job.

Before her first day, Karen blogged about securing work with the Communications and Public Affairs department at U of T Scarborough. She admitted:

“… part of me is a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I did it. I found a job that lets me write for a living, pays a decent wage, has reasonable hours, fantastic benefits and is close to home in a time when many people are still struggling to find jobs.

But I’m not a reporter, editor or photographer. I don’t work in a newsroom. And no one would classify the work I’m about to do as journalism.”

I caught up with Karen now that she’s been in her position for several months. She has agreed to share some of her experiences on the other side.

Advice from Karen Ho

My job is fast-paced and frenetic, as it is in a newsroom. I’m also lucky have an editor with 10 years of journalism experience who looks over all my pieces and corrects them for style and pacing.

The public relations part of my job involves finding interesting stories on campus and sending them to the people I think would be interested. Instead of articles, I write press releases. I still pitch to journalists, editors and producers, but I don’t get a byline when that story is picked up. My success is measured differently that way.

I still use lots of journalism techniques like adhering to Canadian Press style and the Headline-Information-Background-Outlook format. Sometimes I also write stories for the university’s website and e-Newsletter. These are my favourite things to do, as I get to interview and write like a reporter.

My job does entail promoting the university, so there are things I’m limited from writing about or commenting on. To me, working for a university is different than government or corporate work because I’m promoting a place of higher learning and research. I think if I was in a PR job focused on getting the word out about a product like credit cards or soft drinks, it would feel a lot more like “going to the dark side”.

The most striking difference between journalism and communications work is that I have to show a lot of my articles and press releases to my subjects before they’re sent out or posted online, mostly to ensure I’ve accurately written about the scientific research.

We’re not taught in journalism school how to write press releases or deal with media scrutiny after a negative event. We’re taught how to scrutinize PR spin and be the media scrutiny instead.

Journalists I’ve spoken to, who switched to public relations later in their careers, did it because their newsrooms were shrinking and they got tired of the instability of life in journalism.

I think it’s also about figuring out what you really want in life right now.

For me, the idea of a 9-5 job with benefits, vacation time and an educational subsidy was really appealing compared to a lot of the job prospects at the time I graduated, despite having few commitments. Other journalists might have just started families and the idea of not knowing when they could be home for their small children is no longer something they can do guilt-free.

I do plan to get back into journalism in the future, be it through freelancing for various publications or doing communications work for a journalism organization or switching back full-time. I think it’ll get more difficult the longer I stay in communications work, but for now I have a pretty good long-term strategy and it seems to be working.

I stay involved in the journalism community by going to events, conferences and chatting with journalists on a regular basis, taking classes to develop journalism-related skills and keeping up to date with industry news. (Twitter has been instrumental in staying connected to the journalism industry while working in PR. It’s a big part of how I’ve built my network and stayed in touch with peers, mentors and potential employers.)

I can’t really say how much the cultures differ, except that I’ve found communications work to be very focused on a specific message coming across to the public and journalism work more focused on providing information and context on a specific event, trend or issue. Ultimately, both are designed to provide information to the public.

Great journalism is just more likely to reveal the stuff people are uncomfortable with.

About Karen

    Karen Ho

  • Name: Karen Ho
  • J-school: University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College ’10
  • Current/Past Employers: Bank of Montreal, Xtra!, University of Toronto Scarborough
  • Publications: The Varsity, Xtra!, Snowboard Canada Magazine, The Agenda with Steve Paikin
  • Platforms: print, online
  • Twitter: @karenkho
  • Web:  karenho.ca

Advice from Alejandra (Alex) Hering

The internet and social media platforms have changed everything about the way we journalists do our jobs and how our boss’ boss makes money. As a result, today’s top editors are looking for journalists who can do it all, for less.

This is a massive opportunity. Take the time to understand how the web works, how users make money online, and how you can harness that into your next big break. For a competitive edge, you have to think bigger than print clippings in folders that you bring to interviews. The interview begins online when prospective employers and collaborators google you.

Here’s my guide to greeting them with a compelling online portfolio.

Step One: Write the content.

This is the most critical step in the process. Content is king and will drive the most visitors to your site. Journalism students should have the following pages:

Home – introduce yourself and talk about the purpose of the site (to inform prospective employers of how awesome you are, who you are and what you’ve done.)

