Recently, I had the chance to drop some knowledge on some college students from William and Mary, who are in DC for a semester program. I spoke to them at a reception at the National Press Club.
I got a little swag bag and everything.
Here’s the thing.
I do not consider myself to be some Queen of journalism expert.
On any level.
I do consider myself to be a lover of this business, a hard worker, a smart networker, and very blessed in my career.
I’ll share with you now, by request, my tips for succeeding in the biz.
Tips for new/aspiring journalists:
1. Pay attention to the news
-Read the “paper,” watch TV news, start now.
When I was in college, I started reading 4-5 newspapers (at least scanning them) a day. This is a lot easier now that we have the internet. This is key. It will teach you what is good writing, opens your eyes to slants in stories, and trains you to take in a lot of information, quickly. Now I can do this on the train on my way to work, all from my iPhone. I still watch 2-3 network newscasts each evening. Same principle applies.
2. Be a stalker
-Note the names of people you look up to, the people around them, and check out their background. News is a small business, and people move around a lot. Once you’ve been in the business for a little while, you’ll be surprised how the people who know the people you know, may be able to help you out.
-Make contacts and mentors through every way you can think of. Facebook. Phone calls. E-mails. The Press Club. Keep in contact. It’s actually a great ego boost for a working journalist to help a younger journalist, because it makes them feel accomplished.
-Be persistent with your contacts when asking for an interview. Go to coffee, lunch, etc. Building these relationships goes a long way!
3. Chase the “crack”
-Figure out what makes your adrenalin rush, and do that thing. If you get a rush out of long, investigative pieces, write those. If it’s sports, do that. If you love politics, chase that. Because if it’s “crack,” you’ll want to cover it, your job won’t feel like work, and the fact that you’re making 60% less than your friends won’t matter as much.
4. Be a quick learner and a utility player.
-When I worked in local news, I worked as an assignment editor, a show producer, a researcher, a video tape editor, a graphics artist and I shot high school football on Friday nights. Not all at one time, all the time. Working in a smaller market, we didn’t have the staff, so we all had to juggle many hats, but this teaches you invaluable lessons. You’re able to fully understand what putting a newscast together takes, and when you move on to a bigger market, or a management position, being able to relate to all of those jobs is key for being a good leader.
-Whether you’re a general assignment reporter or a newscast producer at a small local TV station, or covering the White House, I’ve found that being a quick learner really helps. So does coffee. Obviously, this will help you in school now, too! Build your skills of knowing which facts are most important, first. Because one day, you’ll have to be the expert on where the school district lines lie, and the next day you’ll have to be an expert in nuclear proliferation. It happens. Don’t be surprised. Because you have to at least seem like you know what you’re talking about.
5. Ask for it.
This tip goes back a long way. It’s even in the Bible! Ask, and you shall receive. I will never forget when I learned this. I was just out of college, and I was producing news on the weekends, then filling in where I was needed three days a week. The 5:30pm producer left. I wanted that 5:30 show so bad! But, I just knew, or I thought I knew, that I wasn’t qualified. Then, one day, I got some guts, went into the News Director’s office and told him I wanted that job and asked him what I needed to do to get it. He told me he was just waiting for me to ask.