Part of my job is to help other young journalists get jobs.
While sitting in the back taking attendance, I hear advice from the many “experts” and professionals whom National Journalism Center presents to young journalists. Each guest speaker brings along personal choices, special opportunities, connections, circumstances, and failures – the invisible baggage tucked in between their laptop and reading material for the metro ride.
They give advice about what he or she knows well. And what he or she knows well is usually limited to life experiences and up-close observations. I really enjoy gleaning wisdom and advice from these people’s lives, but that’s all it is – a gleaning from someone else’s field. We cannot take the whole harvest, just as a young journalist cannot become Fred Barnes, Marji Ross, Tim Carney or whoever it is that you glean from. There is no shortage of accomplished people in Washington D.C. who want to offer their opinions on success.
People will offer you advice about what they know well – some of it good advice, especially from those I just named. That instruction should be sought-out and respected, but no one’s PowerPoint presentation or journalism guidance article can serve as a road map for your career.
I need to remind myself of this after constantly hearing sage advice from so many people that I admire. All of the suggestions and tips sometimes leave me feeling overwhelmed, wondering – “How can one person do all of those things?” After a cup of tea, I realize that one person cannot do all of those things.
I’ll still take speaker notes along with attendance, sitting in the back of the room. Some guests share advice that speaks to my interests more than others. In respect for non-disclosure agreements, I will not quote these people on their journalism advice. I have, however, noticed journalists echoing each other on common themes at seminars, conferences and happy hours.
- Good writers read good writing.
- Dig. And when you think you have it all figured out, dig for more facts and perspective.
- Know who you’re talking to (your audience).
My boss, Kirby Wilbur, executive director of National Journalism Center, regularly gives one of my favorite pieces of advice to the interns that pass through NJC.
“It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.”
If your goal is to work as the Senior Political Columnist at Washington Examiner, you don’t need to follow Tim Carney’s path from NJC to writing a book on crony capitalism…all the way to the Washington Examiner. This career path, successful as it was, is not a road map – it’s a story.
Keep the Senior Political Columnist dream alive even if you are currently doing research at a non-profit or writing copy for a small news site. Read, dig and learn your audience. That job will likely lead to other opportunities, and soon, you’ll be offering good advice based on your unique story.
Emily Hoosier works as the Program Officer at The National Journalism Center. She is from Chesapeake, VA, and went to university in the middle of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Emily is also a member of the America’s Future Foundation Writing Fellowship Program.