You’re compiling a diverse portfolio of clips, but what you really need are large projects. These projects are your calling card when you knock on the doors of larger papers. A project could become a series and ultimately a press award, which improves a resume and turns the heads of editors at larger papers. A strong project shows you are capable of producing more than coverage of events and news. They show you are an enterprising reporter who can develop larger, meaningful pieces.
A project is a whole package deal. You will need a strong multimedia component, info graphics and striking photos to complement your reporting. So first, find a topic that is meaningful to you. Then collaborate with an editor, the online editor, photographers, and graphic artist about your project.
Remember you’re going to have to juggle a large project while still managing a beat. So plan. Make an outline for your project with your own deadlines of what you want to accomplish. Share it with your editor. Include your work planned in your weekly work budget. Let editors know what you are working on when.
When it comes to working on the project, keep a separate notebook for your project work. Don’t mix it in with your notes on city council meetings. Write after every interview. If you put it off, you will forget valuable information, details, and images for the story.
Embrace change in your career. If an editor wants to change your beat, go for it. This helps you become a diverse, enterprising journalist who is capable of more than just being good at a specific beat. It stretches your comfort level, challenges you to cultivate a different group of sources and teaches you more. It helps you grow as a journalist.
A growing journalist should also do more than just write stories. When covering breaking news, post updates on the website throughout the day. Learn to tweet, blog and use other social media in your reporting. If you aren’t doing this, know that plenty of others are.
Another thing that helps you grow as a journalist is avoiding gossip. Newsrooms are often infested with a few gossips. Don’t be one of them. Don’t get hung up on what others aren’t doing. You wrote 10 stories last week and they wrote three. Well, guess where they will be in five years? Where will you be? Besides, it’s not your problem; it’s the editor’s.
Keep an Eye on the Future
Network. Get to know leaders in the industry. Talk to journalism professors at universities in your state. Many editors call them looking for the names of good reporters.
Go to lots of seminars like the ones your state’s press association holds for journalists throughout the year. If your paper won’t send you, take the days off and pay for the seminars yourself. They are usually inexpensive, provide valuable training, and are a great place to meet leaders from other area papers. Exchange business cards. Befriend a reporter there and keep in contact.
Interested in working for some other papers? Send them your resume and clips—even if they are not advertising a position. Follow up with a phone call. You never know when they will have an opening, and an editor will remember that persistent reporter who sends a resume every six months with updated clips.
Be willing to move to another newspaper that is smaller than your dream job. If it is a larger operation with a larger circulation than your current one, it is often an improvement and may bring you closer to your goal paper.
When leaving your first paper, exit gracefully. Often no matter the dedication and good work you have done, the memory of you there will be how you left. Speak positively of the paper and the people you worked with. Express your gratitude for your time there.
Being a journalist is an important job. As journalists we can change lives and change a community. It’s also rewarding. In few other jobs do you have such control over how you spend your days and so many opportunities to learn new things. Our work is an honor to have and a great responsibility. Treat it as such and the rewards can be endless.
Megan Ward (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of the High Point Enterprise in High Point, North Carolina. This piece was originally published in the Institute for Humane Studies Journalism Career Guide.