Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

This is Lia Steakley's Blockbuster Post: I'm Moving it Up to Center Court. Again.

From what I can tell people committed to a career in journalism have are sadomasochists, especially those of us at daily newspapers.

I think most students go into journalism thinking they'll land at a glamorous magazine a la Les Shu :) and go to fabulous parties in between writing witty copy.

But those are just your internships.The ladder to Pulitzer Prize has steps made of knives. I say make USF's journalism major every bit as tough as the real thing...and the Texan in me says make it tougher. But I'm not sure that's possible.

Make sure to have a class in computer-assisted reporting, which largely deals with extrapolating data from massive spreadsheets or efficiently searching databases. A class on public record and open meeting laws is a MUST and so is a class on Freedom of Information Act and First Amendment law. USF has a law school make the newbies take it there.

Copyediting should stress Chicago manual of style and AP style. And this time, Robertson, make those AP style quizzes count. The newbies will thank you later.

Load USF computers with industry preferred NewsEdit Pro software and Quark. Make the students learn HTML and Web editing just ask Leah Hitchings at NYTimes.com how much she needed to learn how to make a table using HTML to land her job. I know USF is all about philosophy and big ideas. But tell those lofty big thinkers that the students need a vocational journalism education if they want to land one of the two jobs that will be left at the last standing media conglomerate.

In reporting II, make the students write on deadline even if class has to be three hours once a week. Let the students report for the first few hours and write the last hour. Make them spend more time at boring meetings like the school board and city council. Hell make them go to the city planning meetings and watch their heads spin while zoning labels are tossed about like slang and half way through you'd swear meeting officials were speaking a foreign tongue. Then make them write a story. And require an internship...even if it just means you can't graduate with honors or something without one. They're not THAT hard to get.

Post students stories online, include their email addresses and make their phone number for sources to call and bitch about mistakes. Make then write corrections. Encourage all sources to read the stories and provide feedback.

For the journalism major choose a rigorous curriculum and then you won't have a problem with people thinking journalism is all fun and glamour with a salary of $50,000 or more. Instead, it's stories about wastewater connection charges, land use issues, school board and city council squabbling, local elections and more mentally insane people calling you at 9 a.m. then you know what to do with for about $30,000—before taxes. Oh, and your newsroom is in middle America not major metropolitan areas. One ace in student’s pockets is if they speak a second language fluently, which can get you into a larger newspaper newsroom quicker. I'd suggest a Middle Eastern language if you want to work at the New York Times and Spanish for most California dailies.

Another way to launch your career is to go work in China, where I hear dozens of English language newspapers are hiring like mad. With all the rude awakenings of a career in journalism, I think the one thing that keeps us in it is the euphoric feeling of writing a really good story. Every once in a while you write something so well it gets picked up by other publications or you end up breaking a story that is later picked up by other publications. And the adrenaline numbs the knife of the career ladder you're standing on long enough for you to continue climbing.

When you're lacking that feeling have a cocktail and try to make it to Friday. I hear if you're at the New York Times cocaine is the choice drug. I say do the students a favor and weed out the future flaks early. Oh..and another trick for students is to go to journalism conferences with all the other struggling writers. I went to one in Seattle that had tons of annoying Ivy leaguer student journalists there. But it's still a good way to mix with journalists. Just make sure the students don't ask the editors for jobs. --Posted by Lia Steakley to USF Journalism Forum at 8/15/2005 10:49:58 PM

Robertson's first reaction: I don't know whether to stand up and cheer or curl up in a ball and cry.


Patrick Lagreid said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Lia. Like any journalist/media person, I'm wishing I'd wrote it and am trying to figure out a way to steal it and appropriate it as my own in some future post.

Radio shares the same reality of career advancement as journalism. If you want to be a sportscaster, go do high school games where you have to set up your own mics, write your own copy and get the starting lineups yourself. When I did USF baseball on KDNZ and the Internet, I went to colleges where I had to hold the phone line into the wall with one hand during the whole game while keeping score, answering questions about the Dons, making sure the PA announcer said our guys' names correctly and still managing to speak in coherent sentences without letting what was going on in the background creep across the air. Some of the best days of my life. If only I'd had a third hand growing out of my head with which to take pictures of it all.

It's a business of doing -- and more often than not, doing again and again. Hands have to get dirty (although not necessarily bloody), sweats have to be broken, and egos have to be bruised in order to make it to wherever you think you want to go.

Cheers to Lia for a great post!

vrinda said...

Yeah I hear you Lia. Life can be rough in journalism and it certainly isn't about the money. I said that with idealistic positivity in college, before I had to pay rent and utilities and student loans. Now I'm just starting to feel used....do you know post people make more than me? Yeah, and the average person in the silicon valley makes about twice as much. At least it's easy to find someone to buy me a drink.

But I do have to say there are other sides to journalism than your horror story. Everyone told me I'd never start out in the Bay Area, but here I am in San Jose, my first real job out of college. And while I know daily newsrooms run at a high speed pace, forcing young reporters to choke out blurbs on boring city meetings....that's not necessarily true for weeklies or monthly pubs. There are other options out there! Don't dishearten aspiring students, because let me tell you, I'm writing stories that I choose, delving into ideas that I craft, and having a kick ass time meeting new people. I'm producing long form features on cultural movements and investigative digs with real impact on the community. It feels great and the satisfaction of seeing my name on the front page is totally worth all the unreturned phone calls and crazy people I have to deal with. Yeah, there is crap to weed out and frustrating hours when I'm trying to turn 10 thousand words of notes into a 3 thousand word feature that makes sense, but....I'm happy. I love my job. And that's more than some post people can say.