I’m an aspiring journalist. That’s what I want to do with my life. However, I’m not sure where to start. Could you help me? — raetschi
May we direct you to our QA Tag where you’ll find FJP deep thinking on subjects such as:
I hope these links help.
One item perhaps not mentioned in the above though is this: Ask every journalist you know (and even those you don’t) how you can break in, who you might be able to talk to and if, of course, they know of any openings you might be able to pursue.
Have other questions? Ask away. — Michael
I think I am a late bloomer. I think I’m getting less in my own way.
Errol Morris, documentary film maker and writer, to the Boston Globe.
The Globe profile focuses on the 65-year-old Morris’ involvement in and defense of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, “a unique documentary in which the squad leaders of Indonesia’s mid-1960s mass killings confront their crimes by reenacting them for the camera.”
I’m graduating in May in hopes of becoming a journalist. I’ve had internships and I’ve worked for my university’s online news source. Can you steer a terrified senior in a direction? Where should I look? What should I be looking for? What should I work on?” — Helena
We get questions like this fairly frequently and there’s no exact answer. But with yesterday’s announcement of the 2012 Peabody Award winners we’re seeing the incredible range of today’s journalism.This isn’t to say that you can’t quibble with this story winning over that story, or say they could chose more innovative work, but it is to say that if you look at the winners from the Web, radio, television and documentary you see a wild diversity of storytelling approaches and ideas.
And reviewing some of the winners, I think, is a great place to start.
Start with the Web and The New York Times win for “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” a multimedia feature using aerial photography, video and words while taking advantage of contemporary presentation techniques such as responsive design and parallax in order to augment and further drive the story forward.
SCOTUSBlog is the other Web winner. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it’s pretty much a text only blog that’s become a go to resource for stories, background and explainers on all things that have to do with the US Supreme Court. Here, deep, thorough, consistent reporting and analysis wins out.
Radio, I think, is in a golden age and the reason I think this is is because of the launch of iTunes back in 2001. This allowed people to easily subscribe to podcasts — and by extension radio programming — that we previously didn’t have access to. Yes, RSS already existed but iTunes gave us an easy interface to either hear or distribute programming. While your local public radio station might not carry it, you can now hear everything from the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent to The Moth Radio Hour, 99% Invisible and Radiolab among a host of other exceptional programming.
Each of these programs uses different techniques and styles. By listening and analyzing, we learn new tricks that expand our understanding of what’s possible in audio storytelling.
One of this year’s radio winners comes from Radio Diaries, is called “Teen Contender" and follows the 16-year-old Olympic boxer Claressa Shields in a first person narrative from Flint, Michigan to London. Here’s a great breakdown by Julia Barton on the techniques used and how this created great radio.
Other radio winners include WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show, a “traditional” hosted show about New York’s political and cultural life; This American Life’s “What Happened at Dos Erres,” an incredible radio documentary about a Guatemalan immigrant in Boston “who learns that the man he believed to be his father actually led the massacre of his village”; and NPR for its hard news reporting in Syria by Kelly McEvers and Deborah Amos.
I’ll leave it at this and with the recommendation to explore different types of journalism awards across magazines, multimedia, photography, documentary, radio and the rest. Through it, you’ll come across work that brings about an “Aha!” moment, one that makes you say, “This is what I want to do.” And then start positioning yourself and aiming towards doing it by applying for work — or learning the skills needed to apply for work — in that area.
Hope this helps. — Michael
Have a question? Ask away.
From the Inbox: I’ve always been curious, is it possible to find work as a journalist without a degree? — Anonymous
I’d like to think it shouldn’t matter. Unlike being a doctor or a lawyer, there aren’t license or degree requirements for practicing journalism.
It might be harder to initially get your foot in the door but if you have the skills and the portfolio, people will (or should) look at that before checking out where or where you didn’t go to school.
Here’s what Joe Grimm once wrote at Poynter:
Some great journalists working today do not have college degrees. Few of the people working around them give it much thought or even know their degree status. It is all about “what have you done lately?”
Magda Abu-Fadil, a foreign correspondent and director of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut, doesn’t believe a journalism degree should be required but notes the realities of the job market in this interview with the International Journalists’ Network.
I don’t know if it’s worth all the money spent going to journalism school today since the landscape is changing so fast and we’re in a race against time with all the new technology, but it’s definitely worth investing in a degree since most employers still require it.
These challenges do not erase the simple fact that most journalism jobs are off-limits to all applicants who have not completed at least one internship. No internships = no job. It really is that simple. Many students, it seems, refuse to believe this applies to them. These are usually the students who are obsessed with getting high grades — as if anyone in a newsroom would ever care what grade you got in any class! (No one but a graduate school cares what your grades were.)
Hope this helps, and good luck. — Michael
Have a question? Ask away.
There is no other exciting time to be in journalism, from a technology standpoint, than now. (Although the fear of layoffs does not sit well.). To witness newsrooms transition to mobile, social media and digital-first platforms, and be there on the frontlines of it all, is exactly where agents of change need to be. We are part of history. Not looking in from the outside. Not being critical of the news media 24-7, although I do this quite regularly. But in it. Making decisions that stick or fail. I get goose bumps just thinking about this.
Amy Zerba, amyzerba.com. Difference Between Tenure-Track Professor and a Journalist.
She just left her job teaching to join the Times. Sounds like she can justify that decision.
Sounds like you feel yourself caught in a classic career starting conundrum: You don’t have experience but can’t get experience because you don’t have experience.
We posted a video recently of CUNY professor CW Anderson discussing an entrepreneurial journalism course he teaches. While he talks about many things, a key point I like is how he stresses that we all must write. Especially those of us out of a job or hoping to get into a job.
In July, I wrote something similar to a question a student had about putting together a portfolio. Here’s a bit where I mention what is was like before we could all have blogs and self-publishing tools:
Back then getting started was a chicken and egg proposition. You’d apply for something and be asked to show your clips. But you didn’t have clips because you were just starting out, and you wouldn’t get clips until someone overlooked that and took a chance on you.
That’s not true anymore. Want to be a science writer, start writing about it, start reporting about it, start curating about it. No one’s stopping you. Fashion more your thing? Do the same. More interested in the tech side of things? Start creating things and/or get involved in an Open Source project, and then write about what you’re doing and learning.
It takes some effort but that’s what we have to do. Block off 30 minutes a day to work on these things. Maybe even an hour.
After a month or a few you’ll be amazed by how much material you have to show people. You’ll also be amazed by how much you’ve personally learned by actually doing it.
So, you say you want to be a writer but there’s nothing available in your area. In that case, make something available to yourself.
There are stories everywhere. There are stories where there are lots of people. There are stories where they are no people. There are great stories about topics other than people.
So start writing them. Choose something that you’re passionate about. If it’s a character who lives down the street, approach him and ask if you can interview and write about him. If he asks why, and what for, say simply, “I like to write.”
Some people will say no but you’ll be surprised by how many people say yes. People are wonderful that way.
And if your passion is for a subject or topic that requires more discrete expertise, say science or medicine or art or local politics, start reading up and then start calling people up (eg, at local colleges, businesses, governmental agencies and what not) and ask questions.
Again, many will ask why and where will this appear and you simply say, “I like to write and its for a personal site I’m creating.”
And then some will say no but others will say yes but give it a couple months and you have yourself body of work. You’ve gotten started.
It takes effort. But it is doable. And find a trusted friend, former teacher or family member to give you feedback on what you do, to be an editor. And listen to what they have to say even if you disagree. Else you’ll write in a ramble like I do.
We wish you great luck and let us know how it goes. — Michael
Have a question? Ask away here.