SPJ Reading Room
Work in graduate school defines career path
By Jason Bugg
When I started my current job in March 2005, I didnt realize how well my post-grad experiences had prepared me for the challenges that Id face.
Both my freelance and graduate work laid a solid foundation for a successful career in online media, which Ive started as the online editor at a community daily in northeast Pennsylvania.
After college, I moved to Pittsburgh for personal reasons. While there, I freelanced for a daily, covering municipal government and schools. If youve never sat through a town council or school board meeting, then youve missed out on quite an experience.
After writing for nearly three-and-a-half years, I shifted to copy editing. It was a welcome change because working in the newsroom (as a writer, I filed my stories from home) was an invaluable opportunity. I quickly learned that copy editors work very hard and receive little or no recognition.
After I was in Pittsburgh for a year, I applied to grad school. Competition was tough. My best option was to stay put and start my masters part time, which allowed me to easily continue my freelance work.
As a grad student, I worked on one story for a year as part of the Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania. The professor who mentored me throughout the project taught me many valuable lessons, including the importance of letter writing and persistence when gathering information and the value of narrative journalism.
My coursework helped me narrow my list of potential career paths. I struggled in my editorial writing class, which ruled out any editorial page jobs.
When I selected a topic for my media law paper, my interest in online media was born. I looked at the legal issues involved with newspaper Web sites. For another course, I wrote about using e-mail as a reporting tool.
To continue researching in this area, I decided to tackle the readership of online newspapers for my thesis. In the summer of 2004, I began this project and continued at a good pace until the spring of 2005. Then, my professional life slowed my momentum. I had a job offer to consider that would include relocation. I hadnt been actively searching, and I knew it would be easier to finish my thesis if I stayed in Pittsburgh. When I talked with my adviser, he encouraged me to accept the job.
I did, and I dont regret it. I recently finished surveying and interviewing editors throughout the country about their newspapers Web sites and will finish my thesis in time to graduate in April.
The lesson I learned is how important it is to carefully consider an opportunity when it presents itself. Even if youre not expecting it.
At my present job, Ive focused on rolling out our new Web site, which launched at the end of December. Weve added sections, functionality and given the site a completely new look and feel.
A common thread throughout the site is features that allow our readers to interact with us and, more importantly, each other. We look forward to building the site based on the needs of our readers.
I also look forward to the personal growth involved with learning new software packages and delivery methods as we move our site to the next level.
Its critical in our fast-paced media world to stay current on technology. What I like most about online media is that its changing frequently, which helps keep me interested in my field.
Researching is hard work, especially while working full time. In the end, the benefits are worth the effort. One advantage of researching in the field is hearing what others are saying about trends and learning what the future might hold.
I like writing stories and copy editing, and I like learning more about online media. One of the benefits of my current job is I have the chance to do all three.
Even if you think you know what type of journalism job youre interested in, give yourself time to try several different jobs before you pick a career path.
Also, when you make your final selection, consider the amount of variety youll have in the work youll do.
Jason Bugg is the online editor at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa. Previously, he was a freelance writer and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In April, he will graduate with a masters degree in journalism and mass communication from Point Park University. He has been an SPJ member since fall 2002.