How to find a Job in Journalism

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Want a job in Journalism? Invaluable tips from Ernest R. Sotomayor, Director of Career Services at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Prof. Sreenath Sreenivasan, Dean of Students, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism shares an online chat with Ernest R. Sotomayor, Director of Career Services and Assistant Dean of Students Melanie Huff addressing job hunting at the J-school and more.

Ernest Sotomayor, who joined the J-school in Jan. 2005, was a long-time editor at Newsday and served as president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, the most influential organization of minority journalists in the the U.S. A widely respected veteran newspaper professional, his insights and extensive contacts provide Columbia students with an important advantage in their job hunts. He heads a three-person Career Services office.

Sree Sreenivasan: Good afternoon (good morning, good night, etc). Its 1:03 pm, Columbia time. If I or Mr. Sotomayor use at the end of one of our messages, that means theres more to come. If we put a period, we are done, and ready for you

Sree Sreenivasan: This is the fifth such session and we are very excited to have Mr. Ernest Sotomayor join us. He will address various Career Services related questions.

Ernest Sotomayor : Welcome to all of you, on behalf of me and our Deputy Director of Career Services, Julie Hartenstein. Many thanks for your participation.

Some opening thoughts: Your time at Columbia will be enormously fulfilling and is intended to prepare you to launch your career, and for those who have some experience, to accelerate your newsroom abilities, whether in print or broadcasting or online media. While much has been written about the transformation of the news media companies, be assured that there are many opportunties still available for those who will seek them, wherever they are. Among the most important points to make here is that employers will be seeking to hire people who can demonstrate outstanding abilities as a reporter first and foremost, as well as a good writer. The best way to do that is to be published, through freelancing, internships, parttime jobs, on Journalism Schools The Columbia Journalist website, etc. At the same time, DO NOT jeopardize your academic work for an internship or a freelance assignment. The faculty here and our program is known worldwide because its the best at preparing you for a life in journalism, and you should not miss out on any of it.

Before you arrive, go to the Career Services website, at http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/ and view the various pages of self-help guides, listings, and features that are always available to you. View the resume guides online and sharpen that starting now, and once youve arrived and settled in, Career Services can continue assisting you in preparing for the journalism workplace.

Sree Sreenivasan: We will take your questions now, one at a time, please.

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Q: Claire Levenson: How hard is it for students whose first language is not English to find a job in American newspapers / magazines ?

Ernest Sotomayor: That will depend on your proficiency in English. We have had a number of people who can get jobs if they can master the language. Your writing ability will be the most important part of the qualification, but your reporting ability will be very important, also. And, your ability to master spoken English will be important. For most students who are accepted to Columbia, this is not a problem.

The other critical issue to remember is this: you cannot work in the U.S. without proper work authorization, which means the visa you are on must allow you to be employed. Be certain to check with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Universitys international students office to be sure you are eligible. Nearly all foreign students, following graduation, will be able to apply for Optional Practical Training permits, which allow you to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months in pretty much any kind of job.

INTERNSHIPS
Q: Rubina Madan: How common is it for recent Columbia graduates to have internships the summer after graduation? Is this something the school encourages?

Ernest Sotomayor : Yes, we encourage students to take internships. We hope that everyone can get a fulltime job, but that wont happen with everyone, and an internship will sometimes turn into FT job. But even if it ends after summer, you still gain very valuable experience that can be leveraged into your next job. (More here: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/internships.asp)

Q: Paul Leonard: Are summer internships usually paid or unpaid?

Ernest Sotomayor : Both, though typically, most are paid during summer months. Nearly every newspaper internship is paid. Some magazine internships are paid, and some are unpaid. Some TV networks during the summer months will pay but not all. Local stations that hire interns often do not pay, and local stations and networks that do not usually require that unpaid interns be currently enrolled in school so that they can receive academic credit for the internship. That makes our students ineligible for those types of internships because once they graduate, they can no longer get academic credit for any internship. But there are a few highly competitive post-graduate paid fellowship positions available every year, and our graduates will begin applying for apply for paid positions in television. There are a several post graduate internships in radio, both paid and unpaid.

Q: Paul Leonard: Any advice for a new journalist who wants to be competitive for summer internships, but will not have a mountain of clips in October?

Ernest Sotomayor: Clips will be very important, so work as much as possible to get published. Most employers wont put lots of stock in your class assignments, but that doesnt mean they are not of value. Its important training and if you have nothing else, then you can submit them with your resume packages at the end of the year when you apply for jobs. What will be key is also to look broadly for internships, and to look in many different markets. The wider your search, the most opportunities you make available.

POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS
Q; Aaron Cahall: Maybe this is too general, butwhat have you found newspaper employers place the most value on from a potential candidate from J-school; masters project? Teacher evaluations? Other?

Ernest Sotomayor : Reporting ability, above all else. If you cant report, its not important how well you can write. Your masters project is important in helping you learn the craft, and can also be important as a recruiting tool (some will be interested in reading it as part of your application package) but your published clips remain the currency in which most recruiters trade.

