Ask Afrobella – What’s a Writer to Do?

I recently got an Ask Afrobella question that’s gone ghost in my inbox, so excuse me if I paraphrase. And apologies to you, if you wrote me the e mail and I didn’t respond personally. I am a total mess w.r.t e mail, to be completely honest. It’s not you, it’s me. I lost your e mail and I think I might have deleted it or something. Either way, it’s gone and I apologize.

Anyways, the question was basically from a young journalism student who was approaching graduation. She was asking me what to expect from a career in the field. The question lingered with me because I honestly didn’t know how to answer it. It’s scary out there right now. I can’t even lie.

I am lucky enough to have a day job in an industry that’s running out of day jobs. Gaze into the dark pool of information that is Romensko and you’ll see, it’s dire out there.
Tribune Co. just filed for bankruptcy. My hometown daily, the Miami Herald is up for sale by McClatchy.

Even if you didn’t want to work for a daily paper, other forms of media are being affected as well. Check out the layoffs tab at Gawker. Viacom and NBC and NPR, oh my.

That last one particularly hurt and hit close to home. Today, NPR canceled News and Notes. Heartbreaking news.

I was very, very proud to have been a eight time contributor to NPR’s News and Notes bloggers roundtable, alongside the creators of such prominent black blogs as Jack and Jill Politics, Jasmyne Cannick, and Aunt Jemima’s Revenge. Farai Chideya and the staff at the show really made an effort to learn about and understand new media, and I think it’s a huge loss to NPR and an enormous step backward to cut back on African American targeted journalism at such a moment, at the onset of a such a historic presidency and time in our country.

In other news that hit close to home, Jossip blogs Stereohyped and Mollygood just closed their doors. Like I said, it’s dire out there. It’s enough to make a person feel like a statistic — 533,000 jobs lost last month. 1.9 million for the year thus far. It’s a scary time to be in the work force. And it’s a scary time to be a student about to enter the work force. But if you’re an aspiring journalist, I do have 5 bits of advice for you.

#1 – Don’t be like me in college. I had a blast freshman and sophomore years, partied and sowed my oats and lived the lush college life. Then midway through junior year I realized — waitaminute, I’m about to graduate! And I haven’t really participated in a group, or done any legitimate extra curricular activities! Then I crowded a ton of school newspaper writing into a year and a half of school. If I had to do it all again, I would have stayed up late and went to the radio orientation at my local college radio station (wassup, WVUM!). That way, I’d have another set of skills that could lead to a different career path.

The point is, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, because they ain’t coming when you graduate from school. If you can get an internship, get one. If you can do an elective and gain some online skills, do it. If you can get a job at your school library and learn how to do Photoshop or video editing, DO IT. There comes a point where you have to stop thinking of yourself as a perpetual student, and realize that you’re about to enter the working world. You need to set yourself apart. Which brings me to point number two.

2 — Set yourself apart. Be proactive. Get ahead of the game. Know what’s happening in the industry you want to enter. Journalism Jobs has some solid career advice, and unlike let’s say, Mediabistro, their articles are free. Look at jobs listings and think — what the heck could I see myself doing with my life? What do I want to do? Pick a few different job categories, not just one. And see what those jobs require in terms of skills. If they’re within your grasp, try to acquire them. If that means hollering at your dorky cousin Ned to get a bootleg copy of Dreamweaver, InDesign, or Quark and teaching yourself by borrowing books from the library, watching YouTube tutorials, and tinkering around by yourself, then do what you need to do. Gain some skills to pay your bills.

3 — Learn as much as you can about AP Style, it’s generally the standard. That way, when you do land a job, nobody will have to teach you everything from scratch. This is advice I wish I’d had in college – because I got a degree in creative writing and not journalism, my first six months were all about intense on the job training and repeated screw-ups until I mastered the skills I needed. If you’re in j-school, perhaps this is redundant and obvious advice. But as a green assistant editor, I had so much to learn. So take that for what it’s worth.

4 — Freelancing is brilliant and if you can include published clips with your resume, that will help you get a foot in the door. As versus to say, submitting your best college paper. And you’re probably not going to get a piece picked up by Rolling Stone or Glamour right off the bat, hotshot. Set your aspirations high but remain realistic in your expectations. Find out what your local community newspapers are, and think of what you could contribute to them. Are you into sports? Arts and culture? Video games? News and politics? Find out what their submission policies are. Send your resume and clips to the editor, and if the editor shows interest, follow up and let them know you’re available and eager and a hard worker with creative ideas. Sometimes a foot in the door is all you need.

