Advice for would-be journalists

Enrollments are up but jobs are practically impossible to find. What’s a college journalism professor supposed to tell a classroom full of students this fall?

American University’s Danna Walker plans to offer up “seven laws of journalism,” an insightful and inspiring list of tips for anyone considering a career in a business with an uncertain future.

“Journalism isn’t dead,” Walker says, it’s just changing. But if you plan to go into it, you’d better learn the basics of business and be prepared for a tough slog. Her most pointed advice?

Grow a pair. Indelicate description perhaps, but think of yourself as a first responder. You walk toward the danger, even if the danger at the time is simply approaching a big-name politician in a Capitol hallway. Sure, you might be a blogger, but get out and actually witness stuff and write about it. In today’s world, this in itself is unique and will set you apart. If you’re shy about talking to strangers, take a self-development course. Then write about it.

Walker’s point echoes a challenge Bay News 9 reporter Rick Elmhorst posed to participants at a recent SPJ workshop. “What do you think about people?” he asked. Elmhorst suggested that a reporter who doesn’t like dealing with people may have chosen the wrong profession.

That doesn’t mean you have to like all the people you deal with. Many of them won’t be very nice. But you have to be willing to seek people out, ask uncomfortable questions and, at the same time, treat them fairly. Develop those skills and you’ll have a better chance of success in journalism, no matter how it evolves.

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