Q, Guest3513: How well is Columbias program known both nationally and internationally in terms of recruiters seeking out j-school graduates? Do many graduates go on to international placements after school or does this depend on your masters project, clips, etc? And related to the freelancing issue, does the school help in finding or teaching us about how to go about finding freelance opportunities?

Ernest Sotomayor: Many factors are involved in getting employed overseas, including your desire to work abroad. The school is well known internationally, because we have grads on just about every continent in many companies. Your ability as a reporter, once again, will be the most important factor. Experience is very important in landing staff jobs at companies that have international reporters. The media companies abroad local companies vary greatly in terms of their policies, but understand that there are immigration issues also involved in getting hired in some countries. UK is hard to break into, for instance, if you dont have a UK visa, but easy if you have a European passport.

As for freelancing: last school year we did four sessions designed to help you learn how to freelance stories, including how to pitch stories, write cover letters, what editors want from you, etc. Well be doing more. (Additional materials on freelancing. Career Services is rebuilding this site, so watch for updates in coming weeks. http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/freelance.asp)

BROADCAST QUESTIONS
Q; Matt Kozar: Mr. Sotomayor, when do broadcast concentrators begin sending out their tapes, and is the internet the best source for finding such job openings?

Ernest Sotomayor : Generally, broadcast students do not send out tapes until just before they graduate or just after because most often, unless they have worked in TV before coming here, they dont have enough work to put in a resume reel. The internet is just one source for finding the listings, but the listings we put up at the school is another, and referrals, networking with people who come into the school can be another important way. (Job listings: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/JobNews.asp and internship listings: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/internships-recent05-06.asp)

Stefani Barber: Would having our work made available at columbiajournalist.org help our prospects upon graduation?

Ernest Sotomayor : Yes. You want to demonstrate your abilities to employers any way you can, and getting your work published or streamed on to the site gives your material you can later use in your reels, too. But remember that even as a broadcast concentrator, stories that are in print can be very important in showing your work as a reporter/writer. (See student work at The Columbia Journalist: http://www.columbiajournalist.org/ )

ROLE OF PROFESSORS
Q: Caroline: Do professors ever play a role in helping to find students jobs, perhaps at news organizations where they work or have worked earlier in their careers?

Ernest Sotomayor : Yes, some professors are proactive about helping. Its always a good idea to ask them about connections, and network with the vast number of journalists who will visit the school over the course of the year. The professors indeed know lots of people and can point you toward people who will be willing to review our work, at the least.

Q, Guest3513: Can you give an idea of the percentage of students who get full-time jobs after graduating vs. internships? And what types of placements do students typically get i.e., do most students go onto jobs in media outlets, or other types of organizations as well?

Ernest Sotomayor : Last year, about 40 percent of the students at graduation had either a job or had enrolled in another fulltime degree program, and this year that figure was about 52 percent at graduation time, so we did better. Most of those students about 3/4 of them went into internships or fellowships and the rest who got jobs had fulltime jobs. Nearly all were in media companies, ranging from broadcasting to newspapers and magazines to pure online companies. A handful went to non-newsroom jobs.

NEWCOMERS TO JOURNALISM
Q: Neha Singh: For someone whos never been in the profession before (and therefore has no clips, etc. from the get go) what can we do to prepare for the job search early on?

Ernest Sotomayor : Get clips period. What youll need to do is try freelancing now as much as possible. That means finding any outlet that will publish your works, whether it means weekly papers or magazines, local community papers. You can build up the clip portfolio as you go.

ALUMNI
Q, Guest3595: Are current j-school students encouraged to network with alumni, and are there many opportunities during the school year to do so?

Ernest Sotomayor : We greatly encourage networking with alumni. Alumni can be very helpful in guiding you about life at a particular media company, and in giving you tips about people and the jobs for which youll be applying. We will have several alumni gatherings at the school every year, along with the big alumni weekend where we have alumni visit. We also will have a mentor program. And, later, if you want the names of people at a particular company or a geographic location, we can help you find people that way, too. (More on the J-School Alumni Association: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/alumni/associations/association/)

Q, Guest3513: How accessible is Career Services to alumni? Post graduation?

Ernest Sotomayor : We are 12-month operation, and continue to assist after you leave, but understand that we focus the majority of our efforts on our current students.

MENTOR PROGRAM
Q: Guest3765: Can you explain more about the mentor programwhat is that exactly?

Ernest Sotomayor : Mentor program is run by the Alumni Association and you signup after school begins. Students are matched with a mentore who is supposed to communicate with you on over phone and sometimes in person. They can guide you about job searches, where to look, tips on types of companies, the type of medium you pursue, etc. (More on mentoring, but it will be updated soon: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/alumni/associations/association/mentor/)

Q: Aaron Cahall: Quick two-parter: for those not graduating with jobs, is there an average time after commencement most get hired on byeither f-t, or internship? Also, how big a factor was previous experience as far as time to get a job by or after graduation? Clips and experience have to be important, as youve said.

