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A Reality Check for Journalism School Grads

You Have to Pay Your Dues Before Hitting the Big Time

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A Reality Check for Journalism School Grads
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It's a tough economy, and the news business has taken a beating in recent years. So you'd think journalism school grads would have developed a pretty realistic view of the journalism job market.

Surprisingly, that's often not the case. In fact, many recent grads have a very unrealistic sense of what kinds of jobs they can expect to land.

Example: A former student of mine recently contacted me. He's a really nice guy who eats, breathes and lives sports, though he has little sportswriting experience. He told me he wanted to get a job blogging about the professional teams in Philadelphia, where he lives, but had had no luck.

This guy was no dummy. But he'd gotten a wildly distorted view of the job market from the Internet, where it sometimes seems like just about every other guy on the planet blogs about sports.

The problem is, very few people make a living just blogging, and those who do are often working for major media outlets like ESPN. And most of the people working at ESPN are trained professionals who have years if not decades of journalism experience behind them.

Other students have, at various times, told me how they wanted write about music at Rolling Stone, or be an anchor at NBC or a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.

But a bachelor's degree in journalism and a few clips from your college newspaper just aren't enough to get you a job at places like The Wall Street Journal or CBS News. And too many j-school grads seem unwilling to do the hard work at smaller news outlets that might eventually lead to more glamorous jobs.

You have to pay your dues to get to the big time.

What does that mean? Well, if you want to cover sports, you're going to have to start out covering high school teams for the local paper. Want to be a White House correspondent? Start by covering city council meetings. You get the idea.

With this in mind, here are a few reality-check tips for recent j-school grads:

Be realistic. Understand that you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. You need to prove yourself at smaller papers and websites before big-city outlets will take you seriously.

Be flexible. Understand that while your first job won't be your dream job, it may be one that can teach you a lot. Take the opportunity you're given and make the most of it, even if it means working at a very small publication in a very small town.

Go where the jobs are. Too many grads limit their job search to their hometown or the surrounding area. But if you're really serious about finding work you need to be willing to pull up stakes and go where news outlets are hiring, even if it means living on the other side of the country in a place you've never heard of.

Be a reporter. Lots of grads want to be columnists or bloggers. But most papers want reporters who are willing to bust ass to dig up hard-news. Sure, many reporters now blog as well, but generally you have to cut your teeth doing hard news first.

Be willing to work. There may be a few people in this business who work from home in their pjs all day. But ask 99 out of 100 journalists what their jobs are like and they'll tell you it's damned hard work. The hours are long and odd, and oh yeah, the pay is usually meager.

But if you're meant to be a reporter you'll love every minute of it.

Also read: Seven Steps to Help You Get a Journalism Job in Tough Times

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