about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch

Realistic expectations better than dashed hopes

Though I’m no longer looking for a job and have no plans to be any time soon (journalism gods willing), I still find myself reading the Meet the Recruiter column at Poynter nearly daily.

I met and interviewed with Joe Grimm last fall, and I highly respect him and his opinion. Long before that, it was his Jobs Page Web site I read every single page of during my internship search. I figure reading his advice now can only help when I am ready to move up or on.

An interesting question popped up this week. Basically, the person graduated from a major j-school, had some international internships, foreign languages and solid clips. He/she wants to work for a major newspaper or magazine and isn’t have any luck finding the job she/he deserves. As the heading reads: “Why won’t big publications hire me?”

As I find is often the case, what’s more interesting than Joe’s opinion or the question itself was the response it elicited from the crowd of other journalists who all assembled to throw in their 2 cents.

A few of my favorites (because they jibe with my own thoughts):

From Jeffrey Good: If the writer can’t see the fascinating possibilities of covering the way people live in smaller communities, he won’t find the fascinating details that make for great journalism in the big leagues. You can’t play great jazz piano before learning your scales, brother.

From Ron Erdrich: Besides, a small paper is a great place to work off your rough edges and make your mistakes. No, your internships don’t count toward that because the perception is that someone was holding your hand during that time. Internships come with training wheels, jobs toss you in the deep end while idly wondering if you swim.

I’d say find a small paper well-recommended where you can shine. Believe me, people will see you better there than at the Big City Daily Blab where you’re story is buried on page 23 next to the sofa warehouse ads.

The above comment reminds me of a friend I met through the jschool_students group at LiveJournal. She and I have never personally met, but we’ve kept up pretty regular contact online the past few years. She landed a job at a ~150,000 circulation metro in a large city right out of school.

A few weeks back we had a conversation that put my job in perspective for me. I had complained that I didn’t have time to finish my Sunday package about teacher salaries and had to come in on my day off. She said it seemed like I was always working on some package or story for A1, and wondered if it was expected or how often it happened. I hadn’t really thought about it before. In her time (a year and a half) at her paper, she’s had four stories hit front. I flipped back through my work and calculated I’d had a front page article once every three days on average, about 2/3 of them in centerpiece position. That doesn’t factor in local front, or say anything about the fact that we only run two or three stories on our fronts each day because of our size.

The coversation made me realize something about my job that I think the person asking for Joe’s advice doesn’t get: I am an integral part of the news reporting team here. I’m expected to produce enterprise worthy of going out front. I never wonder if the work I do matters. I know it does.

From Kent Kirschner: My advice to this person would be to reconsider an investment of 50,000 in a masters journalism program and ask his or herself: do I want to write stories about people and events or do I want to tell my friends about my important job. Tell great stories, tell great stories, tell great stories………the rest will follow.

I love that: Do I want to write stories about people and events, or do I want to tell my friends about my important job? The answer is obvious for me.

When I graduated, I knew I could and would do amazing journalism no matter where I landed. But I’ve always felt there is a lot you can learn only by doing, so in truth, I wasn’t ready for the big leagues. Sure I want to work at the top someday. But I want to be sure I have a solid foundation. As Howard Owens posted in reply to an earlier blog post: “There is no substitute for experience. That’s a statement you can’t even fully grasp without experience.”

It doesn’t matter where I end up in 10 years, I knew that the one thing I would need to build my career upon was solid reporting experience. I knew my first job would serve this primary role. So, I sought jobs that would give me that. Even if I go into editing or never work as a beat reporter again after this job, the experience I get is important. give it 100 percent with the expectation of getting as much as possible out of it. The tipping point to come here was that, as I got the impression on my interview and as the editor told me when he made the offer, I would be given the opportunity to enterprise stories and also delve into online. Those were the two things I was looking for, and so far, I’ve not been disappointed.

I get the impression the question-asker would rather die than be in my shoes (mid-size daily, education beat, Indiana?!). A lot of people probably would. But know what? I may not have graduated from one of the top three journalism schools in the country or have amazing international experience under my belt, but I had solid, realistic expectations. And six months out, I have a job I love.

Comments are closed.