Ernest Sotomayor : No average time that I can give. Some students had jobs in April and at least one in March, prior to graduation. I just had a meeting with a student prior to this chat from class of 2005 who was a standout but is still looking. Your experience prior to school will be important and give you an upper hand, but while in school you will have opportunities by doing freelancing, internships, class assignments like in Columbia News Service or Bronx Beat.

Q: Guest4635: Is it possible to change ones specialization, say, to Investigative journalism?
Dean Melanie Huff: Your concentrations are an internal designation only. Out in the world, you may apply for jobs that interest you. We have plenty of students who take jobs in areas other than those that were their official concentrations while enrolled.

SCHEDULE & TIMING
Q: Guest3513: The program is short and intense to say the least! When do students typically start their job search? When would you encourage us to start?

Ernest Sotomayor : For students seeking internships for the summer, the search begins in the fall, like in October. The deadlines for many internships for summer fall in end of October, through November and early December and some as late as January. For FT jobs, students typically begin searching about the time they complete their masters projects, which is about spring break. Some begin much earlier, and some wait until after graduation and realize theyd better get on the stick. Seriously, its wise to begin in early spring. (See this page for examples of when some company deadlines are set: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/internships.asp)

OTHER PATHS AFTER J-SCHOOL
Q, Guest4635: What about continuing with another program after the MS. What would you recommend?

Ernest Sotomayor : At the J-school, of course, we offer the Master of Arts program which we launched last September and which you can read lots about on the website. In the M.A. Class of 2007, we have about eight students who are returning from the M.S. Class of 2006 Some students go to law, School of International Public Affairs, some to medical school, and a variety of others. The vast majority go into journalism positions, however. I dont have a recommendation, however, since that would depend so much on personal factors. (More on our MA program: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/admissions/apply/ma-program/index.asp)

NETWORKING
Q, Guest3385: Do you recommend joining Journalism-related associations?

Ernest Sotomayor : Always. Good way to network, find out about more job listings, meet people who might be able to help, and provide professional development later. Some have good programs that cater to students that let you interact with seasoned professionals. (Links to many organizations: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/networking.asp)

SALARY ISSUES
Q: Guest3513: Perhaps its too far down the road right now, but I have no idea about this at all and havent checked out any industry standards, etc., but what are typical starting salaries for starting reporters? Is there an average range?

Ernest Sotomayor : Very wide range, depending on the size of the market or the medium. A reporter at small papers in a rural setting might be paid starting salary of $25,000 while someone at a big newspaper as a longterm intern might get as much as 45 or 50K. Magazines in a place like NY might pay around 30K to 35K beginning salary. (Some salary guide info: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/salary.asp)

CLIPS
Q: Rubina Madan: When submitting clips, is it OK to include print outs from Web sites rather than copies from the physical
newspapers/magazines? Or are most employers still looking for traditional clip files?

Ernest Sotomayor : Printouts of the websites are OK, but be sure youve got the media company ID somewhere on the page. If you send a link, be very certain that the link will remain available. Ive gotten resumes with links to stories that were behind firewalls, required registration or where the link expired. I can tell you I NEVER registered to any newspaper site to
view someones clips.

Sree Sreenivasan: I am also a big fan of building a personal homepage with your clips. Those of you who do New Media Skills in the Fall or Spring will learn to do that. And we will have other opportunities as well. One URL to check out about this is http://www.sree.net/tips/websites.html

RESUMES/COVER LETTERS
Q, Guest3385: Is your office available to critique resumes/cover letters?

Ernest Sotomayor : Absolutely. We meet individually with students and in group sessions to discuss resumes and cover letters. We try to meet as many students as we can to help you with those two items and also post samples on our website. (See our guides here: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/resources/guide.asp)

Q: Aaron Cahall: Spinning off thatis there the opportunity to have someone at CS look at my resume/clip package and give me an idea of where I should be looking for jobs as far as market size, etc. I was asking about job search help by looking at resumes and clips?

Ernest Sotomayor : We can help guide you to employers based on your clips and resume/experience, yes.

Ernest Sotomayor : A few closing thoughts: Try to find places that will publish you work as you go through school here. That will be very important in getting employers to take interest. They want to know what you can do, and it means freelancing, getting an internship usually your second semester, not your first. And stay abreast of the process for applying, the deadlines set by the media companies. Youll not get an internship if you dont apply or dont apply on time. Last of all, think broadly about where to look for employment. The smaller your search, the fewer opportunities youll find. And, please refer to Career Services website: http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/careers/ for more.

Sree Sreenivasan: My final thought on this topic - start becoming familiar with the US media by reading sites like Poynter.org/romenesko, TVNewswer.com and MediaBistro.com EVERY day

The URL of the transcript:
http://deanstudents.blogsome.com/2006/07/10/sotomayor-chat-1/

Prof. Sreenath Sreenivasan | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dean of Students, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
http://www.sree.net | http://www.sreetips.com
New sites blog - http://www.sreetips.com/new

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