Each month, we’ll publish a newsletter filled with your responses to the latest Cohort column, resources, and a spotlight of a stellar job-seeker. After today, these issues will be exclusive to Cohort subscribers, so make sure you don’t miss out!
When I started the reporting process for my first column, I thought I was exploring the question of whether journalism is harder to get into than ever before. While there’s certainly a lot that can change in the way we conceive of careers in this industry, I was shocked when the majority of the early-career folks I spoke to told me that while they were looking for jobs, they weren’t pressed to accept the first offer that came along.
They weren’t under any illusions about our industry’s flaws — the lack of work-life balance, the risk for burnout and vicarious trauma, the way low pay is justified by mission-driven work — but they had all defined lines for themselves that they wouldn’t cross. They weren’t interested in being “the only one in the room” or sacrificing their bodies, minds and bank accounts for an entry-level reporting job.
As I reported this, the grizzled journalism professors in my mind hollered, “If you aren’t willing to pay your dues then you just don’t have it, kid!” I worry that our industry won’t change quickly enough to meet these high expectations, but I’m also inspired by these boundaries they’ve set for themselves. I hope that we can live up to them.
At the end of the column, I asked for your responses. I heard from a lot of early-career journalists about the dealbreakers they’ve set for themselves professionally.
Izz Scott LaMagdeleine is a freelance journalist, fact-checker and social producer who said they won’t work in any newsroom that has a reputation for being transphobic: “It’s not safe, and the work is gonna be bad/boring too. I’ve written off some really interesting/bigger newsrooms because of it, but I stand by it and get work that does feel safe/good.”
Madi McVan graduated journalism school in 2020 and said she couldn’t bring herself to take a daily reporting job like most of her peers: “Took a job outside of journalism til I found something more sustainable — and by ‘sustainable’ I mean: remote (allowing me to stay in the same city as my partner), mostly 9-5, good pay, time off for holidays.”
I also reached out to two people who run projects dedicated to making the industry more accessible to early-career journalists.
First was Alice Wilder. She’s a North Carolina-based freelance audio producer and writer of Starting Out, a newsletter for early-career people in the audio industry. She sent in a voice memo with some of her tips for early career folks evaluating job opportunities.
- Make friends with your fellow interns! Your journalism cohort will be with you throughout your career, and you can lean on them to give you the inside scoop on organizations you might not have firsthand experience with.
- Approach a new company like a reporter. Check out who works there and how long they’ve been there. Reach out to current and former employees to ask them about their experiences.
- Look for green flags in addition to red flags. Some of Alice’s green flags to look out for include being paid for edit tests, having clear communication about the interview/hiring process, and having a union.
Next we’ve got Adriana Lacy, a digital and audience engagement editor at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. She also runs Journalism Mentors, a mentoring program that connects industry professionals with student and early career journalists to help them forge their path in media.
- Consider taking a step back. Adriana’s burnout stemmed from the vicarious trauma of covering breaking news. Taking a break from newsroom work helped her get some space from the constant onslaught of trauma while also helping her remember that she was more than her journalism job.
- Be a sponge. Learn as much as you can, especially in your first job. You never know where your interests will lead you!
- It’s OK to change your mind. If you realize that your dream job isn’t what you thought it would be, that’s OK! You’re not stuck with your first (or second or third) journalism job. Each new job is an opportunity to articulate to yourself what you like — and what you don’t like.
I also asked established journalists to write in to tell me what has kept them from leaving the industry.
“Part of me feels like if I can get through 2020, I can get through anything,” Haley BeMiller wrote to me. “While they are challenging topics, the election and pandemic are clear examples to me of why journalism matters and why we play such an important role in society. I’m also encouraged by younger journalists and those my age and older who are fighting for fair employment through unions … I love what I do, so I’m willing to stick it out and see if we can evolve. I also know I have the privilege of being a bit more patient because I’m white and don’t face the additional challenges felt by my peers of color. I’m not willing to wait forever, though.”
Karen Ho said that she thinks about leaving the industry sometimes, but that her major lifeline is her group chat filled with other journalists of color who can keep her from gaslighting herself about sexism and racism in the workplace. “But the other thing is it’s like, you’re also confirming with each other information about things like working conditions. Like what being edited by a particular person or working with a particular person is like, day-to-day.”
Job Seeker Spotlight
In every other newsletter issue, I’m going to be highlighting someone who is looking for a journalism job. If you’d like to submit yourself to be featured, fill out this Google Form!
This month’s featured job seeker is Hafsa Quraishi (she/her). She’s looking for full-time work and she’s open to international opportunities.
Here’s what she had to say:
I am currently serving as the inaugural Newsroom Fellow for WBUR, Boston’s NPR member station. During this one-year, remote fellowship, I have rotated between four different news departments to learn the different aspects of public media — including newscasting, producing, managing the digital side, and reporting. Most recently, I am proud of the mental health series I produced for Radio Boston, WBUR’s live, daily, one-hour show. The series explored different aspects of mental health during the pandemic and how it was impacting young children, including whether any important behavioral signals were going undiagnosed and how to balance the added screen time.
Prior to joining WBUR, I received my M.A. in Journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in December 2020. Over the course of my early journalism career, I have worked mostly in public media through digital and broadcast internships, including NPR’s National Desk (Washington, D.C.), and local NPR member stations WUSF (Tampa, FL) and KMUW (Wichita, KS). I specialize in creating multimedia stories that uplift underrepresented community voices around issues related to health, business and identity. I look forward to utilizing my experience and passion for this career in my next role.
BTW: A couple leadership programs that might be of interest to you:
- Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media. Applications opened yesterday and will close Nov. 30.
- Applications are also open for Poynter’s Lead With Influence program, which is an interactive, virtual training for newsroom leaders who manage big responsibilities — such as processes, products or platforms — but no direct reports. Applications are open now and they close Nov 1.