Advice for journalism job hunters

This week Poynter Online hosted a live chat, “What do college journalism students need to learn?”  The discussion included educators, journalism practitioners, students and industry watchers.  One of the topics was job hunting for journalists – specifically students, but some of the advice is likely relevant to anyone with journalism skills who is searching for work.

One of the biggest takeaways:  begin to brand yourself.

“Don’t wait for somebody to give you a job. Study personal branding, pick a niche, and go for it,” commented Terry Heaton, who writes a blog on new media issues.  Heaton and others believe there are plenty of opportunities for individual journalists to create their own niche-oriented online sites, focused on issues or topics about which they are personally passionate.

Barbara Iverson of Columbia College Chicago wrote,  “Use a blog to find and establish your voice, and then ask to get paid for what you do.”

Several people wrote about the concept of “entrepreneurial journalism,” suggesting that both current and aspiring journalists need to work toward creating their own jobs.  That effort might include developing business skills and determining how they might apply their journalistic values outside of newsrooms in innovative ways.

Some advice was directed specifically at students who have recently graduated and who have been unable to find work:

  • Get a job outside of journalism that permits you to use your journalism skills and then do freelance journalism on the side until the job market gets better.
  • If you can’t get paid work in journalism, continue to keep your portfolio fresh by offering to produce content for news outlets that are open to “user-generated content.”

For those students with a semester or more left of school, there are additional suggestions:

  • Join campus and pre-professional organizations.  Select minors, second majors, study-abroad, research and other experiences that will make you more attractive to employers and grad programs.
  • Get not just one internship, but two – one with a traditional news outlet and another with a watchdog group, a library, an advertising agency – any organization that might  expand your knowledge base, skills and employment opportunities.

Northwestern University’s Rich Gordon made this point to summarize the discussion:

What I say is that while there are fewer jobs in the places that have traditionally hired our students, there is an amazing array of new job possibilities that require journalism skills. If you are interested in journalism because you want a steady job with one company until you retire, this isn’t the right time for you to get into the business. But if you are a good writer, a good thinker, and savvy about digital possibilities, there has never been a more exciting time to study journalism and apply what you learned in j-school.