5 things I told a classroom full of journalism students yesterday

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There are at least five big things I’ve learned about reporting for a living over the past few years since graduating college and some stories to back it up.

That amounted to my half hour talk and Q&A period with a classroom of students at my alma mater Temple University in the PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com capstone on Monday. I called myself the ghost of the near future — having graduated in 2008.

  1. You need to build your own thing – Build a niche site or a place online to contribute to conversation, for a starting job like me or just for awareness when applying for gigs. Today, students can build out their own résumé to get that 2-3 years experience like never before. A few newspaper clips just show you haven’t thought through the future.
  2. You need to know how your industry makes money — You have no excuse to be ignorant and it can keep you from succeeding. What industry are you in? Not news, but rather advertising, events or marketing, with reporting tied to it. Journalism isn’t dying, newspapers are dying and they have always done the most, best journalism. That’s OK, many people are working on solving this with new business models. Read Nieman Journalism Lab, paidContent or the like. You won’t all do sales, but you need to know how it works if you want to be part of an organization that survives.
  3. You should understand how many new organizations are doing reporting work — You might get deep reporting work with a foundation, nonprofit or think tank. Maybe a for-profit company wants to grow its awareness. Journalism jobs posting sites are starting to have these, but you also must push on a supervisor for a marketing job to think innovative and develop relationships wide and far so you can have other reporting opportunities.
  4. You’re college students, so why aren’t you finding connections for your future? — Both your peers, mentors and advisers. They’re the ones that help you get a reporting job in and out of the industry. If you’re blessed to be in a big city, you need to get in the network game. In Philadelphia, I was amazed how few of these seniors have been to events like ONA.
  5. In the new economy, you might have to start with a gig, not a job — This is across industries, but I told them about how i started as a freelancer, which I got a lot of questions about, and how many reporters, including our own, start as independent contractors. I told them about how much I struggled with freelancing, but I left them with what I found were the keys to make freelancing work: (a) steady parttime work, relevant if possible, but something to make up regular, consistent pay, (b) a niche that distinguishes you and allows you to own some coverage, though this may happen on accident, and (c) and an awareness that you don’t start with meaningful stuff, that takes time.

There were lots of questions and I hit some other points, but these seemed to be the most important and what I’d want to say when I speak to a class like this again.

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