Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

How to Make It in the Newsroom: Think Big, Be Prepared to Start Small, Pros Say

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

How to Make It in the Newsroom: Think Big, Be Prepared to Start Small, Pros Say

Article excerpt

How to Make it in the Newsroom: Think Big, Be Prepared to Start Small,. Pros Say

by Joan Morgan

Attend the right schools, pass the appropriate exams and you are in. Right? Wrong, journalists say. Journalism is not like some other careers in which one can expect immediate payoffs in plum jobs. Most journalists must pay dues in smaller cities, learning and perfecting their craft skills, at small papers and broadcast outlets. Then they wait for a break to move up.

Journalists, like actors or musicians, all dream of the big break -- the one that gets them on national TV and makes them household names, or which has millions reading their bylines. But the breaks don't come easy. Newsroom work is highly competitive and the number of jobs available are fewer than the number of eager college graduates. So how can minorities make it in journalism?

Black Issues asked the presidents of professional associations for journalists of color to discuss what is necessary to make it in the field.

Q. What is the best entry into the profession and is it more difficult for minorities?

Dorothy Gilliam, president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and a Washington Post columnist, says: "I think the best route is still a smaller paper. It doesn't have to be but it gives the best possible foundation. If it's a reasonably small paper with good editors. When you say small that is a relative number. What you want is a paper where you can get some experience. The key is self development so that you are really on top of every aspect of journalism--reporting, weighing, measuring, analyzing and thinking. . . . I think small newspapers are a good entry point even for those people who are thinking about going into television because it helps hone their reporting and writing skills. And they will be so much more valuable and their chances of getting a television job are enhanced.

Evelyn Hsu, president of the Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA) and assistant editor of The Post's weekly section, says:

"It's very competitive and clips are very important. I think a lot of it [getting in] is a matter of an individual's opportunity. There have been cases where a young person has gotten an internship at a fairly large paper, did well and was hired. Suddenly, they are at a place where people with many more years of experience aspire to but haven't gotten. What you don't want to do is eliminate any options for yourself. I think the one virtue of starting in a smaller market is you get the luxury of doing some learning on the job whereas in a bigger more competitive place mistakes can really cost you.

"For minorities, the caliber and ability of their peers is tremendous.

Diane Alvario, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and a reporter for WFSB-TV Hartford, CT, says:

"The most important thing in breaking into the field of journalism is your determination to do the hard work and to succeed. A lot people miss opportunities to break into the industry because they just don't want to go to the small towns where the jobs are. In some cases minorities actually have more of an advantage in choosing to go to a middle sized paper because of the limited size of the minority talent pool."

Paul DeMain, president of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and CEO of Indian Country Communications says: "Right now there are not enough Native American journalists to fill the need, so I can pick and choose. But either way, I had to be at some point committed to writing and editing and the field of journalism.

"You can enter the industry laterally and I'm not going to play up one over the other. I don't know if it's any harder to break in at one spot versus another -- the issue is just breaking in because at this particular point in history a lot of papers are downsizing. They're not hiring people -- they're laying them off. Certainly, going to the small communities makes it more difficult culturally for minorities. …

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