I’m a keynote speaker at the Journalism, Leadership and Management Conference for student media leaders this weekend at the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State University.
I was asked to talk to the students about leadership and the future. My primary point is that young journalists are already providing important leadership in our profession and they have an extraordinary opportunity and extraordinary examples to shape journalism in their careers.
I don’t have a written version of the address, but my slides are below. I sought advice for these young journalists from some outstanding successful journalists. I shared some of the advice on my slides. In other cases, I drew my advice from things these journalists had posted online (or things they said in interviews). Or I just drew my own lessons for the students from these journalists’ careers.
Here are the responses from the young journalists who sent advice to the students:
Laura Amico’s advice
Laura is the founder of Homicide Watch, winner of the award from the Knight Award for Public Service from the Online Journalism Association and a recent Nieman Fellow:
Audience: I still think the best thing I ever did was to start at a small paper. Really. Small. (3 reporters and a photog.) Reason: It taught me about audience. The people I covered I ran into not only at school board meetings, but at the grocery store, at the movie theater, and at the county fair. The magic behind Homicide Watch really is the audience and working at a small paper, getting to understand what the community needed of me, and what I needed of them, helped me understand the importance of building journalism into and through the community.
Finances: You may not make much, or you may be working for free. But make a plan for paying bills. Contribute to the 401k. Stock money away in savings. Having that financial net makes it easier to move on to the next job/ opportunity/ whatever when the time is exactly right. Chris and I were able to launch HWDC ONLY because we had savings.
Passion: Find something to be passionate about every day, or at least something that you like doing. A story that you can peck away at between phone calls on the story that the editor assigned you. A source you can call and gab with and remember what you like about the beat. Your timesheet to remember that you’re getting paid. Whatever it is, find something every day. Eventually small joys will lead to larger discoveries about what you want out of your career.
Matt Thompson’s example and advice
Matt didn’t send me any advice, but I did share some advice from his Poynter blog post giving tips for job applications.
David Cohn’s advice
- It’s a small journalism world. Don’t be a jerk. Because everyone will remember. In fact, be the opposite.
- Go full force. If you REALLY want to break in – dive head first. If you go halfway – you’ll only make it halfway and there is no life-raft in the middle of the swim.
- Related to #2 work your butt off. At one point I counted 6 bosses. I was working all kinds of jobs – from freelance writing, to book research assistant to professional aggregator for a Digg competitor (owned by AOL) to project manager for journo projects etc etc. Of course – in the long run this many jobs is not sustainable. But if you are young and take #2 to heart – by doing a wide variety you will find out what you are truly interested in (or not interested in) and through a process of elimination you will go from doing 6 jobs part time to 1 job full time.
Zahira Torres’s advice
Zahira Torres is education reporter for the Denver Post whose investigative work on a school cheating scandal at the El Paso Times won her recognition as one of Editor & Publisher’s 25 under 35 and won national awards from Governing magazine and the Education Writers Association. (Zahira is one of two Digital First Media colleagues whose advice I cited here, though I could have called on dozens more.) Zahira sent along these tips:
- Never stop trying to learn more. Several organizations including IRE, Poynter and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists offer training to improve your skill sets. Seek out scholarships to these sessions. Many of these organizations provide financial help.You can ask your company to pay for the training but make sure you have a plan for how you can share with colleagues what you learned.
- Learn your state’s open records laws. They can be your best friends. Here is a link to a letter generator for FOIA and for your state requests. Eventually, you will learn to craft your own but, in the meantime, this will help.
- Pick someone for whom you are specifically writing a story. I write for my little brother. He is a recent college graduate, smart but not a news junkie. He cares about what happens in his community but only if you can quickly engage him.
- Never be intimidated by the people you cover. Ask tough questions but don’t be arrogant. Always keep in mind that you have access on behalf of your readers.
Liz Heron’s advice
Liz is Editor of Emerging Media for the Wall Street Journal and formerly worked at the New York Times and Washington Post.