Clips – this will be your most viewed page, so take the time to perfect it. FYI Every clip or every clip category (video work, print work, design work) needs a description of the circumstances when you created it (ex: written on 30 minute deadline, or 2 hours video editing total)

  • Post links to the PDF files of your stories or link directly to the news organization’s website. Another option for getting clips to your site is to sign up for a Scribd account. Scribd works the same any media uploading site does – you upload your jpegs or pdfs and you can embed the Scribd reader right into your site
  • Photographers: think about using a widget from Flickr to automatically slideshow your work on a blog page
  • Videographers/video journalists: your best packages should be on youtube/vimeo where you have the option of embedding them into a blog or website.

Resume – Highlight what you have done and where. Include links to the organizations you’ve worked with, longer descriptions of the work you did, and the awards you may have received for work you did. Remember that the web is immune to silly 8.5×11 inch dimensions so you can write in depth about the role.

Interests – Post a photo and a few graphs on an activity that keeps you sane. My interests page might seem a bit out of place but I love backpacking and I’d like a prospective employer to know I have a hobby. It may also be a conversation starter or the touch that makes you more memorable.

Contact – Link to social networks you belong to and think about having a professional facebook profile that doesn’t contain photos from last weekend. Provide your personal email address in case anyone has questions about the site content.The links I post and have good luck with are: linkedin, twitter (acts as both personal & professional), facebook (acts as both personal & professional), google public profile page, youtube (only professional) and/or vimeo. Things not to include on your contact page: myspace link, phone number or home address.

Step Two: Buy a domain and hosting

A domain is the URL of the site. Use your first and last name if you are a journalist (www.alexhering.com). Use a more jazzed up version of your name if you are a PR student (www.heyalex.com). Do not stray far from this formula. Remember to keep the domain short for twitter and business card’s sake.

Web hosting keeps your site and all the files associated with your site on the web for you. My advice is to use the same company for both domain and hosting. I went with doteasy.com for $25/year for the domain and basic hosting comes free with that purchase. They often have domain sales for as little as $4/year.

Step Three: Create a house for your content.

This can be done in several different ways. Sites like WordPress and Blogger offer the code and a management system. They are fully customizable and give you access to the page function that you need for the home, clips, resume, interests and contact pages.

If you wish to go the other route and code the site yourself, it would be best to enroll in a short web design class. I learned this art from Cindy Royal, a social media guru and professor at Texas State University who is getting recognition from professionals around the country for her course in social media and HTML coding. If you can’t get Cindy, follow her on twitter, it is well worth it.

The most important thing to remember about your website is that it is now your advertisement to the world and you should treat it the way you treat yourself – be aware of how it’s dressed, feed it with new content and show it off in every way you can.

Editors note: Alex’s website is, of course, very well done and reflective of her personality. For other great ideas, check out the sites of some other featured journalists: Jasmeet SidhuStuart Thompson, Chloe Fedio, Lucas Timmons.

About Alex

    Alejandra (Alex) Hering

  • Name: Alejandra/Alex/Ale/Al Hering
  • J-school: Texas State University – San Marcos, school of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Current/Past employers: MediaEDGE, Toronto Star, NBC, San Antonio Express-News, NOWCast San Antonio, Scripps Howard Foundation News Wire, Laredo Morning Times, The University Star and KTSW 89.9
  • Platforms: web, print and video
  • Twitter: @alexhering
  • Sample work: print, video and design work on my website.

Advice from Jasmeet Sidhu

The journalism business in Canada can be a tough nut to crack into, especially if you are not in a j-school (I went to the University of Toronto and did Peace and Conflict Studies). There are only a handful of internships at a handful of major newspapers, television outlets etc.

However, one way to really distinguish yourself, gain incredible skills in reporting, and really add a completely unique perspective to your writing and the way you look at issues, is to carve out your own opportunities around the world.

In the summer after my second year at University, I joined one of my professors on a research trip to Namibia in sub-Saharan Africa. One day I took the afternoon off from transcribing interview notes, and asked a taxi man to drop me off at the offices of the Namibian, the country’s national newspaper. I waited 30 minutes for the news editor to come back from lunch, and in 30 seconds I explained to him what I’m all about: Canadian, here for a research trip for 3 months, would love to write, here are three ideas. He said yes, and I began to write for the paper. It was an incredible experience to learn how a newspaper operates on another continent, and an incredible way to really learn about issues in the country that I was calling home for the summer.

