Please tell us about yourself
I cover small business and entrepreneurship in Charlotte, North Carolina. I write a mixture of features, daily stories, and long-form pieces, while also tweeting, blogging, and representing the newspaper at business events.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Not only do I love to write, but I love story-telling. I love meeting people. I love asking questions. I love digging. I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, but the older I got, the more I discovered my passion for using my talents to tell stories.
What was your first job in this field, and how did you land it?
A couple of months after I graduated from college, The Charlotte Observer hired me as a clerk and reporter for one of the regional sections. That meant I did reporting as well tedious tasks, such putting together the crime blotter and MLS listings.
Six months later, I was promoted to a full-time Community News Reporter position, and two years after that, I was promoted to the business desk, where I now cover the small business and entrepreneurship beat.
Here’s a key component to my landing that first job: references. When The Charlotte Observer was looking to hire a couple of graduates, they approached professors in my journalism school and two of them—both with lots of newspaper experience and contacts in the field—recommended me for the job, independently of each other.
Now, because the print media industry is so results-oriented, no amount of good references would have gotten me the job if I didn’t have strong clips (from multiple newspapers and publications) and experience (I was Editor-in-Chief of a magazine on campus and a columnist for another). But having those two strong recommendations from industry insiders put me at the top of the pile and ensured that the editors saw the clips I’d worked so hard on.
Then, once I snagged my first phone interview, it was all up to me to impress them.
What is different about the hiring process in your field than in other fields?
Perhaps no other field requires so much experiential learning of its applicants as journalism—and print media in particular. The tangible products matter more than the formatting of your resume or the great phrases in your bullet points.
So when it comes to experience, it’s not good enough to have a couple of internships. (Though you absolutely need those, too.) You also need a portfolio of stories from those internships, clips from a school publication (or two), online experience, a strong social media presence, and a handful of people—preferably in the journalism field—who can vouch for your skill set and professionalism.
What advice would you have for someone breaking into your field?
First, if you’re gunning for a print journalism job in the current climate, you’ve got chutzpah—and we need you. But do know what you’re getting into. As you’ve no doubt heard, the industry is reinventing itself. It’s an incredibly hard field to be in right now and jobs are scarce, which is unfortunate because adequately feeding the 24/7 news cycle requires more reporters than ever.
But if print media is all you’ve ever wanted, here’s my advice:
Be passionate: Because you have more reasons than ever to be frustrated, and when the industry veterans get to complaining and reminiscing about the golden years—when pay raises were plentiful, staffs were flush, and editors weren’t afraid to throw money at the wall—it’s hard not to get a little discouraged. (No lie: The Charlotte Observer actually used to pay for a reporter to live on the coast for the summer, just to write columns from a beach chair. Sigh.)
Find Mentors: Don’t write off those (occasionally crotchety) veteran reporters and editors! They have a vast, vast knowledge of the journalistic art as well as of the ins and outs of practically everything you’d ever want to know.
Be Nosy: Don’t be afraid to do long interviews. Ask great questions. Get all the little details that another reporter rushing from one story to the next might leave out.
Be Enterprising and Assertive: In the old days, it was much easier to advance. But now, when even internal job openings are scarce, you want to rise to the top and be the new star reporter the editors talk about in their daily news meetings. Volunteer for stories outside your beat. Try to work for different editors (in all your “free time” of course). Which brings me to my last point:
Give Up the Notion of a Regular Work Week: You might have to pick up a weekend shift. If you’re working on a big story, you’ll probably have to stay late. And if you’re at the bottom of the totem pole—as you will be—the editors might decide you look pretty available when your desk is cleaned up and your computer is shutting down. Then, all you can do is smile, reboot the computer and repeat to yourself: “This is what I love. So off I go: Time to dive in.”