Archives for category: Print Journalism

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 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 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 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

Advice from Calyn Shaw

The best journalists uncover a fact, or set of facts, someone is trying to keep from the public. Often your digging is going to meet some resistance. The challenge is to marshal as much evidence as possible and make your story airtight. Don’t give anyone a foothold to discredit your story or attack you. Don’t make even the smallest factual error. This may seem straightforward, but you would be surprised how a seemingly innocuous error can discredit your whole story.

When dealing with government sources you have to be willing to be a huge pain in the backside, but you have to do it without being adversarial. Most government employees receive extensive media training, which teaches them to give you as little information as possible. They are not employed to make your job easy. Don’t get frustrated when people don’t call you back or pass you on to yet another department, just keep following up.

Many sources are only going to give you the information they want you to have in order to spin you and your story. Do not become a propaganda tool. Always take the time to ask yourself, what is it they aren’t telling me? Be skeptical of everything you hear. The moment you start taking things at face value you should probably hang-up your notepad.

About Calyn

Advice from Leslie Young

Be interested in everything. As a journalist, particularly a young journalist, you will be covering stories on a huge variety of topics. In a single day, you may be interviewing a professor about their research into black holes, looking into municipal transit budgets and talking to an athlete about training for the luge. Your job is to make all these things interesting and relevant to your readers. The best way to accomplish this is to be genuinely interested yourself. Find that angle or meet that person who will make you care about whatever is going on. Your readers will care too.

Be curious. As you walk down the street, take note of things you see and try to figure out why they are the way they are. Ask questions about everything – and then go out and find the answers. Read everything you can, as much as you can.

Finally, never stop writing. I was told in journalism school that writing is the basis of the entire craft. My teachers were right. No matter what medium you work in, good writing will carry your story. It’s also very transferable – writing for radio for a year has made me a better print journalist as well.

About Leslie

Leslie Young

  • Name: Leslie Young
  • J-school: University of British Columbia
  • Current/Past employers: CBC Radio, OpenFile
  • Publications in which her work has appeared: Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, CBC Radio, OpenFile, PBS Frontline/World
  • Platforms she works in: radio, print, online
  • Website: leslieyoung.net
  • Twitter: @leslieyoung
  • Work samples:

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (Emmy award-winning documentary)
Ottawa methadone treatment options limited

Downtown shoppers paying a premium for groceries

Advice from Lauren Pelley

My advice is simple. Just love what you do. Take on more complicated stories than you think you can handle, try new things you haven’t done before, explore all areas of media from video to social media to beyond — and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Embrace every challenge thrown at you and learn how to be the best journalist you can be. And do it with integrity. But back to my first bit of advice — just loving the job. If you aren’t enjoying this field 110%, you’ll never be happy (since the pay is crap and it’s an uphill climb to get any decent jobs). So above all, find out if this is truly your passion… or just go into PR.

About Lauren

Lauren Pelley

  • Name: Lauren Pelley
  • J-school: Western
  • Current/Past employers: The Gazette, CHCH Television
  • Publications in which her work has appeared: See above
  • Platforms she works in: Print, web, broadcast
  • Website: LaurenPelley.com
  • Twitter: @LaurenatGazette
  • Sample work: The Dundas Dilemma

Advice from Arden Zwelling (served cold)

Journalism is far from a glamorous pursuit. If you want to be really good at it and make a living from it, you’re going to have to endure a lot. It’s not the ninth ring of Dante’s Inferno or anything. It’s just close. I want to make it clear this ain’t no walk in the park.

Are you ready to work for next-to-nothing for an extended period of time early in your career? Are you willing to pull the late nights (like 3 a.m. late), early mornings (like 6 a.m. early), working lunches (it’s okay to type with your mouth full) and dinners on the go (just don’t eat and drive) that are an ultimate byproduct of this pursuit? Are you prepared to make some drastic sacrifices in the amount of time you spend with your family and friends? Are you ready to pick up a large, complex story on a subject you likely don’t completely understand and turn it out in a well-researched, informative and balanced fashion within just a couple of hours? If you’re going to cut your teeth in hard news like I did, are you ready to deal with death, pain, anguish, evil, hate, injustices and inhumane crimes on a daily basis? Are you ready to be lied to, generally disliked and told you’re an idiot by a magnitude of people?

These are the questions you have to ask yourself. Journalism can be extraordinarily rewarding for those that are good at it. But it can be a real nightmare if you’re not aware of what you’re getting into. I don’t mean to take the cynical route with this thing. I just want to be honest.

Editor’s note: Arden’s entry is just about 4 pages long, and he asked me to select a portion to share. Instead, I’ve decided to give you the option of reading the full text version of his advice. Aspiring sports journalists, pay special attention.

About Arden

Arden Zwelling

  • Name: Arden Zwelling, 23, Toronto, ON
  • J-school: In final year of Media and Information at the University of Western Ontario
  • Current/Past employers: UWO Gazette (news writer, sports editor, associate editor), the Canadian Football League (staff writer, featured columnist), Major League Baseball (associate reporter), The Score (blogger, blog editor, web editor), Sports XPress (editor), CHRW 94.9 FM (radio host)
  • Publications: UWO Gazette, CFL.ca, MLB.com, thescore.com, Sports XPress
  • Platforms: Print, web, radio, television
  • Web: http://blogs.thescore.com/cis, http://wgaz.ca/zwellin, http://wgaz.ca/blogthevotewww.ardenzwelling.com
  • Twitter: @ArdenZwelling
  • Work samples:

Foster fights for a home in the Lion’s den
Brouillette lays down the law for AIs
Shelters remain overcapacity as temperature drops

Fournier falling his way in the pros

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