I’m young and so is my career. I don’t have a Pulitzer and popular middle school girls have more Twitter followers than I do. But it wasn’t that long ago since I was in school and I’ve learned a few critical differences between studying journalism and getting paid to be a journalist. Most of my experience is in radio broadcasting, so I’m writing this through the lens of a broadcaster.
There’s no time for perfection
Writing scripts for air and writing web stories was a long and draining process in college. I use to submit my work to my professors and internship mentors and they would pick at my words like a vulture pecking at a carcass on the side of the road.
But things are different in the real world of broadcast because deadlines are so tight. When I was a field reporter, I was sometimes required to go live 30 seconds after I was briefed from a source. There was no time to write in full sentences, much less construct a proper tag.
I would just go with it. Delivering information in a professional and coherent way becomes second-nature because of all the poking and prodding in college and internships. That’s the hope, anyways.
You view your stories differently
I have seen puddles of blood pooling on the street after a child was hit by a car. I have seen a mother’s face when she learned her son’s body was found in a ditch. Reporting local news usually means you’re present on the worst day of someone’s life.
Covering terrible stories is still emotionally draining as a paid journalist, but it’s different than just shadowing as an intern. Scripts have to be written, police officers need to interviewed and new information has to be tweeted. The deadlines distract from the despair. These stories are still tragic, but the demands of the job usually don’t lend time to reflect on just how sad the story is until later.
You won’t be coddled
I completed three internships in college. I was never coddled, but I recognize there is a big difference between an unpaid intern and a professional journalist when it comes to day-to-day expectations. When I was an intern and news broke at the end of my shift, I wasn’t expected to stay and help cover the story because the bosses understood I had to go to class. Now as a professional journalist, you can bet I’m covering breaking news long after my shift should have been over. Even if an intern is a vital part of the newsroom, bosses are still less demanding because they realize interns are usually working for free.
Social Media is a mandate, not a suggestion
There is so much to say on the role of social media in journalism and so many people have given their expert opinions. I’m not an expert, I’m just telling you about the “then and now.”
Back then in college, I knew I would have to be active on Twitter and Facebook. In fact, I created my first Twitter account for a school assignment. As a student, I had no idea how much I would have to weave social media into my work day. I thought a few random tweets here, a couple of Facebooks posts there would be sufficient. Nope.
Now, it’s not just about posting consistently, it’s about strategy and engagement. Newsrooms have detailed (and fluid) social media guides. Reporters are expected to live-tweet the stories they are covering. Anchors are required to tweet a tease to the upcoming story. Social engagement isn’t something our bosses wish we were doing, we’re expected to do it and do it well.
A parting paragraph (but actually paragraphs)
Remember your start because it helps you track your growth, especially in broadcast. Save your first report that made it to air (you’ll cringe later.) Make note of how long it took you to write a web story.
Before I was in news, I was a full-time traffic reporter. I am ashamed to say it took me 30 minutes to write a traffic report on my first attempt. (I was sitting alone in my apartment feeling so overwhelmed and wondering why the traffic maps were so darn confusing.) But with repetition, guidance and time, I was writing those same reports in about 40 seconds then reading them live on air. Track your improvements and allow yourself to be proud of the progress you have made.
Between internships, part-time jobs, classes and getting involved with media outlets on campus, being a journalism student is rigorous. The news business does not get easier when it becomes your full-time job, but it’s a lot better to get paid for doing things you once did for free.