Down with cover letters: Why journalists don't need them

Don’t ask me to write a cover letter for a journalism job.

Right now reporting gigs are nearly impossible to come upon for the talented peers of mine looking for industry work – some have already moved on.

Some jobs may still be available, but really, despite their struggles and job loss, one newspaper department is as powerful as ever: human resources.

Below see how I think the job-hiring process should go.

Today, reporting-position vacancies are promoted with online job-posting sites like or through word of mouth/e-mail.

Send a resume, cover letter and three to five to seven clips.

Now back in March, Seth Godin made the claim that if you really think you’re special, you shouldn’t have a resume at all. Last month I argued you need a “mental resume” regardless of what paper your bringing.

If you’re a reporter looking for work in 2008, you’re not going to make any bold moves. You’re resume ought to be proofread and crisp. I tack three to five related references – however many I can fit on that version of my resume.

You should have your clips ready to be sent out electronically or in a mail box or just linked to in an e-mail.

But when it comes to cover letters, well, I think that’s just silly.

Here’s how I think it should go.

  1. I see your posting.
  2. I e-mail you, following the rules of brevity.
  3. I link to three to five to seven clips at whatever newspaperdotcom.
  4. I attach my resume, but also link to my curriculum vitae online.
  5. I offer to include text versions or printed copies if preferred
  6. Editor/HR thanks me for applying, tell me online clips are fine (it saves the clutter and waiting).
  7. Editor/HR sees where I got my clips, reads my lede, checks my resume to see that and other related work I’ve done. (This takes 10 minutes)
  8. If I pass that bar, Editor/HR calls one of my references at random to check if I’m on the level (five minutes).
  9. Editor/HR calls me to ask a few questions, more to feel me out. If I “pass,” we schedule a sit-down. (five minutes)
  10. I go for an interview in-person, before or after which Editor/HR may call the rest of my references.
  11. I wait for an answer or some news one-week later.
  12. We go to work.

Nowhere in here do I think a cover letter helps. Clips are the judge of my writing. The references and interviews judge me personally. A cover letter is a waste of time and redundant.

Are they just another obstacle? Are they often read?

Photo courtesy of WikiHow.

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