5 tips for young journalists from J-School grads

By Ryan Levi
Wikimedia Commons image from user Mojourcomm

As part of my extensive summer reading list (highlights so far include Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams), I took a look through our Letters Home series, a collection of letters from J-School graduates to students currently studying at the finest journalism school in the world. Below are five big-picture takeaways from their letters.

1. Appreciate the opportunities available at Mizzou

Multiple grads encouraged students to take advantage of the opportunities they have with the J-School’s newsrooms and faculty. Bart Bledsoe (BJ ‘00 Broadcast) said, “KOMU is one of the world's greatest teaching resources. You will never be critiqued after each show like you are now. In fact, you will never get nearly the amount of feedback after you leave KOMU, even if you beg your news director for it.” When it comes to faculty, Abbie Schmid (BJ ’11 Convergence) said, “There’s nothing more valuable than having someone truly examine your work and point out your strengths and weaknesses. Not only do they direct you to producing your best work, they can assist you in landing your first gig out of school.”

2. “Don’t be afraid to screw something up – as long as you’re learning something in the process.”

Nobody likes to fail. But according to our grads, failing, and being willing to fail, is an essential tool for any journalist to have. Juana Summers (BJ ’09 Convergence) said that failing is the single best piece of advice she could offer. She said, “I want you to experiment with what you do, try different forms of storytelling, take a class in something completely foreign, get in front of the camera if you're more comfortable behind it -- all with the knowledge that you might not succeed.” Jeremy Harlan (BJ ’99 Broadcast) said that putting away our fear of failure is what will set us apart as journalists. “You have to stick your neck out there and swing big,” he said. “Do not think about the consequences of failing. Think of the gratification of succeeding.”

3. Apply, apply, apply – and don’t get discouraged

A lot of us our getting ready to work at a great internship or job this summer…and a lot of us aren’t, and that’s OK. It can be easy to get discouraged when we don’t get the big internship we were hoping for, but our grads say that we shouldn’t let rejection stop us from continuing to apply. Bridget Doyle (BJ ’09 Magazine) said, “I applied for dozens of big name summer internships while in school. Hearst, Time Warner, Condé Nast - you name it… Apply to every internship and job you can and don't get discouraged by rejection. Persevere through the hunt. When you land your first job, it'll be the best feeling in the world.” Stephanie Stouffer (BJ ’11 Convergence) said that practice makes perfect when it comes to interviews. “No matter what the position or how much you want it, try to get an interview,” she said. “The more you interview, the better you will get, and the better you interview, the more likely you are to score the job you want.”

4. Know about new technology

Especially as digital journalists, staying up on the latest technologies and skills is vitally important. Schmid said that having tech skills is a must for today’s journalist. She encourages young journalists to “familiarize (themselves) with the technical side of our business - whether it’s HTML, analytics software or video editing.Chris Spurlock (BJ ’11 Convergence) singled out HTML as one of the best things you can learn at Mizzou. “If you are spending all of your time agonizing over writing in AP style, avoiding jump cuts, operating a Marantz, learning how to code HTML, etc., you’re doing it wrong. (OK, maybe learning how to code HTML is pretty important. But the rest, not so much),” he said.

5. Never stop learning

As tempting as it can be to shut down the learning center of our brain as soon as the semester ends, numerous graduates said that the learning should never end as a journalist. Francie Williamson (BJ ’00 Print and Digital) said that our learning should not be limited to journalism. “Learn a foreign language, and travel, because increasingly you will deal with cultures that you never thought you’d deal with.” Spurlock dedicated his entire letter to the idea of continuing to learn. “You are not in school to learn how to do journalism, you are in school to learn how to learn,” he said. “You know how to learn, which means you are capable of anything.

For more great advice, check out the entire Letters Home series.

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