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Home > Publications > Quill > It's better to be a journalist


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Friday, April 3, 2009
It's better to be a journalist

Hayley Day

After a recent Cincinnati SPJ event, a local reporter took pity on my employment hardships as a recent journalism graduate.

“I’m reminded of the 1991 film ‘The Commitments,’ about a struggling Irish rock band,” he said. “At one point, the manager tells the band: ‘It’s better to be an unemployed musician than an unemployed pipe-fitter.’”

The advice was unexpected — similar to the way today’s journalism job market is unpredictable.

According to a recent survey, funded in part by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, employment for journalism and mass communication graduates has historically mirrored employment patterns in the overall job market.

Patricia Gallagher Newberry, lecturer and coordinator of special events and internships for the journalism department at Miami University in Ohio, confirms that recent journalism graduates are taking longer to find positions than in previous years.

Mike Zoller, who graduated with a journalism degree in May, is one of them. After searching for his first choice of a sports reporting position for a month to no avail, Zoller instead opted for a position at a Jewish publication two months later.

“Landing a job is the toughest part,” Zoller said.

Tell that to 2006 journalism graduate Vanessa Schutz, who after working for two publications in sales and then advertising decided to ditch journalism completely for the business side of the industry.

“You must really love journalism and be passionate about (it) to take the lower-paying opportunities to get a start,” Schutz said.

But hey, it’s better to an unemployed journalist, right?

It is if you’re young, according to a study by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Turmoil at the top of the industry’s ladder, including large layoffs and reduced budgets, don’t necessarily fall onto new graduates starting on the bottom rung.

Ensuring your position on that rung is crucial, Newberry said.

“Real-world experience is the most important thing a journalism student can have,” she said.

If you don’t have an internship or part-time employment at a local publication, think outside the box. Newberry suggests coloring résumés with creative in-class assignments, such as Web-site creation or blogging. She emphasizes journalistic clips over opinionated ones, as well.

“Today, most students coming from a decent journalism program have a grasp on new media,” Newberry said. “What is going to make you stand out from all the rest?”

For Stacey Skotzko, it was persistence.

“I hassled and I called, I hassled and I called,” said Skotzko, who spent three months after graduation freelancing at publications in her hometown of Chicago before becoming assistant documents editor for Congressional Quarterly.

Skotzko also attributes part of her success to her knowledge of non-mainstream media and online journalism.

After my own “hassle and call” to the editor of Cincinnati Magazine, Jay Stowe, I was advised to pick about five publications, national or local, to read on a regular basis. After understanding the publications’ content, audience and writing style, I could suggest my own pieces.

While it seems slightly far-fetched as I tweak article pitches on my parents’ couch in my pajamas, I keep faith.

Just as Zoller kept faith looking at online job boards.

And Skotzko by being persistent in her search.

Before graduation, a journalism professor also advised me to read more to perfect my “writer’s ear.”

So, I read, I pitch stories, I strengthen my technology skills, and I beg for advice during my unemployment.

Now, I’ve never been a musician — or a pipe-fitter — but I doubt either would be better than this.

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