By Crystal Garner, DJTF Intern
No one knows the ups and downs of my journalism journey quite like my mother, Mary.
Granted, she isn’t a news veteran or a tech mogul, but the things she’s told me as I’ve walked this path have helped me achieve a lot as a young journalist.
Like many of you, I had people in my life who tried to discourage me from becoming a journalist. For example, one high school official made years of confidence in my decision to study journalism vanished like magic with a short conversation.
I was young and fragile, and my aspirations were met with laughter.
It was Mom To The Rescue with the encouragement I needed. She said I would excel as a journalist. Not to sound like The Waterboy’s Bobby Boucher, but “mama’s right.”
Because I think that Mom’s wisdom can help you too, I’d like to share some of it. Here is some of her best advice:
1. Be assertive or aggressive or aggressively assertive.
Contrary to what people say, I don’t believe that journalistic opportunities knock. You have to do the knocking and open the door. Sometimes you even have to pick the lock or kick the door down. Or slide someone on the other side a fiver.
I say all that to say this: You have to be persistently assertive. When I was a freshman in college, I was offered an internship opportunity at Voice of America in Washington, but my academic advisor told me to turn it down.
I took it anyway. I believed that if the employer who selected you believed I was capable of doing this, then I was. It was unpaid, but I learned a lot and made life-long contacts. I even turned the experience into an article for USA TODAY College, highlighting the struggles of not being paid.
During my sophomore year, I was offered a generously paid summer internship with NASA in their communication office. My advisor told me to turn it down and wait until my junior year. Once again, I took the opportunity and it opened many doors for me.
Now I’m not saying that you should ignore your advisers, and neither is Mom, but if you’re going to make it in journalism, you have to be assertive…and the internship market is where it starts.
(And on another note, I don’t understand why advisers discourage freshmen and sophomores from taking internships anyway. Have they seen the business lately? Don’t they know that you need as much experience as possible in this market?!)
2. Say “yes,” man!
If you are familiar with the film Yes Man, you know where I’m going with this. Up until now, I’ve said yes to every opportunity that could positively affect my journalism career, no matter how big or small. As a result, my resume does not come close to covering all of the experiences I’ve had.
I would never encourage anyone to overload themselves, but having a substantial amount of experience and experiences at an early stage in your career catches the attention of recruiters’ and employers’ and shows your determination.
The tricky part is getting yourself plugged into early opportunities. It is like the catch 22 of establishing credit: You can’t get credit without a credit history, but you need credit to establish one.
From starting a blog or a magazine to pitching stories to student media outlets, If no opportunity presents itself, create one and say “yes” to yourself,
Patience is also important.
In high school, I interned at the local newspaper in my hometown. Most days, I was asked to take on the tasks of writing obits and lunch menus. It wasn’t the most exciting thing, but I seized the opportunity and patiently waited for other assignments, which did come.
3. Use “No” to grow.
Whenever I apply for a development opportunity and I’m not selected, I like to find out why and make the necessary adjustments. I then re-apply.
For example, I applied for The Society for Professionals Journalists’ “Will Write for Food” program, and I was rejected. I was accepted the following year. I applied for the Online News Association’s Student Newsroom and got rejected, but I was welcomed into the program the next year. I submitted an application to be involved with NABJ’s Multimedia Student Project…you get what I mean.
Many opportunities are offered annually or bi-annually, so you have ample time to prepare. I like to say resumes, cover letters and personal statements are like wine. They get better with time.
You know NPR, The Washington Post and NBC open their internship applications during the same time period each year, so take your time and do your research early on. Perfect your application materials ahead of time. There is no greater satisfaction than turning in an impressive application. Recruiters and employers do notice.
It’s not so much about hearing a “no,” it’s how you use that “no” to your advantage.
There is no perfect path, and there is always room to grow as a journalist. You just have to put your best foot forward. Or as Mom says, “You just have to believe that you can do it!”