Can Starting In A Top 50 Market Really Ruin Your Journalism Career?

Can Starting In A Top 50 Market Really Ruin Your Journalism Career?

Written by Soul Witness
🕒 May 24, 2022

Wow! You just graduated college, and got a job offer from a station in a top 50 market!

What?! Crazy!… Okay has the excitement worn off yet? Because I’m going to share an unpopular opinion: Don’t take the job. 😐

I know, I know. Before you get all defensive, and go calling me names, and start asking 10,000 questions…here’s why.

You’re not ready for a top 50 market. Trust me. I’ve been in the business for quite a while now, and I can tell you for a fact that you’re not ready.

“But I’m special.” “I’m unique.” Yes, you are probably amazing, but you’re still not ready.

“Wow. You’re so negative.”

No, I’m realistic. I’m telling you these things to help you, before you rush off and make a big mistake. Let me explain… Imagine you graduate, and go off to a “big” market. Cool.

You’re in a big city, making more than you thought you would, but at what cost?

Imagine you hate your job, because you were never properly trained. You got thrown in the daily grind, because your co-workers thought you were already “ready to go.” You get humiliated at pitch meetings, because you’re new to the area and don’t have “finding the story” down yet.

So you do your best, but that’s never good enough. No one mentors you, because, secretly, they want you to fail because that means you won’t take their position. You go home every day feeling defeated.

So much frustration builds up, you’re so angry, your mental health is failing, so…you quit. You completely get out of the business you once loved. You stopped doing the thing that maybe you were called for—perfect for—but now, you give up. You just can’t do it. You’ll never do it again.

THAT ^ is what I’m trying to prevent.

Trust me, I’ve seen it over and over and over again. Big dreams are amazing. You should have them! But ask any super successful person in ANY industry. They’ll tell you “it takes time.” That whole “started at the bottom now we’re here” thing…yeah, that’s a saying for a reason.

You should WANT to start at the bottom.

“Uh. Okay now you’re just talking crazy.” 🙄

It may seem like it, but one day you’ll realize starting from the bottom means that you know exactly how to build YOUR empire from the ground up. YOU get to establish your reputation. Not a co-worker, not a station where you’re just one of many who works that one shift, not a fake friend. YOU.

You’ll not only be able to look back at all you’ve learned, but also have the skills to apply it. Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction that only comes from truly working hard for something.

Are you still with me? Good. Let’s hash out some other scenarios and topics. For example, let’s just use markets 1-80 as our range for these next few scenarios.

First of all, the real world is nothing like college.

You don’t have a week, or two weeks, or three weeks to complete one assignment. You have a matter of hours. You think you can do it. I know. But hang on there, friend. Let’s just start at the beginning.

Pitch/editorial meetings. Here, you are often required to bring at least three ideas, and pitch them…well. No, “localizing” national events do not count. Most managers want fresh, original, hyper-local stories.

Can you find three ideas every day? Did you do that in college? Odds are, you didn’t because you didn’t have to. It wasn’t required. It’s not your fault. However, it WILL be expected by your newsroom managers.

Okay, let’s say you’re great at pulling ideas out of nowhere. That’s awesome! But even the most tenured, seasoned, veteran news reporters and anchors struggle from time to time. If they struggle, imagine the battle you’ll be facing as a newbie.

Then, there’s getting out and shooting the story. Larger cities mean driving to-and-from shoots can take longer, due to traffic, distance, and a variety of reasons.

You may have a photographer, you may not.

One of my friends MMJ’d (one man band: did all her own stuff) in Manhattan. Yeah, Manhattan.

So, factor in lots of time being wasted there. You still have to do the interviews. Edit the package and VOSOT for various shows. Front them live in whatever show you’re told to go live in. Pack up, head back. Post your story to the web (maybe you’ve got a digital team that does this for you, maybe not). Turn in your gear. Make sure everything is on the chargers, and do whatever else you have to do for that day/night, or the next day.

Oh, when did you find time to eat? Answer emails? Oh wait, was that before or after your story changed, and the producer called you to tell you you’re now going to a different location and doing a different story? Yes, those kinds of days happen. Often. Which leads me to my next point.

Working in a top 50 market can come with LOTS of pressure.

Most of the time, these markets have those tenured, seasoned, veteran journalists and anchors I was talking about earlier. Their standards are high. Some are even astronomical, because they have anywhere from 10 to 40+ years in the biz, and they don’t play around. You are expected to polished, even though you just walked the stage to get your diploma. Plus, the viewers…well…they can be brutal. We’ll just leave it at that.

That was just a quick run-through of some of the downfalls of going from college to a top 50 market. There is so much more to it, but I want to make sure I get a chance to list the reasons you should start small.

First off, you’ll actually have time to learn.

Most of the time, smaller market managers are more patient because they know beforehand that you’re fresh out of college. They’re used to having new grads, so they can help you with the basics.

“But I already know the basics from college.”

No. No, you don’t. I’ve personally trained dozens, if not close to 100, new grads over my career, and, trust me when I say, you don’t know the basics. No offense, but as I mentioned earlier, college is nothing like the real world.

That’s why it’s important to hone the basic skills, before you start trying to be flashy. Another great thing about small markets is that you can be flashy…eventually. You have more freedom to be creative.

Have you always wanted to do a certain type of story? Well, now is your chance!

It’s far more likely you’ll have the opportunity to pursue what you’re passionate about in a smaller market.

You’ll get more feedback, and more coaching. In smaller markets managers usually have less staff, meaning more time for professional development with the staff that they do have.

Speaking of feedback…the viewers in smaller markets will offer their advice, but usually it’s nice. These viewers are also used to newly graduated journalists so their patience level is also higher. They understand that you’re learning and developing your craft.

Along the same lines, you’ll get to connect with your community and feel like you are part of something bigger. Plus, they’ll say “hi” to you in the grocery store!

While we’re talking groceries…the cost of living is MUCH lower. Housing is way cheaper than in larger cities. Shorter drives to work mean less money out of your pocket for gasoline. Farmers markets are big deals, and you can find some amazing locally grown food or hand made products there. Talk about farm to table. This also cuts costs because there is no middle man. If you want to go out to eat, wait times at restaurants are minimal if there is one at all. And the menu prices are a lot cheaper too!

The reasons above are technically called “quality of life” and they can do wonders for your mental health!

These “perks” if you will, take away a lot of stress. When you’re not constantly worried about things—like your dwindling budget, feeling alone in sea of people, or disconnected from your community—you can focus on what’s important to you and what you’re really passionate about.

And don’t worry about “not having anything to do.” People often write-off smaller cities due to that mindset, but don’t fall into that trap! You can still find plenty of fun events, and activities to keep you occupied.

I say all of that to say this: you are talented. Don’t waste your talent, and give up on a dream, because your first taste of the news industry left you bitter. You can accomplish your big dreams. You just may want to start chasing them in a smaller town. 😉💜

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