Top ten list of tips for journalism students

After sharing links to interesting articles and posting my thoughts on online journalism for a little while, I wanted to compile a “top 10” list of suggestions for journalism students. I actually thought of this idea the day before Howard Owens posted his objectives for today’s non-wired journalist, which reaffirmed my desire to do this.

This list couldn’t possibly include everything, but I know I would have certainly appreciated knowing several of the items as an incoming freshman. There is, of course, some overlap, but I tried to break it all down as best as possible.

Before I start, I’d like to emphasize something Rob Curley said in his remarks at ACP/CMA (thanks to Bryan Murley for the audio): “Mindset is important. Have the right mindset. … All that being said…it doesn’t hurt to have some skills.”

: I’m a student. I’ve never done hiring for a professional newspaper, Web site, TV or radio station. I don’t claim to be a long-bearded, learned scholar. I don’t have a Ph.D., a Master’s or even my Bachelor’s degree yet.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get a job or internship if you do the following. This is merely intended to be a compilation of what I’ve read and heard from others who have the qualifications to give such advice. So think of it as just me relaying research to you, one student to another.

Enjoy! (Be sure to comment at the bottom)

  1. Get Web savvy: But aren’t all young people already? Yes, in a sense. If you’re 18 to 20-something year-old student, you probably already use Facebook or MySpace, chat using an instant messenger, read news online, check a blog or two, use or edit a wiki somewhere, etc. Now take it a step further. Subscribe for e-mail news alerts and RSS feeds   make friends with Google Reader. Take advantage of what the Internet has to offer; it’s not just a series of tubes. Do you know what Digg,, Fickr and Twitter are? You don’t have to use them all, but you need to know what’s out there and be able to utilize new tools (many of which are free) at your fingertips to better do your job. I have mine linked on the right side of this blog.
  2. Read online journalism blogs: What are your peers doing? Ryan Sholin, Megan Taylor and Dave Lee are great destinations for students. What are professionals and professors discussing? Mindy McAdams, Mark Briggs, Paul Conley, Howard Owens, Jeff Jarvis, Rob Curley, Alfred Hermida, Bryan Murley, Paul Bradshaw, and others will give you an inside look. A good tip for expanding your blog horizons is to check out who is on the blogroll of your favorite bloggers.
  3. Start a blog: The next logical step. This could be on any topic you’re interested in, but be sure it’s something you’d be able to write about at least once a day. A blog is a great way to keep writing. Use images and hyperlinks. Be careful about the tone and content of the blog because it’s going to be part of your digital legacy, something future employer will see. You want to avoid being too opinionated about a subject you may one day cover, because it could create problems later. Also, avoid writing a rancorous partisan blog    that probably won’t help you either. Be professional, but have fun. Another note: use the blog to link to all your work online, a sort-of “quick clips” page you can e-mail to a recruiter or editor.
  4. Learn how to tell stories in more than one way: Journalism is essentially storytelling, so why not tell a story the best way(s) possible? Audio, video, photos, polls, interactive features and games can help. You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg behind the camera or have a voice like Don LaFontaine. You don’t have to be able to hack NORAD or reinvent Monopoly (no, I won’t link) for the Web. To be among the most viable candidates, based on what I’ve been told and read, you need to be able to capture, edit and upload content you captured with a camera, voice recorder and/or video camera. It’s really not that hard. Programming knowledge (HTML, CSS, etc.) is a plus, but not essential (yet?). Nevertheless, you should be able to work with programmers and online editors to tell a multimedia story. The best way to learn any skill is to do it yourself. If you’re waiting for someone to take your hand and lead you down the path of multimedia, it probably isn’t going to happen. Use online tutorials or courses. Practice. Learn from your mistakes. Practice some more. NOTE: As one of my professors, Chris Delboni, always says, “It’s not about technology!” She’s absolutely right. Technology doesn’t tell the story; it helps you tell the story. And technology changes. (Foreshadowing number 10…)
  5. Two important Web sites: Join LinkedIn: Like a Facebook for professionals, LinkedIn combines your resume with who know. It’s great way to keep in touch with reporters, editors and recruiters you’ve met. You can also link to your blog, school (insert medium here)’s Web site, a page with links to your work and links to your social networking sites. If you’re ever asked to e-mail a resume for a job or internship, be sure to include a link to your public LinkedIn profile  and a homepage, if you have one. Overall, this is just one more way to show your Web savvy and shape your digital legacy. Bookmark Poynter: Poynter Online should be at the center of your online journalism world. The site has articles on a variety of journalism topics, columns, NewsU training courses and will soon have social networking with the planned Poynter Online Groups. Jim Romanesko‘s blog on the media is a must-read. Any one who wants to go into journalism or who is in journalism should subscribe to Joe Grimm‘s “Ask the Recruiter” column, which runs Monday through Friday, and take a glance at Colleen Eddy‘s weekly “Colleen on Careers.” Put all these feeds into your reader. Another area is Career Center, where you can look for job opportunities, post your resume and get career advice.