Always keep an open mind and an active curiosity about new forms of storytelling and communication. Seek out mentors, both on the cutting edge, and at the core of traditional journalism. Also, devour everything you can about new business models; journalists can’t afford to stay ignorant about the bottom line these days.
Jeff Sonderman’s advice
Jeff, deputy director of the American Press Institute (a former TBD colleague of mine), shared some slides he uses with students at Georgetown, where he is an adjunct faculty member (he also gave me permission to post the slides and embed them here):
Mandy Jenkins’ example and advice
Mandy is Interactives Editor at Digital First Media. I shared some career lessons I shared earlier on the blog from my observations about Mandy, a colleague at both TBD and Digital First Media (with whom I co-teach at Georgetown). Mandy also shared this advice:
- Don’t be timid about reaching out to professionals you don’t know on social media. Ask them questions about their work, engage with them about what they’re covering or building, offer them assistance and input when they ask for it. You never know when that person will be in a hiring position, or knows someone who is, and they’ll already know you.
- ABT: Always be tinkering. Try out new social media services or storytelling tools when they come out, set up and design your own website, learn new coding skills via something like CodeAcademy and try them out on your own. It takes up a lot of “spare” time to do this, but it is well worth the benefit to be the one person who knows how to do something in a newsroom or a stack of resumes.
- Get in some face time at meetups and events. If you have a local chapter of the Online News Association, get on their mailing list and sign up for their monthly events. The same goes for groups like Hacks/Hackers, Social Media Club, etc. If there’s something you’re into, chances are there’s a meetup for it. This is where professionals go to swap their secrets, so go meet them there.
Daniel Victor’s example and advice
Dan is staff editor for social media at the New York Times, another former TBD colleague whose career example I have blogged about before. He also shared lessons with the students:
- Distinguish yourself. Lots of people can demonstrate basic proficiency, so you need to find something that makes you unusual. Have projects or ideas you can point to and say: No one else has tried this, or no one else can give you this.
- You have to fully know the rules before you know the best way to break them. Once you’ve really ground yourself in the basics of reporting and how to work in a newsroom, you’ll have a better idea of how you can effectively “disrupt” one.
- Be: friendly, reliable, known as a tireless worker, curious, humble.
Mónica Guzmán’s advice
Mónica is a columnist for the Seattle Times and GeekWire. I shared some advice Monica shared with a student journalist in an interview and with a University of Washington entrepreneurial journalism class.
Mark Luckie’s advice
Mark is the founder of the 10,000 Words blog, former Washington Post National Innovations Editor and now Manager of Journalism & News at Twitter. I shared advice from Mark an Inside Thunderdome live chat and noted that Mark built his brand in part by sharing his smarts in the Digital Journalist’s Handbook.
Kim Bui’s advice
- Find what it is about news that you love, and keep doing it. I mean this as in find the values and actions that you’re enamored with (for me it’s finding new ways to tell interesting stories). Chances are you will not stay in the same position forever. Reporters become editors or programmers or…what have you. What keeps me going is knowing firmly what I love about news and journalism and making sure all my work reflects that, no matter what the actual title is.
- Be loyal to yourself, your classmates and your bosses. My friends from ISU and I still help each other out. Mentors are hard to come by in this business, so I made mentors of my peers. We keep each other going, and it’s mattered immensely to me. Over the years, I’ve added to that list of people I can call when I’m burning out or having a bad day through conferences, ONA, #wjchat, and others things. Journalism is stressful, and it can and will try to kill you with long hours, not eating enough, and tons of stress. Find people who will remind you of why you love it when you’re down and you’ll make it through. #HorizontalLoyalty.
- A more practical tip: Learn how to pitch. I never learned the art of the pitch in college, I learned it on the job, but it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. Learn how to pitch a project, a story, an idea, a concept. That way, if you have a dream project, you can sell your boss on it. If you end up freelancing, you can sell stories. Pitching is a completely underrated skill that is at the core of what we do: Selling people on what stories matter most.
