Welcome Back Special: Advice for New Journalism Students

Across the country, 8 a.m. classes, student newspaper staff meetings, and fake ID rings are once again up and running.  School is back in session.  In honor of what for many of us is the first day of the 2011-2012 term, below is a smidgen of advice for incoming journalism students, courtesy of some professional journos and journalism educators.

It’s Fundamental.  “Read, read and read a bit more.  While writing is the crucial bit, experiencing the way other people write also comes in pretty handy. Whether it’s other blogs, newspapers, magazines, books, it doesn’t matter. Reading how other people construct their sentences and turn their phrases is a vital ingredient in forming your own writing.  It’s also a great way to discover how not to write in some cases, because not everyone’s writing style will be to your taste.”  (Rob Mansfield)

Financial Savvy.  “Learn how to run a business.  Get involved in a student organization where you need to handle cash– raising income from sales and budgeting expenses. Watch how others make decisions about how to get money and how to spend it. Be attentive, and work hard, so that you can move into a position where you have budget responsibilities.”  (Robert Niles)

Student Press Experience.  “Join campus media.  This is an item that everyone should know, but for some reason people still don’t do it. Why? In the most simplistic way I can rephrase it: Recruiters are not going to select you for internships without some kind of previous experience in that field, and you need internships (note the plural) to get a job. Dabble in the various student media at your college or university. Find the one you like the most and focus on it, but don’t leave the others behind.” (Greg Linch)

Don’t Forget Analog.  “Become an expert at one analog craft and one digital craft. An analog craft. Yes. Not knitting. Which is cool, but not what I mean, exactly. When I say ‘analog,’ what I mean is a core reporting skill. . . . Maybe one of these: Copy Editing; Enterprise Reporting; Photography; Photo Editing; or Media Law.  There are others, of course. . . . The point: The Web is awesome, and we’ll get to those digital crafts in a moment, but you want to have more than one tool in the box. So, I recommend two diverse skills. Will Sullivan once called these “Peace Out” skills, because it makes it much easier to move from job to job as necessary, throwing up two fingers as you walk out the door.”  (Ryan Sholin)

Curiosity Factor.  “Be curious.  One of the best aspects of being a journalist is that we get paid to learn stuff every day. But sometimes we don’t take advantage of what’s right next to us.  It’s easier to report telling details and piece patterns and puzzles together if you pay attention to the world around you. Observe, look, listen, ask, introduce yourself, get out of your comfort zone.  Last semester, I was in a graduate class. We didn’t have desks; we all sat around a table. One day, the table had about a dozen small pin-on buttons, the type with writing on them, not the type that fastens shirts.  I was surprised that I was the only person in the class that looked at the buttons. Apparently no one else was curious about something different.  If you’re not curious about your immediate surroundings, are you going to be curious enough to get the full story?”  (Maurreen Skowran)

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