How to get a job in online journalism

I spoke last week to a small group of George Brown students taking a journalism course. It was a fun session (because they were really engaged) and when I did the test case, brainstorming how to cover a large local news story (I give them the scenario) they brainstormed a list of ideas I think many big media newsrooms would be hard-pressed to match.

After the session two of the students came to chat to me.

The question? How do I get hired.

I get that question a lot. They weren’t asking how they’d get hired at the Star, but in general. One had significant experience in Germany (no Canadian experience), another was trying to make a career transition INTO journalism (ie full-time job, hard to leave!)

So here’s my top 5 things people wanting to be a professional online journalist need to do.

1) You need to understand what’s under the hood of a website — not how to change the transmission, but how to put in windshield wiper fluid. To be in online media, you need to be a solid journalist. But that’s not all. You have to understand the online medium, be excited about and know the basics of what makes a site work. Make sure you have the right skills.

2) You need journalism schooling. I cringe when I say that because when I showed up at Ryerson University I already had two internships at daily newspapers under my belt (Barrie Examiner and Kingston Whig-Standard) and thought I should be able to jump directly into a career. But going to Ryerson (beyond teaching me stuff) opened a lot of doors. It got me job interviews. I don’t think it has to be at a university — there are quite a few good journalism programs at colleges — but you need it. Very, very few people don’t go to J school these days. And maybe you’re Oscar Wilde, but if you’re not — you need some help with getting your foot in the door.

3) Get experience. It is way WAY more important than your marks. No one has ever asked to see my degree. Honestly, I don’t even know what my grades at Ryerson were anymore. What I do remember is the great front-page story I got on the Toronto Star working as a student in its radio room. I remember the summer internships (I got because of Ryerson). And it was the internships and portfolio that got me a full-time job. So you should try and get your foot in the door anywhere — part-time, contract, internships, where-ever and when ever you can. Times like during Olympics and elections are great to get that chance because news organizations often hire people on short-term contracts.

4) Twitter. It’s a great place to hear about seminars, Toronto-based camps (CampVJ is coming up!). It’s the perfect networking tool … not in the slightly irritating Linkedin way, but in an engaging, interesting way. If you’re well-read and post interesting links, you’ll find others like you.

5) Blog. Go and do it. I’ve found many impressive blogs by students and wannabe journalists. Here’s an example of a UWO student going out there and doing it. People who are involved in the online community get the online space. That’s why they make good hires.


6 responses to “How to get a job in online journalism

  1. Good list but I will also mention “Luck”. Being at the right place at the right time. I sometimes wonder what they teach at journalism school. If you take a look at all the news out there, a lot of repeated junk. They teach you ethical journalism at school but you learn “real” journalism when you graduate. Internet and mass communication media has transformed journalists to bloggers and bloggers to journalists. lol

  2. I think that my jaw actually dropped when I hovered over that link and saw my domain name.

    As an aspiring professional online journalist, this means the world to me.

    Thank you so much for the plug! I’m beyond flattered.

  3. Hey Lauren — no thanks required! It’s great to see young journalists out there blogging up a storm and kicking ass. Best of luck and keep up the good work.

  4. Brian Steffen

    Nicely put, Marissa. One point I would add on the “experience” advice you provide: Yes, a work records matters much more than do the grades. But I’ve found that a “work ethic” matters even more… The journalism student who works hard to get all they can out of his or her internship is most likely a journalism student who does well in the classroom. Time management, curiosity, a desire to get the job done — all of these make for good students and good journalists.

    I’ve seen many so-so (B or higher) students who’ve become great journalists. But I’ve never seen a disaster of a student who became a journalist (at least not for very long).

  5. Pingback: Considering journalism school? My advice. « The Traveling Writer

  6. You have to commit to lifelong learning. I’m a 50-something former print journalist now studying accelerated e-journalism fulltime at Loyalist College. I had the pleasure of working with Marissa at the Barrie Examiner. She was a student of journalism then and remains a student of journalism. She gets it.

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