With a journalism degree and a high GPA, recent college graduates too often find themselves settling for administrative jobs they have no passion for. They replace their dreams with the practicality that an unappealing desk job serves their bank accounts. Their dream to report, to write and to tell stories is put permanently on hold. Without continuously writing, this dream will become increasingly more difficult to achieve.
The importance of getting published as a journalism student cannot be emphasized enough. While professors teach AP Style, it’s published work that turns students into reporters.
“Take your writing beyond the papers that you turn in to your professors,” advises Iris Krasnow, a journalist and best-selling author who teaches at American University. “Get as many bylines as possible.”
Left without an internship or stuck in one that won’t let you write? Freelancing adds to your resume, provides invaluable writing samples and sometimes even pays.
Write for the campus newspaper
Every college campus has a newspaper and, more often than not, they’re looking for writers. Writing just one article per week will give student journalists a portfolio of more than 130 articles upon graduation — a number that’s impressive, but easily attainable.
“If you want to hit the ground running by the time you get out of college, make sure you have something published, whether it’s in your hometown newspaper, your college newspaper or the Huffington Post,” Krasnow said.
Campus newspapers come with their own newsrooms and editorial boards. Working your way into the staff provides crucial editing experience that makes students even better reporters themselves.
Entry-level jobs often require two to four years of journalism experience. Seize the easily attainable and crucial opportunity to be in a campus newsroom.
Blogging for the news media
Most major newspapers have an online blog — and writing for them not only adds “big names” to your portfolio, but also builds your network. If a job opens up and your stories stand out, you might just be on the radar.
In addition to the Huffington Post, most major newspapers now have an online blog, accepting both paid and unpaid submissions. Interested in science? Contribute to National Geographic. Studying business and economics? Write an analytical piece for Business Insider. You may end up with your own author profiles and readership.
“Have some story ideas and make sure they’re good,” said Frances Bridges, a paid blogger at Forbes. “Good stories are gold nuggets. If one publication doesn’t take them, another one will. Just keep panning for gold.”
Whether it’s an unpaid blog or a printed article, ones association with a respected media outlet can lead to further opportunities in journalism. Last year, journalist Lauren Rae Orsini published a blog post for Forbes. The publicity of her single post led to her career as a journalist at The Daily Dot.
“My article for Forbes helped me get noticed by the right people,” she said. “I’d been blogging for years, but writing for a larger publication helped me find a wider audience for my work. One of the people in that audience turned out to be my current boss.”
Use your resources
Colleges are hotspots for interesting speakers, from famous public figures to well-respected authors. Whether Chris Matthews is signing books for students or Jane Goodall is advocating environmental sustainability, many exciting events are often left uncovered by the news media and closed to the public. A campus calendar is typically filled with events that can create your next story idea. Stick around after events, meet the speakers and acquire an interview that adds value to your writing. Your special access becomes valuable to some publications.
Take your internship one step further
Many news industry internships require students to write headlines, fact-check articles and increase a publication’s social media presence, often sending students away without published work. Rather than sticking solely to assigned tasks, aspiring journalists should pitch and write stories, using their face-to-face setting with news media editors to get their work noticed. E-mails can be avoided. Interns can’t.
Start your own blog
If all else fails, start your own blog, find your own beat and create something to show.
“The best way to become a good reporter is to practice consistently,” Orsini said. “Blogging helps you do that. Even if you haven’t gotten a job as a reporter, even if you’re doing something else, even if you’re still in school, having a blog is the difference between being an aspiring reporter and actually reporting.”
Graduating with a journalism degree is not enough to break into the field. Freelancing as a college student, whether for a blog with a small readership or a major media outlet, becomes crucial when employers ask for your portfolio. Make sure it exists.
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