5 — Establish yourself online (in the right way). What a difference a few years make. When I was an undergrad, I didn’t know any friends who had blogs. There was no MySpace or Facebook my freshman year. Now kids are coming up in high school with online identities, complete with potentially embarrassing photos, quotes, and anecdotes. Please believe that your co-workers and employees are seeing everything that appears on your social network of choice.

Some of the hottest bloggers in the game started their online empires while they were just students in college. So get to blogging. Pick a topic that’s near and dear to your heart, and try to find an original way to write about it. There are so many gossip, beauty, fashion, and lifestyle blogs out there, you gotta think about what’s going to make yours different and special. A blog can be a wonderful personal expression, but it can also be a great showcase for your skills as a writer. And who knows what wonderful things that could lead to?

This is an unusual Ask Afrobella, because I no longer remember or have the e mail address of the name of the person who wrote me in the first place. So I’ll just say — if you’re sailing the rocky seas of the job market right now, good luck. And if you’re a college student poised to graduate, good luck. We all need a little right about now.

If you’re a writer or blogger or in a creative field and you’ve got advice for the jobless and job seeking, or you’re jobless and job seeking yourself, please comment! In times like these, we can all learn from each others experiences.

** I got the above photo from The Root.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. hey Afrobella. Its funny you mentioned creative writing because that’s my major right now! I just got done with a class at school called Business of Creative Writing. We’ve had different speakers come into my class. From a grant writer to a screen writer to small press people. The last class tonight featured a librarian and two people from Small Press Distribution in Berkley. It is hard out there to be in any kind of writing field right now. The person who emailed you should try to get a job for a non-profit or work at a library until they can get an internship somewhere. They should also see if they can network with other writers or journalists. In SF and the surrounding bay area, there are always readings and things going on. I don’t know much about journalism because that isn’t my focus but I hope that helps!

  2. Hey Bella,

    I think that was very sound advice. My day job is a designer and we have our own job fluctuation issues. I am a creative writer who does get a little creative with grammar. I did just invest in the AP style book because it is good to know the rules before you break them.

  3. As a film exec turned screenwriter the best advice I received on writing was, “Writers write. Write every single day even when you don’t feel like it”.

    I have met a few American freelance journalists here in Rome. Even in this horrible economy they are busy. They seem to specialize in a few topics. This is one job were it would be a disadvantage to be a jack of all trades but a master of none.

    Find a few subjects that interest you and specialized. Continue to grow and network. One journalist started out covering mostly food and wine (living in Italy is a good place for this) and somehow now he is also a go to guy for climate change articles. He covers conference for major publications like the Wall Street Journal etc.

    I hope this goes without saying but these days you never know, a writer needs to read. A lot.

    Good luck.

  4. Journalism is a scary place these days. You give really good advice. I think the AP stylebook advice is priceless.

  5. Hi Afrobella, I’m graduating in May and am considering Journalism. Thank you for your advice!

    Best,
    Kasalina

  6. As a young journalist on the come-up, I agree with all of your advice Afrobella.
    What I’m learning is that you have to continuously learn new trades as well. Being a good writer is hard enough. But you can’t settle for being a good print journalist. It’s in your best interest to learn some basic video skills, and being web savvy is key as well.

  7. I’m also a journalist, and I think your second point is most crucial. Anyone who wants to be in this industry should make sure s/he understands all parts of it.

    Want to work in TV? Make sure your Web site also shows that you can write your you-know-what off. Want to work in print/online? Showcase some of your photography, create some databases, make some videos and upload them to Vimeo, YouTube, etc.

    This is a brave new world we’re living in, and the way to distinguish yourself is to show that you can do it all.

  8. Spot on, Afrobella.

    I’m in journalism now too, and your first piece of advice is priceless. It’s been a few years since I graduated, but I have found myself wishing I’d taken advantage of more opportunities at my school. (Don’t be mistaken though, I took advantage of plenty. :o) )

    The key thing is realizing that college — although it may not seem like it — gives you the most time to learn something new and useful. Some students may be like, “Well, I don’t have time for all that,” but you do. You WON’T have time — or maybe even the opportunities — once you enter the workforce. Colleges now have newspapers, radio stations, television stations, websites, etc… take advantage of all of it. Especially since extracurriculars come free of charge.

  9. I have one more tip to add. Although I’ve ventured from newspaper journalism to magazine journalism, I believe it still rings true. Many journalism programs are geared more towards news gathering, critical thinking and teaching you a form of journalistic writing, but they often don’t focus on writing as a craft. For this reason, if you’re not a creative writing or English major, take as many writing classes as you can. Yes, the MLA format you’ll use in English is different than AP, but it will give you a breadth of knowledge and the frameworks of how to write and tell a story. Too often there are young journalists who are go-getters and great about getting the story, but the story is in the telling.

