Breaking in to "the biz"
Marking my seven year "newsiversary" this week has got me feeling a little nostalgic. I started my first job in TV news on July 25, 2011 at WLBZ in Bangor, Maine. (The picture to the left is my first head shot at WLBZ!) I was fresh out of college and ready to take on the world. I had never been to Maine before, and it felt like a real adventure. I had no second thoughts about making the 785 mile drive north from my parent's home in Pennsylvania, bringing with me nothing but a car full of clothes. I had no apartment, no furniture, no contacts, and no idea what I was getting myself into. It was the best decision I've ever made. My year in that small market made me grow up and learn a lot --- fast! And it led to everything that's happened since: a job in Lewiston, a job in Portland, and now for my current job at necn and NBC Boston. Reflecting back on how I started in this business -- and thinking about some recent feedback and interaction as a result of this blog has inspired today's post.
REAL QUICK -- I am so thrilled that people other than my mom and dad (hi, mom!) are reading this blog. When I started it, I wasn't sure what to expect. I am really enjoying the feedback and reaction to it so far, especially this tweet about my previous post, outlining my typical day:
I loved that comment because 1. It couldn't be further from the truth 2. Made me realize people actually think that!
Another bit of feedback from my latest post came in the form of a direct message on Twitter. "My daughter enjoyed your 'typical day' blog post. She's a rising college senior, majoring in communications with a concentration in journalism. Would you be willing to chat with her sometime this summer?" The blog that led to the direct message led to a coffee date last Sunday. I met with a very smart and eager college student who is interested in a career in journalism. And while I do not consider myself an expert on networking or getting jobs, I felt like I could offer some advice based on my experiences and mistakes. Here's some of what I told her:
1. Do journalism. If your school offers a newspaper, TV station, magazine -- join and contribute often. Practice, practice, practice. You will find out very quickly if you actually enjoy pitching stories, chasing down interviews, and writing on deadlines. Some real talk: some people get into broadcasting because they think it's fun to be on TV. For most of us, being on TV is the shortest and smallest part of our day. You should do this job because you love (eat, breathe) news. You should also be consuming news. This sounds obvious, but I have met many students/interns who actually don't watch or read much news, and aren't very informed about issues in their community. If you want to work in news, I believe new should actually interest you. Read your local paper every morning, watch the evening news, listen to podcasts (I highly recommend the New York Times' podcast, The Daily). Pay attention to what's "newsworthy" and analyze how professional journalists write, speak, and present themselves. Emulate them as best as you can.
2. Make your own content. If your school does not have a journalism program -- or even if it does! -- get out there and experiment on your own. It has never been easier to create your own content. Start a blog or website, buy a microphone that plugs in to your iPhone, find some news to cover, import the video clips to an editing software (it can be as basic as iMovie) and start to try some things out. Most students have all of the technology at their fingertips to get out there and report. The iPhone mic can be bought on Amazon, and for very cheap. Check out some options here. Creating your own content will demonstrate that you are a self-starter, and have a genuine interest in news. You should have a newsy social media presence, too -- posting your materials, re-tweeting and sharing other people's work that you find interesting.
Side note about the mic I mentioned: in a pinch, I have actually used the iPhone plug in mic to record interviews and b-roll on my phone and used the footage in my news packages. The screen shot to the right is from one of those interviews. I bet no one watching would have guessed it was shot on an iPhone! I had to do it because my photographer was off that day and I didn't have a camera of my own to shoot with. Back to the advice...
3. Don't stress about your grades. While your high school GPA does matter a lot -- and can determine college admissions, scholarships, etc -- your college GPA does not matter as much as you think it does. I wish someone had told me that when I was losing sleep over midterms and stressing over everything BUT my journalism classes. Never at any time in my professional career did anyone ask if I graduated summa cum laude. No one cares that I took honors classes, joined every club I could, or played in the SU marching band. All that truly mattered was my 10 minute resume tape (highlight reel) of reporting clips. My internships and experience counted for a lot, too. But unless you're planning on going to grad school down the line -- no one will care if you got a 3.9 or a 2.9. So concentrate on reporting, make some good connections -- and have some fun in college, too.
4. Apply for everything. I remember meeting with my college professor toward the end of my last semester, completely distraught that I didn't have a job offer yet. He asked me how many jobs I've applied for, I told him "A lot, probably 50!" He smiled and said, "That's not a lot." If I had to guess, I must have applied to 100+ news jobs before I got hired. Out of those 100+ applications, I had three interviews and 2 offers. Not only do you have to apply to many jobs, but you have to keep an open mind while doing it. Don't count out small towns and places you've never heard of. You should be willing to consider small markets all across the country. And don't knock a place until you've really tried it. You may just move there and fall in love with it.
5. Be persistent. In this business, you will hear "no" much more than you hear "yes." You will get rejected -- no matter how pretty, how smart, how awesome you are. It is a very subjective business -- and you've got to grow a thick skin. Once you've got your job, you will be critiqued and evaluated daily. Social media has made it easier than ever to hear complaints and insults in real time. The negativity will hurt, but you've got to keep going. That persistence will serve you well as a journalist. I can't tell you how many times I've been turned down for interviews, had doors slammed in my face, been the subject of an angry viewer email, and had stories just fall through. It happens to everyone. But not everyone sticks with it. If you love this job, stick with it. I believe it will pay off (maybe not with a high salary.. but that's a different topic for a different day!)