  6. Are you experienced? Join campus media: This is an item that everyone should know, but for some reason people still don’t do it. Why? In the most simplistic way I can rephrase it: Recruiters are not going to select you for internships without some kind of previous experience in that field, and you need internships (note the plural) to get a job. Dabble in the various student media at your college or university. Find the one you like the most and focus on it, but don’t leave the others behind. Establish working relationships in the spirit of cooperation/convergence to better tell the story. You need to be familiar with other forms of storytelling (see number four). Gear it towards the Web (number one) and blog about it (number three). Look for off-campus opportunities: When I took Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman’s sports reporting class last spring, she told of how she, as a student journalist, would go through the UM team rosters and pitch features to a player’s hometown paper. Be entrepreneurial. You’re going to need clips, and simply working for a campus news outlet isn’t likely going to be enough, depending on where you apply. Try to string for your hometown or college town paper during the summer to get clips and quality experience. But when? Don’t wait until you’re a senior, or even a junior or a sophomore. If you can, try to do it before you even get to college; experience in high school helps with this. Once you’re in school, apply for multiple internships EVERY summer. Leave the comforts of a familiar setting if you can. The only way you have a chance anywhere is to apply. Interview as an underclassman, even as a graduating high school senior to help you evaluate where you are and where you need to be to get a position. This will also help you establish a relationship with a recruiter early on in the process.
  7. Utilize campus resources: Part I — Talk to older students: Who are the best professors? What should I being doing this semester, next semester, next summer, next year? Talk to your peers. Find a student mentor. Professors and deans make great mentors as well (see part II), but having a peer  someone who you can better identify with  guide you is a great asset. As a first semester freshman, I met a journalism/political science major who was two years older and offered a lot of great advice for both areas. Part II — Get to know your professors: Assistance can also come from professors, outside the classroom. Shocking, I know. You likely have access to a wealth of academic and professional knowledge in your journalism school or department  take advantage of this. I enjoy talking to my professors and, in the many countless hours I’ve spent chatting with them in their offices, I’ve received a great deal of help. Internship advice, information on upcoming classes, story ideas, study abroad opportunities and more. Where should you look to intern and/or freelance? Networking is huge (i.e. LinkedIn and next item) and professors are probably some of your best connections to newspapers, TV, radio and online news sites. Even if they didn’t work at whatever organization you want to go to, they might know someone who does.
  8. Network: Meet people. This is an essential part of your job as journalist. If you can’t network with students, journalists, professors, reporters, editors and recruiters, what does that say about you’re ability to connect with readers/viewers and maintain good contact with sources? This overlaps with the previous two items, but networking warrants its own segment. Networking will help you do your job better, as well as get a job or internship. You’re much more likely to get a position you want if you know someone at the paper. The best references are people who the recruiter or editor knows and trusts, or those who have a well-known reputation. But how? Go to job fairs and conferences. Comment on blogs and articles. E-mail your favorite writers and reporters.
  9. Know the business: Subscribing to Romenesko (part of number five) will help you keep up with the industry in which you hope to work. Another great way to do so is by reading Editor & Publisher. If you can have a conversation with a recruiter or editor about the current state of the news business it will show two things: 1) You’re passionate about the profession and 2) You’re not just another green college student  you comprehend the world you want to get into, its harsh realities and why people are both optimistic and pessimistic. Reading blogs (item two) and talking with professionals (item eight) will help you to do this.
  10. Be able to evolve and have an open mind: Above all, you must be able to adapt to the changing world of journalism. Evolving is at the heart of numbers one through five. This concept also involves having an open mind, as Curley and others note. Similarly important is being entrepreneurial (six) and being able to do it yourself (four). Being spoon-fed ain’t gonna happen, folks. You need to take the initiative to learn on your own. A Jan. 9 post by Paul Conley triggered a wide-spread discussion about training and adapting. While I don’t think that train has left the station (sorry for the horrible pun), training should not be a crutch. Training should be supplement, a way to learn new tips and tricks. (Insert “old dog” cliche here).

