SPJ Reading Room
Editor Offers Tips for Those Considering Jump to Big Time
By Pam Fine
Wanted: Journalist with a strong record of achievement, passion for the job, who is creative, highly collaborative, a good communicator and comfortable with change.
If you've got those qualities and we have an opening, you'll very likely get the job. So how do you prove you've got what it takes to move from a small or midsize daily to a metro newspaper?
First, do your current job really, really well. If you're a reporter, find those stories that set you apart because they expose wrongdoing or they're so interesting and cleverly written that a recruiting editor who reads your clips will wish they had been in his or her paper. Whether you're a photographer, a graphics editor, a copy editor or an online producer, make every day's journalism an opportunity to grab readers with something special. If you do, you'll have that work to show when you're seeking your next job. So develop a track record of excellent work.
Are you ultra enthusiastic about your job? If so, does it show? Will your passion for journalism and your hunger to produce good work be evident in that packet you sent to the recruiter? If you're worried these qualities might not be obvious, write a personal statement or a bio that talks about why you got into journalism and what you hope to accomplish professionally. Also, discuss some of your interests away from the office. Help the editors you want to work for have the best sense possible of why you'd be a terrific member of the staff.
Be prepared to talk about your ideas. We all want to work with interesting people who in turn will help us make the paper more interesting. What's one clever idea you came up with that you executed exceptionally well? Describe the idea and its impact on readers in your cover letter. That will help show you're a creative thinker with a yen to come up with smart ideas, and that you have the ability to get them done.
The bigger the newsroom, the more important it is to collaborate effectively and communicate well. In other words, the larger the village, the more moving people and parts, and the more likely things can get screwed up in the transmission. The best staffers I know play great offense and defense. They share information in a timely and economical fashion, knowing who needs to know what to get their own goals accomplished. I once hired a very smart but extremely introverted guy to run a newsroom department. Turned out he was uncomfortable verbalizing his ideas, and I wound up having to replace him. Show us that you'll be a lifelong learner, someone who's curious about developing new skills and insights and who will contribute in different ways throughout your career. If you're not already, become someone who continually sweeps for information that will help you do your job better. That could include everything from reading about new topics to developing new craft and technology skills.
One other thing I look for that won't be in the job description: It's what I call informal leadership. Will your current supervisors say you're a constructive influence on the people you work with, and that you go beyond your formal job description to contribute to the organization? Are you someone others admire and want to be influenced by? If so, and you've got the qualities I mentioned above, you'll be the kind of job candidate we're looking for.
Should I or Shouldn't I?
Three questions you may be asking yourself
Am I better off working in the main newsroom of a small or midsized paper or in a bureau of a larger paper?
That depends on where you'll be able to do work you love and are good at. In the early stages of your career, the most important thing is to develop skills and expertise. However, if you know you want to work on a bigger paper, you probably can't lose by taking a bureau job. If you're good, the editors will soon find that out, increasing your chances of getting more meaty assignments and eventually into the main newsroom if that's what you want.
If I have two skills such as design and copy editing, should I pick one and really focus on it?
Your versatility is an asset, particularly when you're hunting for a job. If you like and are skilled at both jobs, you'll have more opportunities to choose from. That said, don't settle for being merely good at both, if you can be truly excellent at one.
Will I have to give up even more of my personal life if I get a job at larger paper?
I've worked at small, medium and large papers and have found them all to be demanding. Much was required, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself. I don't know if the demands will be greater for you in one place or another. But I do know the investment you put in early in your career can pay off later in terms of quality roles and money.