By Pimpan Jongchirawongsa
So your career goal is to work in the broadcast industry as a field reporter, news anchor, or maybe a producer.
But what does it take to break into the broadcast industry today, and how can you prepare yourself?
Regardless of the position or the size of the market you want to start in, the competitive nature of the broadcast industry combined with the recent economic crisis may stir up a feeling of anxiety for many aspiring journalists.
Randall Yip, senior producer of the consumer unit at KGO-TV in San Francisco, says that the economic crisis has led to many staff cutbacks. Many journalists have had to take on more than one task – writing, shooting, and even editing their own pieces.
This used to apply only to the journalists in smaller markets. Not anymore – everyone’s having to wear more hats, often with less pay.
“I am now responsible for not only producing and writing my stories, but I must now often serve as my own photographer and editor. These new responsibilities mean I must spend a greater amount of time working on a story while the number of stories I am expected to produce remain the same.”
Yip says the broadcast industry demands even more than that.
“Some news outlets have made the big leap to multi-media journalism. Everyone is expected to turn stories on multiple platforms – TV, print, radio and the web. Other news outlets are slowly making the transition. For instance, at ABC7, reporters are expected to first write a story for the web and then later produce that same story for television.”
For aspiring journalists, developing a broad set of skills is crucial because it will be very useful in helping you gain entrance into an industry that is constantly evolving.
“As a student, you need to be a multimedia journalist because you don’t really know what direction journalism is headed. It’s important to learn a little bit of everything so when you’re put in that situation at your first job, you’re familiar with what to do.”
Aside from taking journalism courses, how else can you develop these skills?
One way is by getting as much hands-on experience as possible. Patti Lee, reporter at KTVU in Oakland, Calif., says new media offers new opportunities.
“There may only be three traditional news stations in a city, but there are other outlets for reporters, including online news services, blogs and social networks.”
Even if there isn’t a TV station at your university, “produce the stories on your own and put it up on the web so you have something to show somebody,” Yip says.
Yip also mentioned that obtaining internships while in college is very helpful because you can take advantage of the opportunity to get your work critiqued by professional journalists.
However, he warned that securing a lot of internships could also work against you if you have nothing to show for them.
“Internships are more learning by observing. It’s important to take what you learn and put it to good use in stories you can use for school or volunteer work.”
Essentially, translate the skills you learned from your internships to create pieces you can showcase when applying for a job.
For Shanna Mendiola, a reporter for KTVZ/KFXO NewsChannel 21 in Bend, Ore., internships can show you how the industry is in the real world.
“You only get so much out of school, but by putting yourself in a real situation you see if you can do the job and you learn a lot on the job as well.”
But there’s more to it than just applying for the internship and getting it. Taking initiative to get what you want out of the internship is also important.
“You have to make the most out of it. Ask a lot of questions and you’ll get more in return because people aren’t just going to tell you,” says Mendiola.
Lee adds, “If you want to put a tape together, you have to push for that. Come in on days that you’re not scheduled, ask for reporters to take you out,”
Whether it is reporting for your school’s TV station, posting your own videos on YouTube or obtaining internships, all of these experiences add to the knowledge you can bring when applying to your first position.
Standing out in a group of other aspiring journalists can be a challenge. So what else can you do?
“Put yourself at the top by learning how to do everyone’s job,” Mendiola emphasizes.
“People competing with you might only know how to do one job, but if you know how to do everything – produce, edit, shoot your video – you are on top of their list – you’re just what they’re looking for.“
She also advises applicants to “put the most interesting stories with the most interesting visuals on your tape because that’s what will keep news directors looking. The story ideas you come up with can’t just be fluff. Really think about what news stations are doing – hard news.”
“Show them you’re hungry and show them your ability to adapt to various situations,” Yip says.
From writing or producing a good story to editing a piece on time, you have to be able to respond to the changing demands of the newsroom.
“Those are the people who are going to make it, the people who are most adaptable to every situation they are thrown into.”
Yip advises aspiring journalists to really think about why they want to become a reporter, editor, writer or producer. He says to learn how to write, shoot, edit and even upload videos on the Internet.
Yip also shares that this industry is more than just glitz and glamour.
“Your desire to be on television may be your initial reason for getting into journalism, but it has to be more than just wanting to be on TV. You have to really think about why being a journalist is important in society.”
When asked about reporting, Mendiola says, “It’s more than just what people think – you go out there and ask questions and you write a story. It’s being able to be a detective, being a good communicator, writing stories in a way that’s comprehendable to people and being very knowledgeable about everything.”
For Lee, making friends in the industry plays a huge role. Lee says that the friends you make are frequently the ones who will get you your job because they are the ones who will let you know about opportunities and be willing to be references.
As an undergraduate or graduate student pursuing a career in journalism, don’t let the cutbacks or competition in the broadcast industry drive you out. Instead, take initiative and advantage of the various opportunities and resources available to you because it can make you the perfect candidate for that dream job.