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.

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