Weigh in: Did you find this list useful? What would you add or remove? I will take into consideration suggestions and recommendations for adjusting this list.

Past posts with tips:
Trying to ‘survive and thrive’ in journalism (Dec. 15, 2007)
Talking dirty diapers (Dec. 17, 2007)
Poynting out one’s online identity (Dec. 27, 2007)
Non-wired journalists and non-wired cameras (Dec. 30, 2007)
Links about journalism education (Jan. 6, 2008)
Bloggers’ thoughts that student journalists should heed (Jan. 11, 2008)
More words of wisdom from journo-bloggers (Jan. 15, 2008)

46 thoughts on “Top ten list of tips for journalism students”

  1. Great post. I totally agree with all of your points. The only thing I am not sure about: “Get Web savvy: But aren’t all young people already? Yes, in a sense.” Surprisingly, a lot of the young students that come to work on our school paper are not Web savvy. Sure they use e-mail and Facebook, but they are afraid of online journalism.

    I especially agree with your point of learning how to tell stories in more than one way. That is the key to success online.

    Anyway, I am going to try and pass your post around our newsroom. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. Hi Kyle, thanks for the feedback. The same is very true here at UM.

    Afraid is a good word because people fear what they don’t understand. We have so many students who are stuck in the traditional “print journalism” mindset and don’t appreciate online journalism.

    Thanks for passing the list around your newsroom. Please ask them to weigh in as well, I really want to get a discussion going among students on this subject.

  3. I agree with you guys. Here at the University of Missouri, I’m surprised how many of my peers tell me: “I just want to be a newspaper reporter. I want nothing to do with this online stuff.”

    They’re convinced there will still be a job for them. That’s probably true for when they graduate in 4 months, but I’m not so sure about 10 years from now. But if I say that, I become an obnoxious tech evangelist.

  4. Some great points there, but one question: while the student is doing that (before graduation) when are they going to take classes and stufy. Post-graduation when are they going to go and get the stories? There’s an awful lot of demands on people there while forgetting the key component – go get the damn stories before everyone else and get it better than anyone else will.

  5. Good point Craig. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of stuff there is to do out there in the digital world. I sign up for sites and then never have time to follow up on them. I have a blogroll full of blogs I never take the time to read. Heck, I can’t even find time to update mine. Meanwhile, I’m a student, I’m a managing editor, and I have no life.
    Something wonderful happened over break. I was visiting my grandfather for 3 days and therefore offline: I read a whole book in that time!

  6. @Isabelle: Amen for newsroom evangelists.

    @Craig: Great points. That’s why I called these tips. I don’t have the authority to say, “You must do this to get a job.” I’m a student too.

    I’m just trying to pass along various tidbits of advice I’ve heard repeatedly since high school, and I’m still working on most of these myself. If someone wants to do all 10, they should take a gradual approach. This kind of advice doesn’t become irrelevant once you graduate, you can (and should) continue once you get into the professional world.