This became my M.O. – hijacking study/volunteer abroad opportunities to fulfill and explore my skills as a journalist (I’ve done the same when I went to Poland, Denmark, Malaysia and Indonesia). And if you decide to pursue journalism full-time back in Canada, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with global experience, and clippings from all over the world.

Editor’s note: Check out Jasmeet’s impressive accolades! She earned it all without having gone to J-school.

About Jasmeet

    Jasmeet Sidhu

  • J-school: None. Liberal arts all the way!
  • Publications: Toronto Star, Huffington Post
  • Platforms: web, print, video
  • Blog: jasmeetsidhu.com
  • Twitter: @jasmeetsidhu
  • Link to a good sample of your work: Climate change blog I started and ran from 2008-2010. I traveled to Poland and Denmark for the UN Climate Change conference reporting for the blog: http://thestar.blogs.com/climate

 

During the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Jasmeet interviewed NDP leader Jack Layton (December 2009). Watch her in action:

Advice from William Wolfe-Wylie

There are so many ways to succeed in journalism, it’s impossible to count them. What’s important to realize is that everyone must forge their own path based on their own passions, ambitions, loves and fears. The admirable list of bright young minds that Fabiola Carletti has compiled on this site is a testament the diversity of our chosen profession.

Sarah Millar is one of the most driven young journalists I know. Every piece of work she does, every decision she makes, every interview she conducts is of the highest professional standard she is capable of producing, and geared toward making herself a better journalist. She is a professional and her path to success reflects that: strong decisions, unparalleled drive and a head for learning on the fly.

Erin Millar, on the other hand, hates the idea of working 9-5 hours. She’s a musician, a bit of a hippy, loves to travel and has more ideas pouring out of her brilliant mind that anyone could collect. Her drive to become one of Canada’s top young professional freelancers is an evolution from these personal traits. Her desire to make her name, to achieve the highest professional standard, drove her to write her book and write for magazines most journalists don’t breach until they’re 15 years older than she.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey is smart and refuses to accept that there’s any such thing as bad news. I’ve never met a man more persistent, more optimistic and always able to work with a smile on his face. His work with OpenFile was a direct result of his community engagement, incredible knowledge of local issues, and desire to tell the stories of the everyday person. Nick loves, and it’s love that drives him forward.

Since 2003, I have been volunteering at conferences for the Canadian University Press, helping young people get their foot in the door. I offer one-on-one writing critiques to help them improve their craft and also help them to find freelance work when I think they’re ready for it. There are a few people I’m keeping my eye on to see how they develop professionally, some even at UBC right now. None of them mirror the images of the bright young people on this website. They are each forging their own paths, according to their own talents and passions.

Over the past seven years, “how do I make it in journalism” has been the second most common question that students I’ve worked with have asked. The most common is “how do I get better at my craft.” That, to me, is more telling than anything. So as you flow through this page, take every piece of advice you agree with, and disregard every piece you don’t. Filter everything through yourself. Spend some time being introspective, as terrifying a prospect as that can be. Figure out what drives you, what you love, and pursue those passions. Make friends, whether for networking or to share war stories. Call on them when times get rough, because they will. Pick yourself up when you fall, because you will. Never stop reading. Never stop paying attention. Love what you do, and if ever you stop loving it, have the courage to change it, because you’ll want to.

This is an enormously competitive and changing industry, but there is room for everyone who works hard.

Work hard.

About William

William Wolfe-Wylie

  • Name: William Wolfe-Wylie
  • J-school: None. B.A. in History from Mount Allison University
  • Current/Past employers: Current: Quebecor
  • Publications: Each of QMI Agency/Sun Media’s 200+ newspapers, Rabble.ca, Via Rail’s travel magazine, others.
  • Platforms: Print/online
  • Twitter: @wolfewylie
  • Sample work:

Laser attacks on planes on the rise
Social Networking and Gender Categories

Fair Trade Jewlery May Have Bright Future

Eyes on the Prize

Dungeons and Dragons banned from U.S. prisons

Remembrance Day hits home

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