Right Cub, Right Newsroom
Cub journalists are legendary in film and fiction. They are hungry, resilient and befuddled.
That's all true, albeit a tad romantic. Most brand new journalists are also lost, both physically and professionally. And scared. They know about half of what they should.
They need your help. They are wandering through your newsroom right now. Some will grow into fabulous photographers, writers and designers. You'll be reading the list of Pulitzer winners some day and say, "Hey, wasn't she an intern here?" Some of them are destined to mediocre careers.
What separates the two? I'm convinced part of the equation resides in the nurturing they get –- or don't get -- in the first five years of their careers. I've taught two classes of young, bright journalists in Poynter's summer program for college graduates (we are halfway through this year's program). I try to keep track of all of them. Some of them get off with pizzazz. They win rookie-of-the-year from their state journalism associations.
But others call me, miserable with their first jobs. They don't understand what the boss wants. They are frustrated by their workload, or their lack of meaningful work. And they want to know what's gone wrong.
Many of them end up in the wrong newsroom. Self-starters find themselves working for editors who like to direct. People who need structure and direction find themselves at an alt-weekly, working for a guy who tells them not to come back into the office without a story.
But when the right journalist finds the right newsroom, her career blossoms. When an editor makes a good entry-level hire, she makes an investment certain to pay off.
Before we send the journalists enrolled in our summer program off into the world, we encourage them to know their strengths and weaknesses, to understand how they work with their peers and with their bosses.
The best recruiters do this in reverse. They understand the culture of their newsrooms and their communities. They have an idea of how a young stranger might fit.
If you are hiring, here's some advice:
- Understand and describe your newsroom culture. Understand the culture of specific departments and bureaus.
- Undersell your community. That way, the great skiing or the fantastic art scene becomes a pleasant surprise.
- Connect new or potential hires to one or two members of the community. If you're hiring a devout Evangelical Christian, take her to a few churches. If you're hiring a gay reporter, connect him to the local Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
- Before she commits to the job, make sure the potential employee spends lots of time with people who do similar work and who report to the same boss.
- Welcome new employees with a formal orientation program that lasts more than an hour.
If you are a young journalist looking for your first job:
- Know what kind of support you need to do good work.
- Do independent research on newsrooms inviting you to interview. Call people who work for the same editor you would.
- Assess the workload that would be expected of you. Are you capable of that work?
- What sort of feedback would you receive (if any)? What does it look like and sound like?
- Look at the work published over the past year. Has the newsroom produced a story or project that you could envision working on?
- Find out if your potential colleagues ever have fun, not just after work, but on the job. Is there laughter in the newsroom?
We glamorize the sink-or-swim philosophy in journalism. It's a big mistake. It drives good people from the business. It keeps others from doing their best work. So look around your newsroom. Who's the new kid? Is she doing OK?
Go ahead, ask her how it's going. And help her get better.