Next month, I graduate from American University. I will also start my first job, as an online editor at National Journal. I feel incredibly lucky to have such an opportunity, since journalism jobs are not overly abundant.
So, how did I do it? It’s a mixture of drive, enthusiasm and luck. Here are some of my tips for students in college or graduate school also looking to start off their careers in journalism.
1. Intern, Intern, Intern
Experience counts in the journalism field. Anyone serious about starting in journalism should have at least one internship on their résumé — and preferably more. The hands-on experience you get an internship is invaluable and difficult to replicate in a classroom setting. The people you meet at your internships is a gift that keeps giving: they’re professional references for those job applications. I landed my job out of my current internship at National Journal, where I focus on social media. For a potential employer, supervising an intern is a much better indicator of future job performance than reading their résumé or calling references. Read more
Even if you’re not a full-time journalist in the trenches, being able to use multimedia to tell a story is a vital and powerful skill. Those of us with backgrounds in journalism — even if our paths lead us into different fields down the line — have an advantage in our ability to use video, audio, slideshows, photos and words to do our jobs better.
I’ve highlighted a few jobs that I see as likely paths for journalists to take, and how multimedia skills can still be applied to them:
Selling the narrative of your company
With journalism startups popping up left and right, there’s a good chance that you, the Multimedia Reporter, will end up running or working at an entrepreneurial venture someday. From experience, I know that being able to a pitch a company is about being able to tell a narrative. As an entrepreneur, there are two types of narratives you have to sell:
To your customers
This is especially important with your first customers: You need to tell them who you are, why your product is worthy of their time, and how your product will change their lives. Sure, you could do straight-up bullet points, but the compelling story will come in the form of identifying your customers’ pain points, sympathizing with them, understanding them, then pointing them in the right direction in context of your product or service.
It’s a different type of storytelling than the traditional who, what, where, when, why — but it still requires the elements of a good story: a plot, a history, and the facts to back it all up (numbers and testimonials). If you can do it in form of a video or a colorful PDF with graphics and pie charts — even better!
To potential investors
This is where the true multimedia skills come into play. You may remember Mark’s recent post about creating engaging presentations– well, guess what? That’s a form of multimedia, too. And the more visually engaging your presentation is, combined with an epic narrative, the better off you will be in terms of a pitch (assuming you already have a stellar product). Even the best products can be destroyed with a terrible presentation. See Mark’s How to avoid creating a snooze-worthy PowerPoint presentation for great pointers.
One example of an awesome presentation is this one from Facebook:
To be a direct source of engaging content
This one is nothing new. Show up at any social media meetup in your city and bet your bottom dollar that the marketers there will already know that there’s value in using multimedia for promotions.
But if you’re a journalist with a background in storytelling, you can take it a step further than simply using Twitter and posting videos to your company’s YouTube page. People can tell cheap marketing from true storytelling.
It gets back to Dave Winer‘s Sources Go Direct theory: Sources (in this case, companies/marketers) can be providing their own user-generated content. If you know how to create your own high-quality coverage issues and events, you can put your company in the spotlight.
The best example (if you have better ones, throw them in the comments) is 37 Signals, the company that puts out products like Basecamp and Campfire. They went above and beyond simply marketing themselves by becoming producers of original content on their blog — and eventually published two books. They became creators of original content, which helped them be better at their jobs. From just the first book, 37signals made more than $1,000,000 directly, and an estimated $1,000,000+ indirectly.
Keep your students awake
There’s a good chance that you could end up in a classroom teaching journalism to other people — whether you someday become a high school newspaper advisor, a college professor, or a volunteer instructor at a local rec center.
If you can create engaging content for your classes — slideshows, videos — and know where to find engaging content to share with your students, you will be better at your job.
My favorite implementer of this philosophy is former high school math teacher, Dan Meyer, who is now currently studying at Stanford. Just watch this video from TEDxNYED and you’ll know why. Fast-forward to 7:45 of the video below to see how Dan rethinks the traditional structure of a textbook math question, then integrates photos, video and interaction to help his students both understand and retain the information he’s teaching:
These, of course, are just a few examples. If you have better ones, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.