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Dive in deep, swim to the top – tips on building your career

By Pamela Cyran 

Graduating? Mid-career? These job-hunting tips from veteran reporters are for everyone in the business.

El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Manny Garcia was joined by Stephen Stock, KNTV-San Francisco, Sarah Cohen, Duke University, and Len Downie of the Washington Post, on “Building your career: A roundtable discussion.” The panel offered advice on how to get ahead in today’s evolving digital era of journalism. Here were some of their suggestions:

Connect and collaborate

  • “So far you’re doing the right thing,” Garcia said. “You’re at IRE.” 
  • Connect with people. “If you don’t, you have ruined an opportunity,” Stock said.
  • For mid-career journalists, Stock said it’s easy to stay in ‘clicks’ but you need to continue to go out of your comfort zone. 
  • Make the time to get out of the office and go take a walk or drive somewhere, Cohen said. “Talk to someone you haven’t talked to yet or talk to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.” 
  • Cohen also follows the two-notebook rule. She has one notebook for the stories she’s currently working on. Her second notebook is for reporting on new ideas and talking to new people.
  • Collaborating with others is not only a good way to start your career, Downie said, but also a way for mid-career journalists to keep close connections with fellow reporters. “You can’t be that quirky journalist anymore,” he said, adding that you shouldn't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Cohen said to go over your notes from IRE and try to integrate them into your newest idea. Talk to people from IRE panels. People are nice, they’re not going to steal your ideas. “I’m not sure I’d give them my best idea…” Cohen joked.

Be versatile

  • There aren't just copyeditors at The Washington Post anymore, Downie said, they’re all multimedia editors. If you can do print and TV you have a step ahead of the mid-career journalists who struggle with those skills.
  • “We can still change the world and that’s an opportunity,” Stock said. People should embrace this new digital era, he said, not run from it. 

What do employers look for?

  • Garcia, who is also a recruiter, looks for three things — critical thinking, problem solving skills, and a positive attitude.
  • A diversity of skills will set you apart, all four panelists agreed.
  • “I’m always looking for how you challenge yourself,” said Garcia. “It’s not about where you went to school.”
  • Garcia said when he looks at clips the first thing he looks for are the quotes. Are they good? Do they engage the audience?
  • Cover letters are important. “It’s the first sign for us if you’re a good writer,” said Garcia. 

Other advice

  • “Find a niche, find a passion,” Stock said. “You gotta be someone special, you gotta stand out.”
  • Volunteer to do extra things, not just what you’re hired to do, Downie said.
  • Be self-sufficient. Bring all your own reporting tools and be ready, Cohen said.
  • “It’s easy to find work,” Downie said. “It’s hard to find work that matters.”
  • “Do the Justin Bieber story to feed yourself,” Stock said. “Then spend time on the stories you want to do.”
  • Build your own brand, Downie advised. Blog, Tweet, Facebook, but watch what you say.
  • Pitch the story, not the idea. “Have a bulletproof story,” Stock said. “Nothing’s worse than having the editor say, 'Well, what about this?'”
  • Start small. You’re not going to bring down a president starting off.
  • Always grow and find new ways to challenge yourself. As Stock’s colleague put it: “Dive in deep. Swim to the top.”

Pamela Cyran is a journalism graduate student at Emerson College.

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