The Key to Journalistic Success: Experience, Experience, Experience

Pioneering journalist Helen Thomas.
Pioneering journalist Helen Thomas.

Journalism is one of those fields, like medicine, where the only thing that makes you better is experience. Luckily, we’re less likely to physically harm people with our mistakes — though we can certainly cause harm, alas — so a lot of our learning comes the hard way. That’s why it’s nice to practice in smaller-stakes settings like small-circulation websites or local newspapers.

This small piece about a forum for student journalists in India (published in The Hindu) has all the insight aspiring reporters (and their teachers) need: Students should do all they can to get experience and meet people working in the field. It’s fine, and even desirable, to do this while still a student if possible. Need to make extra cash? Do it as a freelancer or stringer if possible. I made most of my money in college this way, working for local newspapers’ performing arts sections (interviewing Radiohead before they were famous=not the worst way to make money) and anyone else who would let me. My school newspaper drove me bonkers — too many competitive overachievers at Northwestern — and besides, real local papers paid better and looked cooler on my resume.

I also love this Hindu piece’s note that J-school professors should have contacts in the “real” journalism world so they can hook their students up with mentors who can lead to jobs. I was too stupid to get take full advantage of my professors when I was in school, but a few of them referred students to me after I graduated and had a good job in New York. I’m still friends with many of those students, some of whom I kinda mentored, many of whom I helped, and many of whom are now editors who give me work.

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