Not “just” a journalist: Preparing for a career transition

There are days when I look at my master’s degree and want to throw it across the room. Make no mistake, I love journalism — so much that I invested seven years of classroom time and nine years of professional time penning stories and living the dream.

But what happens when the party’s over?

Despite the state of contraction traditional media is going through, there’s still a healthy market for journalism schools and no shortage of journalism majors. Coming out of college, I had a wealth of experience that I largely failed to translate to potential employers. As a result, my journalism hustle remained just that — a hustle. A side job. It took me ten years to find a full-time job using the skills I learned in school and the virtual newsrooms. And the number of curve balls life has thrown my way make broadening my career horizons a necessity.

For the journalism students who may be reading this, do not allow yourself to be pigeonholed into being “the guy/girl who writes The easy part of what we do is that we don’t need to explain what a journalist is to the general public. The hard part is that because the general public (read: future employers) know what we do, they don’t often think of what else we do.

Thinking about a career transition? Consider the following selling points (if they apply).

The Freelancer

I’m starting here because this  is my category. Right at the top of my resume is the giant “freelance writer/self-employed” tag. A freelancer is not “just” a writer. A freelancer has to successfully market themselves to clients. You will not be a successful writer without being a successful marketer. Oftentimes this includes cold calls/emails to editors. Oh, we deal with A LOT of rejection as well. In addition, you may have also had to track your hours, bill clients and act as collections agency when the money doesn’t come. You are cool under pressure and adapt to rapidly changing environments. All of these are skills and traits that employers pay big money for.

The Editor

The editor (especially a managing editor) is a project manager. You assign stories, you make sure stories are going to be turned in on time. You may train writers on best practices and, depending on the size of the operation, write stories yourself. This is management and supervision. Successful newsrooms don’t require micromanagement, but successfully bringing together the variety of personalities to make a newsroom go — that’s a work of art and an act of God.

The Journalist

In the digital age, the journalist is a number of things:

  • The relationship builder (we are nothing without our sources and contacts)
  • The brand builder (both your client’s and your own)
  • The researcher and fact checker (self-explanatory)
  • The expert (ANY beat you’ve worked is a gateway to another career)

Never let anyone say you’re “just” a journalist.


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