How to get a job in journalism

Apparently, the days of the one-page cover letter are over.  Virgil Smith, vice president/talent management for Gannett, says too many journalism job hunters are following advice left over from the 1980s.

Virgil“The one page resume makes no sense.  I want you to tell me who you are, what you know and what sets you apart from other applicants,” said Smith.  “We have no problem with a resume of two to three pages.”

Smith, who was speaking before a crowd at the Society of Professional Journalists convention, went on to encourage anyone looking for a job to take every opportunity to build relationships with people within the organization you’re targeting for employment.  He also said a personal Web site is a must, something the general manager of WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio agreed with wholeheartedly.

“You need to build “your name dot com,” said Dan Bradley.  “And it can’t be a static enterprise either.  You need to keep updating it, put in some RSS, make it your little news station, interactive, up-to-date.”

Ernest Sotomayor is the assistant dean of Career Services at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.  He says today’s job seekers have to work harder than ever.

“Being familiar with the company is critical,” Sotomayor said.  “And once you get the interview, you should be prepared to share your ideas for what you would do in that position, if offered.”

All three were enthusiastic about the future of journalism and the continuing need for storytellers, but Smith shared some sobering statistics.

“We have more than 5,000 journalists working for Gannett, and as of last night, there were 27 job openings,” Smith said.  “The good news is, two months ago, that number was six.  However, three to four years ago, it was 400-500 on any given day.”

Other advice from these experts:

  • Don’t confuse networking with asking someone for a job.  You need to concentrate on building relationships with people within the profession for other reasons, including knowledge sharing, friendship, mentoring, etc.
  • The industry is moving away from the concept that you have to pay your dues in a smaller market – if you have the skills for the job, apply no matter what the market size.
  • Sell yourself as a digital journalist rather than a person who is “just” a reporter or photographer.
  • Change will be constant, so it’s important that you are continually learning news skills.

“It’s always been challenging to get a job as a journalist, it takes perseverance and research,” Sotomayor said.  “But there is more journalism being produced and consumed than ever before and there will always be a need for people to tell stories.”


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