But add to the mix the media industry, and it can seem nearly impossible to get your foot in the door of a newsroom.
This is especially complicated when you consider the number of US newsrooms that have reduced newsroom staff.
Qualifications aside, the journalism applicant pool is wide and deep. And for every job opening, hundreds of resumes are being tossed into the ring.
So what’s a journalist to do?
The National Press Club recently hosted a straight-talk panel called Journalism Job Search – Tips from the Top on a DC Career Path.
Here’s what the experts had to say – and their feedback could apply to any newsroom in the country.
There’s not one way
Amy Fiscus, national security editor with The New York Times, admits her path was pretty traditional – she started at a small newspaper, moved on to a medium-sized paper, and networked.
Wall Street Journal reporter Brody Mullins began his career covering federal policy for news outlet, Communications Daily. This opportunity not only gave Mullins a niche to delve into, but he also became an expert in how Washington works. He dug into the plethora of stories buried in DC subcommittees, and he covered lobbying.
Eventually, Mullins worked his way from the Roll Call newsroom to the Wall Street Journal.
“Most careers are built through thousands of baby steps,” said Sudeep Reddy, managing editor with Politico.
Reddy’s career began with an internship at a metropolitan newspaper. He moved on to the Dallas Morning News and eventually spent a decade on the economics team with the Wall Street Journal.
“I’m really happy with and proud of every step I took,” Reddy said. “I always was thinking ‘how do I do the best job?’”
Nowadays, you might expect that newsrooms will want jacks of all trades: Digital wizards who can shoot video and take their own photos.
But it all comes back to writing.
“What is needed universally is the ability to write and write in a variety of ways,” said The New York Times’s Fiscus.
Also: Never let your guard down around a potential hiring manager from a newsroom.
“I’m constantly assessing how you think, how you write, and how you adapt to change,” Reddy said. “I can evaluate pretty easily from Twitter feeds how you think. You will be doing a lot of writing. You need to think about your writing, how you deploy journalistic skills, and use the tools available to you.”
Calling all experts
It also doesn’t hurt to be an expert in something.
Swati Sharma approached job searching very differently. For her, it was less about checking the boxes of duties she knew she could perform and more about focusing on the skills she would gain from the open job.
“I don’t focus on the title or the publication,” said Sharma, deputy editor with TheAtlantic.com. “I focus on the skills I will get from that job. [Once], I took a job of breaking news at The Washington Post. Before that, I wanted to make sure my digital skills were top tier. Now, this next job I took – I wanted to do more long-form stories and manage a big team.”
Specialization is important, says WSJ’s Mullins.
He became an expert in covering the Federal Trade Commission. He developed a specific niche on telecommunications.
Likewise, there are news outlets looking for people who can cover the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Dept. of Agriculture.
“If you are reporter who is skilled in [regulations], you can move up,” Mullins said. “Reporting in Washington is a perfect match of finding something you like and getting paid to do it.”
Let’s break down that resume and cover
Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief of VICE News, says she uses her cover letter to tell a story about herself.
“Your resume doesn’t have to be regurgitated in the cover letter,” Thomas said. “My cover letter used to be about how I loved [NBC’s Meet The Press] Tim Russert as a kid.”
Other tips from the experts on applying to that newsroom job:
- Don’t exceed one page with your cover letter.
- Don’t have typos. Anywhere.
- Do personalize your cover letter and (You want to highlight different skills for different jobs.)
- Don’t sound like a form. (“To whom it may concern: I am writing to apply …”)
- Do cleanly format clips and keep them relevant to the job opening. Also, have your best work easily accessible.
- Do be comfortable with change. (Have to produce scoops now? Just do it.)
- Don’t give up. Play a long game and build a relationship with newsroom leaders. (Introduce yourself and ask for feedback. Cold emails actually work.)
- Do network. Networks exist for a reason. Talk with people, and stay in touch.
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Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.