1. You are your own professor.
This may come off as a typical millennial mindset but, paying Cal State University, Long Beach upwards of $5,000 a semester (which is actually pretty low compared to other universities), I expected a little more aid from my professors. What I came to realize was that even in the basic news reporting classes, teachers had high expectations with little desire to help. I found stories on my own, I conducted interviews, I copyedited my stories. I realize this is an introduction to the luxurious life an average journalist lives, but c’mon I’m not even getting paid to write this junk. Even for multimedia classes: Multimedia 1, Multimedia 2, Broadcasting, I found myself on YouTube watching hours of videos figuring out how to use Adobe software while, in class, my professors insisted on teaching us to crop photos.
But this is all surface information that every journalist, attending school or not, should know or be familiar with. Getting that student discount on Adobe was truly a lifesaver, as well as having a computer lab specifically for journalism major. This day an age, a journalist must be a jack of all trades; you must know how to not only write but to: copyedit, photograph, film, and use all the related software. Being a journalist is no longer just about writing, one must be able to adapt to every type of media platform.
2. The grading is subjective.
I am by no means a fan of math, but one fact about math that I can totally get onboard with is that you are either right or wrong. But journalism, or any writing major for that matter, is so damn subjective with grading. No professor is the same with their grading in the college of liberal arts and it will break you at times to receive a high score on your writing from one professor while getting slapped with a low score from another. My ears still ring with the infamous words that my broadcast journalism professor uttered after every assignment: It just depends on where you work. Every journalism professor worked at a different news outlet and every single one of those news outlets does things differently.
But this all comes with the challenges of being a journalist; you must learn to adapt and you must learn quickly because the cruel world of news reporting waits for no one. So while it may be frustrating to have to change up your writing style between classes, it will ultimately benefit you when you’re writing for the fast-paced news outlet you dreamed to work for . I’ll leave with you my secret recipe to withstanding the harsh criticisms you’ll get from some professors: understand that you’re not that great of a writer. It has helped me get through those papers I’ve gotten back from professors with so much red ink on them you’d think there had been a murder. Criticism will help you grow and find your niche. And if that doesn’t help cope the with low grade you just got on that one really big assignment, just remember that news outlets don’t give a damn what grades you got in college, they care about the content and quality of your reporting.
3. Connect, connect, connect.
One area of journalism that is never to early to start working on is networking. Every person you will ever meet in your life is a potential story or someone who can help get your foot in the door. Don’t mistake this as that typical sugarcoated recipe for success: its all about who you know. Just having to recite that saying makes my blood boil. Yes, to an extent knowing the right people will be an insurmountable help in your career but its not as easy as being family friends with the editor in chief of your local paper. You must be able to, most often in a short time, demonstrate your value to that person.
But these impressions go a long way. If you don’t hear back from them right away, send an email, and then another, and maybe one more after that. But thats it, anymore and it starts to get creepy. Make sure your emails are packed with enthusiasm; I mean, why would anyone be excited to hire someone who doesn’t sound thrilled at the chance of working for them. Even if your career takes a different route, having these connections in your back pocket will eventually come to pay off one way or another.
4. Do not underestimate the power of community colleges.
Let me get this off my chest before I begin: I hated community college during the fours years that I attended one. All my high school years I had been taught that lowlives and dropouts go to community college to waste time. My freshman and sophomore year were the worst academic years of my life. I hopped from journalism to a daring, some might even say foolish, attempt at engineering where my GPA dropped quicker than that Red Bull guy who jumped from the stratosphere. By the time I finally settled on this whole journalism gig I was in my last semester at El Camino Community College writing for the school newspaper and magazine.
After my first year at a university it dawned on me: I learned all this stuff and more back at community college. In the basic news reporting class at CSULB we spent the first three weeks of class practicing lede writing. Ledes…. LEDES. The fundamental structure of any successful news story and I was being taught it as if I had never heard of it before. My classmates, who were supposed to be in their third or fourth year at CSULB, were looking at ledes as if it was some foreign language to them. But this was just one of many realizations I had about universities being overhyped in comparison to the difficulty of community colleges.
5. Comparing yourself to others will be your downfall.
Well not really, but it sure won’t help with anything. While it is good to always aim higher, make sure your goals reflect your own desires and dreams and not the success story of your classmates. One thing that really held me back during my early college years was watching other students become head of a journalism club or an editor at the school paper. These kinds of comparisons only bring down motivation so its best to avoid this way of thinking.
My junior year (I guess super junior if you count how long it took me to transfer) I was a meat and seafood clerk at Ralph’s working 30+ hours, 6 days a week on top of my classes.. that didn’t sound as impressive as it did in my head. Anyways, I didn’t have time to get an internship, at least not one that didn’t pay, and I struggled to fit in any extra curricular activities. Many of the other journalism students, who had transferred to university straight from high school, were on their third or fourth internships. I was worried, to say the least, about how prepared I was for starting my career with little to no news pieces under my belt.
Let it sink in that it is never too late to start building your portfolio. You don’t even need to be writing for your school paper, or class, or internship. All you need is a WordPress account, an idea, and an hour gap between classes and within no time you will have hours of experience and maybe even an online following.
Get out and start reporting, don’t wait for opportunity to find you.