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Career Questions

Compiled by SPJ’s Membership Committee


What should an early career journalist keep in mind if they want to become a journalism professor down the road?
How do you handle it when you have a deadline and your sources are not responding?
What options (e.g. entry-level positions, trainings, etc.) are there to build editing skills early in my career? Do I have to have decades of experience as a reporter before I could be considered for an editor role?
What should early-career journalists keep in mind if they want to become journalism professors down the road?


What should an early career journalist keep in mind if they want to become a journalism professor down the road?

Answer from assistant professor and SPJ member Scott Brinton:

First and foremost, an early-career journalist should earn a master’s or doctoral degree, preferably in journalism, though not necessarily. An advanced degree is usually the minimum basic requirement to teach at a university. Journalism, as a profession, tends to value experience above all else. Universities and colleges tend to value academic credentials — certifications and degrees.

Journalism, though, tends to be a bit different than many other university departments. Experience is valued alongside academic credentials, particularly a diversity of experiences. These days, most universities expect full-time journalism professors to teach a wide range of courses, with competences in writing, editing, photography, videography, social media, even website development, entrepreneurship and newsroom leadership. Take every opportunity to develop a diverse skill set that touches each of these critical abilities. And be open to learning new skill sets as they arise. Think artificial intelligence.

Be sure to develop an online portfolio to showcase your best work — and develop the website yourself. If you are unsure how to construct a website, teach yourself or enroll in a course.

At the same time, you must work to develop your teaching abilities. Most universities highly value the anonymous student ratings that are offered at semester’s end. One or a handful of poor student evaluations would not derail a teaching career, but consistently negative reports would most certainly. Take every opportunity to work with students, whether you are volunteering to teach an evening adult education class or are paid as an adjunct. And read education textbooks or enroll in education classes before you get started. There are tried and true teaching methods. If you know and practice them, your students will respond — in class and with positive evaluations.

Finally, understand that a full-time professorship is a full-time, year-round job. There is more time off and greater control of your schedule than in journalism, but it is a great deal of work — important work. In addition to teaching, full-time professors are expected to advise students, volunteer for university committees, conduct research and publish it, attend and speak at conferences across the country and around the world, and serve in leadership roles in professional and community organizations, among other responsibilities.

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How do you handle it when you have a deadline and your sources are not responding?

Answered by Brenda Lepenski, Arkansas SPJ President & Reporter/Anchor at KATV:

In television, every minute counts. And while we are constantly running against the clock to meet deadlines, we know the rest of the world may not operate on our time clock. When sources are not responding, I try to figure out another way to tell my story using other sources. If it's a story where one source is the main source of the story, I regroup with my news team, and we might turn to another story. Not every day happens exactly the way we plan it. Fortunately, as journalists, we are not only resourceful, but we are also adaptable to changes.

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What options (e.g. entry-level positions, trainings, etc.) are there to build editing skills early in my career? Do I have to have decades of experience as a reporter before I could be considered for an editor role?

Answered by Maria M. Cornelius, East Tennessee SPJ chapter president; editor, MoxCar Marketing + Communications; writer, 247Sports Tennessee

Decades of experience is not needed. Some experience definitely is. Editing skills are in demand across multiple industries. The best training for editing is to be around editors and a copydesk, but as newspapers shifted to regional hubs, that limited and sometimes eliminated regular interaction among staff members. That is especially the case as media properties shift online, and writers and editors are scattered across the country. I came up the old-fashioned way: college reporter to college editor to newspaper intern to reporter to desk editor. That path can still be available, especially within local newspapers and news websites.

If you are in college, get involved with the campus newspaper and/or magazines if available. Reach out to local reporters and editors and ask to network, meet and even job shadow if possible. Take classes well outside your communications or journalism major in other subjects such as political science, economics, science, history, physics, psychology, sociology business and criminal justice, so that your education is indeed well-rounded. Editors are expected to have considerable knowledge about nearly everything. Expand your college education beyond the required electives.

If you are out of college, look at entry-level positions at media companies, whether daily or weekly newspapers or online journalism and start at the ground level. Also, not all editing involves news. Also in demand are technical and web editing jobs. Explore online editing courses and certificates through such organizations as ACES: The Society for Editing and Poynter.

If you are currently a reporter or writer for an organization or have experience in those areas and want to move into editing roles, let it be known where you work or start a job search. LinkedIn, for example, can send editing positions to you and they span industries and experience levels. There also are hybrid roles that allow you to continue to report and write and work “desk duty” and assist with planning coverage and editing.

Lastly, read. Read excellent writing. Learn the tempo of writing and how editing can enhance it. Critique your own writing. Ask an editor for tips. Reach out to me. I am happy to help.

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What should early-career journalists keep in mind if they want to become journalism professors down the road?

Answered by Gina Holland Shelton, advanced instructor, University of Arkansas; chapter adviser, University of Arkansas student SPJ chapter; president, Northwest Arkansas pro SPJ chapter.

J-Schools need and want faculty with professional experience to train aspiring journalists. Look for opportunities to mentor younger colleagues to see if this is something you are passionate about.

Reach out to local colleges (or your alma mater) to offer to speak to a few classes. This can be virtual, but in-person is better. That experience could lead to an adjunct opportunity and a chance to teach a reporting class for a semester.

Get a master's degree if you are at a point in your career that you have time. Many tenure-track jobs require terminal degrees (some master's count as terminal degrees). There is more flexibility in instructor and professor of practice jobs.

Monitor university job postings to see what colleges are seeking and if the options sound appealing to you. Keep your resume updated. Include guest lectures to show that you are comfortable with students.

And one final bit of advice: reach out to former newsroom colleagues who have joined colleges. There are a lot of us who have found rewarding second (or third or fourth) careers in academia.

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The resources on the page are compiled by the SPJ Mental Health Task Force, SPJ Board of Directors and SPJ Headquarters Staff.