Young reporting inquiring about a job

The biggest mistake graduates make on the journalism job hunt

Journalism grads neglect reporting, rely on resume tweaks and hundreds of job apps

Recent graduates typically begin the journalism job hunt by polishing up their resume and applying for reporter jobs across the country, but rarely does a spruced up resume result in a job offer in media. The biggest mistake journalism graduates make is neglecting to report on stories while looking for their big opportunity.

Breaking into the industry requires a young journalist to capture an audience’s attention through storytelling.  Stories are how media companies make money.  A young journo’s portfolio is his / her business case to the company on why they should be hired.

Yet recent graduates let their portfolio languish for long periods of time without adding any fresh content.

It’s not unusual for young reporters to go months without a call back, and in that time they often tweak their resume dozens of times in hopes that they will get an interview. It rarely works and the lack of interest from media companies is a good indicator that their portfolio needs improvement.

Keep reporting to land a journalism job

You would think it’s obvious, but I’ve had recent graduates outright refuse to do it.  Young reporters need to keep reporting!

There is nothing wrong with applying to jobs and getting feedback on a resume.  The process is a rite of passage for all journalists.

The problem comes when recent graduates rely on a portfolio from undergrad that contains pieces that don’t showcase their newsgathering or storytelling chops.

I know this may come as a surprise, but the parking lot article featured in the school paper from sophomore year is only impressive when applying to a web editor job for the National Parking Association.

After eight years of providing career coaching for young journalists, I can count on one hand how many continued to produce stories while looking for their first reporting / MMJ job.

Like most of their peers, they struggled to find employment. Their prospects didn’t improve until they replaced parking lot stories from undergrad with hard-hitting pieces from the local community and breaking news.

How to report when not employed

Not so obvious for young journos is how to continue reporting without working at a media outlet.

Breaking news does not require a media credential. All it takes is time and commitment.

I do an exercise with my recent grads to show them how easy it is to report on breaking news.  We gather at a food court that has wifi, and then we search social media and listen to scanner apps on an iPhone to find an emerging situation.  We haven’t had to wait more than an hour for something to happen, then we carpool to the location and start our newsgathering.

They have responded to house fires, mass shootings, police shootings, protests and even a dead body found in a ravine.  Not once has a police officer or city official asked for media credentials.

Most of the time, professional reporters from the local media outlets are also on the scene and impressed that my students are covering breaking news.  It’s an excellent networking opportunity where they get feedback in the field from a seasoned pro.

The stories from their coverage are uploaded to their personal Facebook fan pages, YouTube accounts and posted on blogs.

Besides self-publishing, many small community newspapers, newsletters, blogs and digital publications are starving for content.   It doesn’t hurt to approach these outlets to see if they would like to publish the stories.

Producing features and covering small community events are also great ways to get a story without media creds.

Biggest benefit of reporting while on the job hunt

Without an editor giving assignments, recent graduates can pick the stories they cover that will be the most beneficial to their development.  This is pivotal for budding journalists because the right mix of stories will expand their industry and community network, hone newsgathering skills, increase their digital experience and build an audience.

This is the perfect time to collaborate with a professional mentor to identify areas that need to be developed to ensure competitiveness in the industry.

Does your portfolio contain a lot of sports game coverage and no features?  Profile an up-and-coming high school athlete.

Do you have a lot of hard news but lack investigative pieces? Send a FOIA request and find out how many security failures the local TSA airport had in the past year.

Is your social media presence practically non-existent? Attend a local event and interview organizers and attendees via Facebook Live.

Getting recent graduates to report on stories while on the job hunt has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered.  A press badge from a media company seems to give them a boost of courage and without it they think they lose the ability to report.  It’s an important part of breaking into media that is hurting young journalists across the country.

If it’s taking more than three months and hundreds of job apps to find a job in the industry, it’ time to get back to basics.  Hit the streets with a smartphone and a notepad and go do what reporters do. Find stories!


About the Author

Raymond Ruiz

Ray Ruiz founded EGMN in 2008. He provides career coaching for young communication professionals and students from diverse backgrounds. Follow him @EGMNRay