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Home > Reading Room > What journalism classes missed

SPJ Reading Room

What journalism classes missed

By Christina Collison

Going into my first “real” job interview, I was confident, armed with knowledge and had spent the past four years learning and practicing journalism.

With my portfolio in tow, filled with clips and photos from my school newspaper and an internship, I decided to simply do the best I could. I took one deep breath to calm my nerves as I walked in the door, but I was confident.

As the interview proceeded, I thought things were going well. But we hadn’t reached that one part that I, as well as many of my fellow job-seeking peers, dread. It’s the one part no one ever thought to prepare us for and not many people have recent experience with: What do I get in exchange for my work?

Salary and benefits are strange words I hadn’t had to deal with. I had no idea what was good, what was bad, or even what I should expect. I’ve spent the past four years learning about journalism, not business.

For beginning journalists, discussing job benefits is difficult. We go into the field because something inside compels us — whether a desire to inform others about things they need to or want to know, or a passion for writing, photography or design. Our reasons do not include money.

However, the reality of graduating is that my student loan bills will show up in my mailbox in about six months. I know I need health insurance, but I really have no idea how medical co-payments and deductibles work. I also know my training is a commodity with value. But when the interviewer asks what my salary requirements are, how much should I say?

I was lucky enough to rely on a few close friends who recently had received jobs at newspapers in the same region. I felt comfortable enough with them to ask what they were making. I also talked with professors about how to approach the subject during an interview. I searched for any information I could find — I was a reporter after all. But even that research was too little preparation.

When it comes to this side of getting a job, students need to be able to protect themselves, to know what they can and cannot ask for from their prospective employers, especially in the current market of cutting costs. We need people who recently have dealt with these topics to tell us about them in an honest way. Those directly in charge of hiring and those who recently went through negotiating for a job are best prepared to give advice. Sessions covering these topics would be helpful and well-attended at college journalism conferences — it’s a topic just as important as writing a resume or creating a portfolio. If nothing else, professors should know the trends and be able to prepare students. Students need honest, accurate and recent information about salary and benefits and an open environment in which to discuss their questions.

Fortunately, I did get through my first experience discussing salary and benefits — even though most of it went over my head. I still am grappling to comprehend exactly how deductibles work, but at least I now know what to ask.

Christina Collison is from Newton, Kan., and is a 2005 graduate of Truman State University. She is a copy editor at the St. Joseph News-Press in St. Joseph, Mo.

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