Are you contemplating diving into the wonderful, yet chaotic world of journalism and digital content writing, but you have no idea how to begin your journey into becoming established in your field?
Ugh! Trust me — I’ve been there. And I’m STILL battling the fight to a certain degree. But I’m here to help you learn from my mistakes.
What to Do When You’re in College
1.Don’t major in journalism! I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. Many job postings look for writers with knowledge in science, technology, psychology, philosophy, history, and countless other academic subjects.
What you should do, instead, is take up some journalism classes that satisfy a writing requirement for your degree. Meanwhile, you can educate yourself on other subjects that will leave you well-equipped for the job market when you graduate.
2. Participate in your university’s newspaper. I got my first professional writing gig a few weeks after my college graduation only because I had experience writing for my alma mater’s newspaper, The Knight News. I learned valuable skills as a writer and reporter for this paper. For example, I knew AP Style like the back of my hand, I became a skilled interviewer, I was involved with branding our paper on social media, and deadlines were a breeze.
3. Find a paid internship in your field. I emphasized “paid” because I remember reading about a study that found that unpaid internships are worth next to nothing because hiring managers aren’t impressed by the fact that your employer did not invest in your skills. It’s not the end of the world if you can only score an unpaid internship, but of course, you should strive for someone who is willing to pay for your work and also tack on some impressive experience under your belt.
4. Read the news everyday. You should subscribe to a news outlet that you love. You can download their app or simply check out their site every morning to inform yourself on current events. This is important for several reasons:
a) You will be a journalist or digital content writer soon — it’s so much easier to write articles if you already have a vault of knowledge of how today’s news affects tomorrow’s current events. I, for example, had to write an article about Obamacare one day. It was exhausting to have to teach myself the ins and outs of the new healthcare law when I could have just had a fundamental knowledge of it had I kept up with the news when the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
b) You will become accustomed to the type of writing styles newspaper outlets uphold in their publications. When the time comes, writing for these companies will be second nature.
c) These news sources may one day become the outlet you work for in the future. Knowing the these news platforms very well as a reader will be incredibly helpful to you once you become an employee — you’ll develop ideas that you know can help the site progress that your higher-ups will be more than thankful for.
For Millennials, I suggest keeping up with sites like Vice News and Vox.
5. Learn HTML and visual editing software. News outlets don’t care if you are the most awesome writer on this planet, if you don’t know a little HTML or don’t know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator, you might as well be another fart in the wind. In the job market, employers aren’t just looking for good writers — they’re looking for good writers who can code. They’re looking for good writers who can put together a website. They’re looking for good writers who can animate and put together an engaging video for viral sharing on social media.
If you can find a college course that can help you sharpen these skills, great. If you can’t, I suggest you find a way to become a self-taught coder and Photoshop expert!
What to Do After College
1.Start a blog. If you’re still hunting for a job (though I doubt that will be the case if you followed my path), you need to keep your writing skills sharp! You can also work on your coding skills. By starting a blog, you will do that and more — there’s a possibility you may build an audience, which — in turn — means ad revenue! Cha-ching.
If it’s clean enough, you can also submit that blog for samples, though some employers would rather see paid work.
2. Become a freelance writer — but not for long. Again, if finding a salaried job escapes you, freelance writing is the way to go. The way it works is that a company will pay you per article. This should simply be a stepping stone, though. Freelance income, in my opinion, is too unstable to rely on. Freelance writing make amazing side-gigs, though.
3. Regularly keep in contact with your writing professors. Remember when I told you to get involved with your school paper and take a few journalism classes? There’s a good reason for it. The wise folks who are at the helm of these programs are the keys to your future. What you need to do is keep in contact with the professors you connect with the most. Tell them how much your appreciate their tutorship and how you will take their wisdom with you. They will be your references — the door that will open you to countless opportunities.
You must keep regular contact with them because showing up out of the blue and asking for a recommendation letter is awkward and down-right rude. But if you’ve been consistent in your connection with them, they will be honored to help you.
4. Turn one of your teachers into a mentor. Most of your professors have jumped over hoops and hurdles to get to where they are now in their professional career — why not become chummy with one of them so that they can offer you invaluable advice, guide you through your ups and downs, and even refer you to a job? I have a mentor who has been a part of many venerable publications and TV news stations — her guidance has been immensely beneficial for me.
Journalism is very rewarding work. There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing your name proudly standing beside your article,which was written with a lot of heart, soul, and maybe even a few tears after some writing blocks.
If you follow these steps, I can assure you that you can experience that fulfilling feeling everyday — and get paid for it. Best of luck to you!