    Read as much as you can, other than just writing, I believe that’s one of the only ways that you can grow as a writer. And in these trying times, learn different mediums to tell a story. Everything is so technology driven now so it’s imperative that you be multi-faceted.

  10. westindianladee says:

    Very good advice afrobella!

    Seth Godin and Marci Alboher have been talking a lot about the serious job losses in the journalism/newspaper industry. Check out this blog post Godin wrote about watching the Times struggle and what you can learn:

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/11/watching-the-ti.html

  11. kdsinexile says:

    Bella –

    I am just sick about the cancellation of News and Notes. I listened to the show everyday while eating my lunch in my office. I wish that NPR could have found a way to keep the show – it seems like all of the intelligent, thoughtful programs I love (on radio and tv)are getting the axe these days. Well, at least I still have Tell Me More.

  12. I really appreciated reading this today. It was on point.

  13. Bella, this is a great post. I have no interest in journalism but the foundation of this advice applies to any career, no matter what is. Yes we have to do all we can to learn and acquire skills and make ourselves more marketable while we wait for our “big break” and once the break comes, we can’t stop there. Thanks for this post, very insightful.

  14. Great advice!

    A point to consider when you start looking for jobs: don’t just look in the big ponds – Manhattan, L.A., Seattle, Atlanta, etc. Smaller media organizations aren’t doing so hot, but the market is way less crowded. I finished my M.A. in journalism this summer and instead of heading to Manhattan with the rest of the crowd I went to Central Virginia and now I’m editor in chief of three specialty publications for the town paper, one of which I got to launch my first month on the job. Follow Afrobella’s advice and you’ll have enough experience to be considered for jobs and you’ll be cheaper to hire than someone more experienced.

    And I can’t stress enough how important it is to get work published – even if it’s just on your blog. Writing is a muscle, the more you use it, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll have to show potential employers.

    Good luck!

  15. Hi Bella,

    This is awesome advice for your reader. As a former journalism student, I 100% agree with picking up the AP Style Book. It’s timeless, and will help newbies(and professionals) with standard journalism
    writing.

    Also, I can’t say enough about internships and practicum experience. Both definitely put you in a real world working environment. You’ll gain invaluable experience as well as get a taste of what your chosen profession is like on a day-to-day basis.

    Best wishes for you!

  16. BlackHoney says:

    If you have a background in science, may I suggest looking into medical communications. You work with key opinion leaders to write manuscripts detailing clinical trials. You also develop abstracts, slide kits and scientific posters in a wide range of therapeutic areas.

    It’s a great job for me. I hated working in biotech and I wanted to write fiction.

    Med communications allows me use my technical training, make good money and still pursue my passion.

    Think about it.

  17. GREAT info, thanks for sharing…

  18. hey afrobella!

    I’m an associate editor at a city magazine.(I get to cover style and beauty–woo hoo!)I think you’ve given GREAT advice, some of which I wish I’d followed not so long ago in my undergrad days! Anyway, my two cents: network, network, network! All of my media jobs have been results of friendships/professional relationships, not job boards. Good luck!

  19. Hi Bella,

    That is great advice! I especially like point #5; the world is small and the last thing that you want is your interviewer to remember your half-naked sex kitten pose on facebook!

  20. Hi Bella!

    I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see your response to my question posted as a blog! I sent you that e-mail and I figured you were busy. I didn’t figure my concerns would be the foundation for a blog post! Very awesome!

    As a young journalist, I am very concerned with the direction the media industry is going these days. The economy is harsh in general, but we know the media was feeling the crunch long before the economic meltdown.

    Thanks so much for your advice! I really appreciate it. I am still questioning my opportunities to become a real journalist someday, but I will take your tips and tuck them away.

    Thanks!
    Amber

  21. This is wonderful advice esp with freelancing. Start building clips from both print and online. Intern, network, and know your craft. like Afrobella said AP and some online/web skills would not hurt either.

    I had a life change in 2006 and writing is a life long dream, so I decided to go after it and make it happen. I freelance but I also work two day jobs. I love writing but I am very realistic as well. Hopefully the industry will turn around.

    http://www.ed2010.com is a great website for writers as well.

    Good Luck!
    CC

  22. Great advice and relevant for ALL fields not just writing. It also reminded me about Oleta who had written you many months ago about job hunting – any update on her?

    I would also suggest retraining skill sets if at all possible and network to let your contacts know you’re job hunting.

    Above all, keep as positive as you can!

