Some of the best times during my college career occurred while working for my college paper. We had a daily broadsheet packed full of all the news and views from around campus and beyond and our team of dedicated writers, photographers, and editors would spend hours in the newsroom working on the latest scoop.
The newsroom was a respite from the daily grind of math, history, geography, and all those “other” subjects journalism majors are required to take. Whatever time I would go to the newsroom there would always be someone to share a laugh with or brainstorm story ideas.
Looking back at my college newspaper, it really operated like a professional newsroom and was very impressive.
We had editors and journalists that worked late into the night and were often found typing away at the news desk on the weekends. The photographers would travel with our sports teams and spend hours scoping the campus for the best pictures to illustrate our stories.
Working at my college paper was the best thing I did to prepare myself to make the leap from campus student to professional journalist. It was in my college newsroom I learned how to pitch stories, work with photographers and editors, and to dig around campus for stories.
And boy did I dig.
The best thing about working in a college newsroom is that I got to fill my portfolio with published clips. This is a great asset to have and puts you at the head of the pack when searching for internships and jobs. In fact, some internships I applied to would only take applicants who had published clips.
What you need to make sure you do though, is to really use the college newspaper to the best of your ability. While you have a lot of other things to think about like homework and essays – the list is really endless – try and write the best stories you can or maintain a beat. This is something employers look for. If a young journalist can write stories that appear on the front page of their college newspaper and maintain their beat, this is looked at very favourably when it comes time to find an internship or a job.
I remember covering an ongoing court story in college which (unfortunately) included three of our best basketball players. I would drag myself out of bed early and make the long drive through Los Angeles traffic to the other side of town to cover the case. At the time it was brutal after a long night of study, but my hard work paid off when I got to include some very impressive clips in my portfolio.
Another good thing a young journalist can do is to create a blog and maintain it.
It doesn’t matter what the topic is (keep it clean of course), it demonstrates to an employer that you have a passion for writing and also may be able to display that you have a fan base.
I know many publications advertising for writers just launching their career will ask for free content and provide a byline in return. This may be hard to swallow, and yep writing for free on top of all the other work you have to do is a pain. But, you can also use this to your advantage too.
Before you submit content for free, really research the publication or website. A few questions you may want to consider:
Are they are reputable? In the future, would there be a chance they could employ me? Do they have a wide readership? Will they be mentoring me and, in turn, making my writing stronger?
The best advice about making a successful leap from college newsroom to professional newsroom is to keep up the hard work. Like any profession, you have to do the groundwork before you get the reward. But unlike many professions, most colleges offer students the chance to work in an environment similar to what they will enter into after college. Make sure you use that to the best of your ability and the sky is the limit.