Things Journalism Students Should Know Before Working In Local News

20 Things Journalism Students Should Know Before Working In News

Written by Soul Witness
🕒 December 21, 2021

1. It’s tough, so get tough.

To most journalism students that may seem kind of harsh, and well…it is. Welcome to the world of news. I’m not talking about going outside, and fighting in an alley (although I do recommend that all news employees learn self-defense). I’m talking about being mentally and emotionally resilient.

Yes, you WILL get your feelings hurt. You WILL be yelled at. You WILL have to see some horrible things, then go ask questions about them. It’s the job YOU chose. So be prepared.

2. It’s wonderful.

“Wait…you just said…?” I know what I said, and you should take it to heart. However, I will always say that this is one of the greatest careers you can choose. Local news has a charm to it that network doesn’t.

If you work for a local station, you make a difference locally. Those are your people and you are theirs. You really can make a difference in their lives and they can in yours. Cherish that!

3. You are a journalist, NOT an influencer.

Plain and simple. The line between those two can be a very fine one. I get it, but, at the end of the day, you are a journalist and should act as such.

          4. Learn the ethics of journalism, and follow them.

          5. It is not about YOU. It’s about the community. It’s safe to say, I feel strongly about this one. I wrote an article about it.

6. “Market size doesn’t matter.”

Those are the exact words a man, who help build E! Television Network (Yes, THE E!, in California) from the ground up, once said to me. He got his start in one of the smallest markets on the DMA list and look where he is now.

He told me that it’s all about learning all you can about the industry, doing all the jobs you can, and proving yourself to be a hard-working and dependable employee.

          7. Start small. Like my friend I just mentioned once said, “It’s about learning every part of the industry.” You need to do every job in the newsroom.

Learn how to run the camera, learn how to do audio, learn how to produce, learn how to report, learn how to edit, learn, learn, learn! The more you know about each position, the more it will help you in your career. You can do all of those things in a small market. I’m talking the 100s to 200s on the DMA list. Just because a news station is small, doesn’t mean it’s less than.

8. You won’t get your dream job right out of college.

Let’s face it. That is just the truth. Most journalism students dream of going straight to a network right after graduation—HAHAHA!! Then the real world hits you.

This tip circles back to number 7. Start small. The smaller markets are where you learn the most, and get to make mistakes without getting fired automatically. The smaller towns and cities are way more forgiving if you do something wrong.

          9. Be smart when climbing the ladder. I always hear people say things like, “I’m going to go from here (insert small market) to a top 50.” Can that happen? Yes. Should it? No. Not in my opinion at least.

As 20-somethings right out of college, with two or three years of experience, you’re just not ready for the “top” markets.

The scenarios I’ve personally witnessed usually go like this….Journalism students go from the bottom to the top very quickly. Then, they crash and burn/get fired/or quit and leave the business altogether.

You’re just not ready. Take your time, and choose your steps, wisely.

          10. It takes time to get where you want to go. Trust me, I am one of the most impatient people…or at least, I was. The one thing this business has taught me is patience.

Going on more than a decade of experience, I can now look back and tell myself, “Nope, you sure weren’t ready. They were right.” At this point in my career, I’m just now getting to venture out and tell more stories that I want to tell. I can finally choose to be the one who gets sent on a long-term assignment with lots of travel involved. So, just work hard every day, and learn as much as you can. You’ll get there.

11. Be prepared.

That pertains to everything. Come to the pitch meetings prepared, prepare for interviews, prepare for the next day, prepare for the unexpected. Yes, prepare for anything and everything.

          12. Learn how to manage your time wisely. Use good manners. Be on time.

          13. Go through your social media, and clean it up…or just delete it, and start over. As a journalism student applying to a news station, 9 times out of 10, a hiring manager will stalk you on social media. What is yours saying about you? 

Here are some tips on how to build a professional presence on social media.

          14. If you are applying for an on-air position, make a reel. Even if it’s just one story filmed in your college’s random closet turned make-shift studio (like mine had).

The whole point is to see how you present yourself, and the topic you’re talking about, on camera and to hear what you sound like. You’ll have a better chance of landing an on-air job if the hiring managers can see and hear you.

          15. If you land an interview with a news director, be ready to ask some questions. 

          16. You got the job!! Now here’s what managers really want to tell you.

17. Find a mentor.

Seek out an experienced anchor, reporter, producer, photographer, director, manager—anyone with many years under their belt. Ask them for advice, ask them for feedback, ask them for help and learn all you can.

          18. Don’t fall into the toxic trap. Avoid those co-workers who only want to talk about others behind their backs. Even if you do join in their circle, they’ll talk about you too.

          19. Stay positive. A positive attitude is such a welcomed and wonderful attribute in any newsroom.

          20. Be a team player. There can never be enough of those!

I know we covered a lot, but the bottom line is: If you don’t think this business is right for you, don’t waste your time and don’t waste your future employer’s time. Are you still on the fence? Ask yourself these questions. 

If you want to be in news, you’ve gotta really want to be in news. So, if it’s what you want, keep going, keep working, and keep learning.

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