  23. I would recommend to an aspiring journalist to research new forms of media; set up their own blog, and network online. With the Internet…your possibilities open up. New forms of media will be the new journalism cause if yall haven’t noticed magazines are getting thinner and thinner. People want free information and they’re relying on the Internet as their major news source! As an inspiring journalist you have to be forward thinking and progressive…

    Hugs and Kisses

    GT

  24. What a great post Bella! Your advice is amazing.
    I must admit writing is not my first love, my real passion is singing/music but the music industry is sooo hard to enter, even if you have bag loads of talent (like I do lol).

    Im graduating this year so I have been thinking constantly about what I want to do with my life. Should I head down the conventional route and work for a law firm, bank etc? Or should I pursue my dream of singing professionally, even if there is no guarantee I’ll make it?

    If I don’t pursue music, journalism is my other option. For some reason everyone thinks I look like a magazine editor (yeah right!) I’m not a great writer but journalism does sound like a fun career and it seems Bella has the best job! She gets to try products and visit spas fror a living!

    If anyone is in the music business and has advice for me please post! I’d really appreciate it.

  25. NaturallyMe says:

    I love the responses to this post. I graduated with a journalism degree ten years ago. I was able to work as a reporter for about three years in Japan before I switch over to accounting and I’m now working towards my CPA. Even to this day, I still find myself using the skills I learned as a journalism major.

    I agree with the post that recommended networking, especially in these times. Good Luck

  26. It IS hard out there for everyone and every industry. It’s quite possibly the worst time to start out in journalism, but perhaps the best as well? I graduated last year with my B.S. in magazine journalism, which these days feels as useful as a degree in typewriter manufacturing. I’m in PR now, because I simply couldn’t find a job in my field. Now I blog and freelance on the side, and perhaps by the time the economy picks up, I’ll have enough clips and contacts to get a full-time gig somewhere.

    My advice to anyone entering a crappy field is to aim for the job you want. If that doesn’t work, get a job that’s as close as possible, use your skill set to excel at that, and then freelance on the side. Tough times, but I know we can get through it! Great advice, Afrobella!

    Tara
    http://theyoungmommylife.com

  27. There is some excellent advice in this post and in the comments section as well. During my time in college, I hated my college and hardly wanted anything to do with the place. I did my work, but I didn’t join any clubs or do any extra curricular activities whatsoever. And can you imagine how much that has hurt me in the 2 and a half years I’ve been out of college so far? Now I’m picking up the pieces. In this business, if you want to make it, it has to be a hustle and you have to be willing to do it. And although I hate it (because it’s always hard for me to put myself out there), networking is key. Dedication and hard work gets you to where you want to be and networking is the extra boost, but it’s not easy at all. Great advice and good luck to everyone!

  28. Afrobella,
    Thank you SO much for the advice. I am a Professional Writing major at Old Dominion University (go Monarchs!!) and this is the best advice I’ve gotten so far. The good thing about my major is that I have the ability to take classes in a variety of fields. My professors constantly tell us that we have to know a lit of everything in order to survive in the field. Thanks a lot!!

  29. I would also say, if all else fails, get a second undergraduate degree. You should be able to attain it in a year’s time if you have a minor (as I do) and journalism as a major can compliment many fields. Example: I am a psychology minor. I would love to contribute articles to the APA, and a local institution is hiring psych majors of all levels. The job even offers flexibility if you would like to eventually further your education in the field.

  30. Thank you for this article. You are a pioneer in the industry and as I attempt to put a worthwhile blog together, I constantly look to Afrobella for inspiration and guidance. Your advice on this post is invaluable. On the professional side, I left my job nearly a year ago to finish my master’s degree and stay home with my newborn and now, I almost feel that there is no possible reentry for me in the market for a while, at least not to the position I occupied prior to having my son. It is at times frustrating, but I am trying to network and stay focused on the fact that I had a few years of experience prior to leaving the workforce. Once again, thank you for this article!

  31. I really loved News and Notes as well as Sterohype. This really brings it close to home how bad this recession truly is.

  32. I was reading through some of your articles on this internet site and I conceive this site is very instructive! Retain putting up.

  33. It is really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer
    for your blog. You have some really great posts and I feel I would be a good asset.
    If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.
    Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Kudos!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I haven’t done an Ask Afrobella since 2008! And wow, I was dancing around my own future in the last one I [...]

  2. [...] I haven’t done an Ask Afrobella since 2008! And wow, I was dancing around my own future in the last one I [...]

  3. [...] Revenge of the Curves (how does she do it all?) and young writer Amber J Adams, who once wrote in an Ask Afrobella question that I honestly struggled to answer. At the time I knew in my heart I was about to leave my job for [...]

Speak Your Mind

*