Friday, August 19, 2011

If you are about to enter journalism school...

...then here are some of my favorite tips designed to help you maximize your undergraduate experience and to improve your chances for getting the kind of job you want.

1. Double major (or minor) and preferably in something that is not journalism related.

You will complete your undergraduate degree with the skills necessary to become a journalist (and I'm using that term to encompass any type of journalism -- print, broadcast, online, etc.) or professional communicator (i.e. advertising, public relations, photographer, etc.). But the second degree announces that you also have detailed knowledge in another discipline. You can, in other words, be the "generalist," someone who can be the general-assignment reporter, but also the "specialist," someone who can dig deeper into an area.

In what should that second major, or minor, be? There is no correct answer to that question. You should base that decision on what interests you -- history, religion, business, science, politics, a foreign language, etc.

2. Understand math.

I've heard the jokes; and come to think of it, I've told some of them, as well. "There are three types of journalists -- those who know math, and those who don't" is one of my favorites. However, you're going to have to work with numbers in your career, so you'd better be familiar with what they mean. For example, what is the difference between something dropping by 5% and by 5 percentage points? (Or is there any difference? Nope, I'm not answering that one for you.)

When I speak of a "per capita increase," to what am I referring? If State A and State B have unemployment rates that are 9%, then why are more people unemployed in State A rather than State B?

Being a good communicator includes being able to speak confidently -- and accurately -- about numbers.

3. Take a business class. (And that's just the first step.)

Though there are few certainties about the future of journalism, one of them is this -- the person who understands entrepreneurship is going to have an advantage over those who don't. That means you are going to head over to your university's business school, plop yourself in a chair and listen. Once you have done that for 15 weeks, then go ahead and do it again.

And those are the first two steps. What follows is grasping how you can incorporate that knowledge into the real world. That's when your creativity, your energy and your inquisitiveness take over. 

4. Write something important. Every day.

This does NOT mean sending a text that includes "OMG," "LOL," or something similar. It means developing your writing style, which I equate to learning how to ride a bike. At first, you need to master the fundamentals -- such as subject/verb agreement, pronoun antecedents and many more. Once that happens, then you can start showing off, which is fun. (Trust me, I'm a doctor.)

What do I mean by "important?" It's something that compels you to think about what you are writing. Something that forces you to consider whether the words you are selecting indeed convey what you are feeling or thinking. Something that delivers an important message.

Such writing cannot be done through texting. It can be done through a letter home to mom or dad. Or, you can accomplish it by working slowly and steadily through a research paper you are writing for one of your classes.
5. Become an officer in a student club.

This comes down to one simple truth -- leadership is important. Your journalism school likely has a student-led club relating to each major it offers. You want to get involved in that club that pertains to your major, and do that as a freshman. Then after one year, you need to begin that climb up the officership ladder.

Those officer roles look good on your resume, but they also afford you additional opportunities to network with the industry professionals in your professional and geographic area. If you are thinking "who you know...." then you are on the right track here.

6. Follow the news, including news relating to the communication industry.

You need to consume more news than you have before, and with a more critical eye than you have in the past. This means following local, national and international news sources; and it also means keeping an eye on stories pertaining to the communication world.

It is quite common these days for news organizations to use a current-events quiz as part of the hiring process. If you fail that quiz, you're not going to get that job.

7. Get out of your comfort zone.

One of the traps of college life is to get settled into classes, internships, friends, parties, jobs, the person you are dating and much more. All of these are important, but they also allow you to be surrounded by familiar places and people. So, get out of your comfort zone.

That could mean doing a study abroad program, exploring internships outside the city where you call home or where your university is located, taking courses in "hard" subjects or any other pursuit that at first makes you think "I can't do that."

Upon graduation, you almost certainly are going to be removed from many of the comfort zones you have enjoyed for four or more years. You can wait until you are 22 years old to experience what that means, or you can start to do that between ages 18 and 22.


The bottom line to these points -- you are about to enter the most exciting four years of your life. You will grow physically, mentally and emotionally. Look at each day as being one that affords you the chance to develop your skills, your resume, your connections, your friendships and more!

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