6 Tips for the Aspiring Journalist

Photo of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman

View from the Front Row: Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, Awesome Con. Credit: Pat Cuadros

I moved to Washington, DC, for a great career opportunity recently. Relocating inevitably meant joining other social groups, where I faced the usual inquiry: “What’s your line of work?”

I have a regular office job Monday to Friday. Outside of that time, I’m a freelance writer. I write film and television reviews, and interview actors, and recap festival events. Within the past couple of years, I’ve covered famous actors and directors like Kiefer Sutherland, Robert Carlyle, and Wil Wheaton. This month, I attended Awesome Con in DC, where one of the headliners was Peter Capaldi from the BBC hit series Doctor Who.

Instead of resting on vacation, I’m all out with my voice recorder for interviews, my Nikon camera for photo ops, and a notebook to write ideas. Sometimes my older brother (COMM ’97) joins me on these adventures.

The most common reaction that I receive is, “How do you get into that?” That’s a good question. I’ve gotten the sense that people feel uncertain about branching out into new hobbies or skills. Here’s a list of quick tips if you are an aspiring journalist, which apply no matter what fits your topic of interest.

Photo of Pat Cuadros and Kevin Tan

Pat Cuadros and Johnny Alonso, Awesome Con. Credit: Pat Cuadros and Kevin Tan.

Start Small

You can’t expect to take on Cannes as your first assignment. Instead, attend local events and post those articles to your own blog. WordPress has many templates that you can select from for your site and it’s free. Get a couple of polished posts up and promote yourself on your social media. Then you’re in a good position to submit press pass requests for that local music concert or book talk.

Expect Rejections, A Lot of Them

Don’t take the rejections personally.  Keep scouring the events pages and contacting the media relations teams. It only takes one person to notice your talent and give you that chance you deserve. Cultivate those connections and build your network.

Freelancing

There are many websites for writers. They have their respective audiences, so pick one that aligns closely with your tastes. Write to the senior editors and ask for career development advice. Don’t forget to include writing samples. That portfolio, even if it’s not flashy like their site, is enough to let the editor see if you’re a good fit. It’s usually better to be a regular contributor to a site, because you can list their metrics (hits per month, Twitter audience, awards) in your explanations to event coordinators as to why you deserve one of those exclusive press passes. If your articles are regularly top picks, be sure to mention that, too!

Be Proactive

Kiefer Sutherland and Pat Cuadros

Prepping for an interview with Kiefer Sutherland. Credit: Tony Cuadros.

Don’t wait for an editor to give you a story lead. Stay on top of your research and propose your own ideas. If you see other journalists at events, ask them for advice or just watch what they’re doing. The same applies if you do your own photography. Photos are a nice touch for any article. Seasoned photographers and writers know the logistics and formats of events, which keeps you on alert to act when the honored speaker arrives.

Keep Costs Down

As far as equipment like cameras and voice recorders, you don’t have to buy the high end stuff. If you eventually get a full-time job in media, your employer may provide and maintain that equipment for you. Black Friday deals offer great discounts on cameras and other tools. Use free editing software such as GIMP, which enable you to adjust your photos at a quality comparable to Adobe Photoshop.

My advice above about networking really comes into play here. At Awesome Con, I borrowed a video camera from actors Johnny Alonso and Kevin Tan, who were also doing interviews. We filmed a segment together and then I headed off with my lightweight Nikon. Not only is equipment expensive, but If you’re small like me, it’s easier not to have to carry those heavy items all day! The media industry has an aura of extreme competition, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Exercising integrity, teamwork, and common courtesy always comprise the best strategy.

Find Your Sense of Fulfillment

When I began my small personal blog in 2013, I covered the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. I never imagined that I’d move beyond Charlottesville and speak with Jack Bauer himself, share a laugh with Once Upon a Time’s Rumplestiltskin, or meet the Twelfth Doctor. Blogging is still a source of joy for me, regardless of whether I make a career change into media. I hope you come to enjoy it as well.


This article was originally published on HoosNetwork at the University of Virginia.

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