    Ideally younger students will read this and be able to pace themselves they can be as prepared and viable candidates as possible.

    I completely agree regarding be able to get the story, that’s a definite must and ties into a number of the tips (networking, multimedia, etc).

    Great comments all around. Thanks to everyone who has weighed in so far! Please encourage your friends to add their thoughts.

  7. Excellent advice Greg. I do some journalism teaching in the UK, as well as my ongoing freelance work, and all of these tips are very relevant.

    One thing I would say is that starting a blog is one thing, but keeping it going is another. It is a requirement of my students that they keep a blog, but so many of them only update as part of a class, or when reminded to do so by a tutor.

    But I always stress the importance of keeping a blog going for the long term. If you can keep a blog going for a year or more, with constant, regular updates, it not only shows your ability to meet your own deadlines, and to keep coming up with material, but it also helps a lot to hone your craft.

    Sacrifice a few hours a week to keep your online presence going, and it makes an excellent calling card to show to potential employers.

  8. Thank you for all of the tips. They are overwhelming to a Journalism student, but this is industry is overwheming and we better all be prepared for it! I am currently struggling to come up with a blog topic. Any advice on that?

  9. I’m looking into a career in newspaper journalism and this source has helped to know what to do and where to go next. Thanks =]

  10. Networking is vital to the success of journalism in todays fast pace environment. Especially with online marketing/journalism, sites like linkedin, monster, twitter, and even facebook has revolutionized the way we think of journalism today. Thousands of people can get their opinion out to the public in a matter of seconds.

    You never know who is reading your material. Online networking is the way to get yourself recognized.

  11. thanks for your advice ,as a journalism student i will try and create my own blong although this will be difficult becouse i dont have a computer or a smart phone to keep me connected ,however i will try my best on becoming one of the best journilist in south africa. from Rosebank college student . Durban campus

  12. hey thanx i really think that ur tips would prove to be helpful for me.. actually im still a school student but trying to strengthen my skills in journalism.. i think my interest is really interesting yeah!!!.. well!! many things were not clear to me may be bcoz i’ve not yet reached to that level.. even though thnx a lot.. i wish u could help me further.. byeeee

  13. I’m 16 and completely love journalism but I have no idea on how to necessarily get involved so I can be excepted in many schools for the major. Any ideas?!

  14. Thanks for all of the tips. i am a pursuing my masters in journalism and i am sure that these points will help me in my future.

  15. Thank you for this excellent list.

    I’m doing my Bachelor’s in Journalism as well and I live in Dubai. It’s a thriving media community but I feel like there’s so much uncertainty in terms of journalists to look out for, networking events and opportunities for freshers (i.e. most papers aren’t welcoming to fresh graduates and just usually hire the old crowd of journalists they’ve had since the 80s). Perhaps because it’s still new and it’s still trying to grow? What do you suppose? What do you think of graduates fresh out of college (here)?

    Ah, I don’t know, anyways, I think list will really help, thanks so much. My window is filled with tabs of the links you’ve given. ;)

  16. Thank you so much for these wonderful tips! I just changed my major to journalism from theater, and to say I’m a little overwhelmed is an understatement! I will definitely take these suggestions to heart and I appreciate you taking the time to put them up. :)



  17. Thank you, Greg, for this excellent advice. I’m 15 and currently a sophomore in high school, but I’ve had a love for journalism for as long as I can remember. I’m doing as much writing, especially on blogs, as I can now, but when would you suggest to begin applying for internships (and where)? Thank you.

    1. Hi, Harrison. Glad you found it helpful! Does your high school have a newspaper? Besides that, I would start contacting news sites or blogs that cover topics you’re interested in or writers who you like. Try to start a relationship, ask for feedback and see if they need contributors/freelancers. Some newspapers offer internships for high school students, but most are only available for college students. If interning isn’t possible for whatever reason, freelancing is definitely a good way to start. Let me know if you have any more questions! My email is greglinch [at] gmail [dot] com.

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