Lessons from other young journalists
In some other cases, I cited some career lessons from my observations about some young journalists:
- Nate Silver shows the importance of data analysis as a journalism skill and the importance of enterprise: finding (or creating) and mastering your own niche(s).
- Brian Stelter‘s coverage of the Joplin tornado using Twitter text messages shows the importance of resourcefulness and preparation.
- Will Davis, who developed a content-management system for the Bangor Daily News, shows the importance of making your own solutions and the value of programming skills for journalists.
- Ezra Klein (and many of the other journalists cited here) shows the importance of having your own blog and developing a strong personal brand as a journalist.
Career advice from my tweeps
Of course, I crowdsourced the question and got some helpful responses:
@stevebuttry Save as much money as you can and take business classes, which will be useful in pretty much every beat.
— Karen K. Ho (@karenkho) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry Don’t consider a career in journalism unless you’re inspired. Serve the right to know, tattle on power and offer a forum? Yes!
— Toni Momberger (@tonimomberger) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry Be positive, fearless & future-oriented. Plan to be a lifelong learner.
— John Robinson (@johnrobinson) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry Don’t just think you’re going in as a sports reporter; you do it all. Get a taste of it all, and be up to speed on social-media
— Patrick Healey (@patricetheace) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry You can’t do it all. Be a realist or you’ll have a breakdown. Learn what you can digitally, excel in reporting & you’ll be OK
— andrea gillhoolley (@AGillhoolley) June 20, 2013
Yes, I do note that the advice in the last two tweets is contradictory. I explain why each of them is right in different contexts. And I explain that you will get conflicting advice throughout your career. Listen and decide which advice applies best to your situations and opportunities.
@stevebuttry Learn math. No newsroom will lay off the guy who knows math. Also: Excel is your friend.
— Danny Willis (@DannyJWillis) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry Know how to use a real camera and edit video. Blog if you’re unemployed. Show me you can’t stop writing.
— Jenn Lord Paluzzi (@jpaluzziSun) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry know digital. And know journalism. They aren’t always the same and journalism always wins.
— Shelley Acoca (@ShelleyA) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry I may be unqualified to answer, but never record video vertical on a smartphone. Know how to use multimedia properly.
— Jake McLernon (@JollyJPhotog) June 20, 2013
.@stevebuttry Career advice for journalists? If you can’t ride two horses, don’t join the circus.
— Jerry Casey (@jjeremiahcasey) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry I’m no longer a young journo, but my advice is take business classes, save money, take care of your health, live within means.
— Carmen Sisson (@CarmenSisson) June 20, 2013
@stevebuttry Ignore those who say journalism is dead. They’ve been saying that for decades. Invest in people who believe in what you do.
— Carmen Sisson (@CarmenSisson) June 20, 2013
I’ll finish with a couple pieces of advice I’ve shared before in this blog:
The example of Roger Ebert
I’ll close with an example from a veteran journalist, who also died this year, Roger Ebert.
Before long, these student journalists will be veterans with routines, reluctant to change and try new things. I’ll remind them that Ebert was a multimedia star, superstar syndicated Pulitzer Prize-winning print movie critic with a national TV show.
But late in Ebert’s career, when cancer was stealing his voice and his face, Ebert became one of journalism’s best bloggers and tweeters. I’ll call on the students to follow the examples of these young journalists early in their careers and to follow Ebert’s example when they are successful and experienced and tempted to coast.
Here are the slides for my keynote:
Friday JLMC sessions
I also led some workshops Friday at JLMC. I discussed thinking and working digital-first and how student media need to change to a digital-first outlook. Here are the slides I used (though I didn’t necessarily show every slide in each show):
I also led an evening discussion of ethics, where we discussed topics such as objectivity, opinions, opinions in social media, accuracy checklists and plagiarism. Among the things we discussed were the Manti Te’o story and Jay Rosen’s “view from nowhere” and “he-said-she-said” stories.