One of the trending hashtags on Twitter today was #ADVICEFORYOUNGJOURNALISTS. I’m guessing this hashtag was, at least in part, a result of the recent shake-up at NBCNews due to the “misremembering” antics of Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.Back in the dark ages (I called them the 60s), my intention upon high school graduation was to enroll at the University of Missouri to major in journalism. I had earned a scholarship to Mizzou, it was located only a couple hours from my home, and at that time at least, it was considered one of the best J-schools in the country. According to Wikipedia (see subheading in above image), it “may be the oldest formal journalism school in the world.“
During my senior year of high school, plans changed. Though many of my friends were headed off to Columbia, MO to enroll at Mizzou or UM-Rolla MO (a school of science and technology) or another far-flung location, I had begun to acknowledge the call of God on my life and opted to attend a small Bible college outside of Chicago. My J-school training never occurred … and in retrospect, that was a blessing.
Absent the formal training, I was nevertheless compelled to write and have done so by fits and spurts over my lifetime, now coming close to fifty years since high school graduation in 1967. I’ll never know for sure, but I suspect my life is much richer sans the journalism background.
When I observed the trending hashtag early this morning, I started by reading what others were posting in response. @MartinBelam (see image) summed up the overall tenor of comments related to the hashtag. “Great advice, jokes and really genuinely bad advice” pretty much represents what one will find most anywhere on the worldwide web.
Fusion.net offered its own take on the query with author Felix Salmon posting To All The Young Journalists Asking for Advice. Robyn Pennacchia at The Frisky followed up with her post On #AdviceForYoungJournalists and The Oldest Tropes In the Book. Both posts are worthy of attention and praise. Prospect Magazine offers an amusing sampling of tweets bearing the hashtag.
#AdviceForYoungJournalists is essentially no different than any other query from a freshly-minted college grad. They’re anxious to find a well-paying job and eventually hope to find a niche for their talent. In today’s economy, I think journalists endure the same ubiquity as lawyers. Our college town has law firms on every corner as well as a fair number of journalists seeking new positions or a new line of work, especially since the most recent newspaper consolidation left some long-time reporters unemployed.
I tend to think many well-established journalists would rather the proliferation of young journalists decrease. Send these writers into technology positions or publishing houses. As the recent newspaper consolidation demonstrated, there will be fewer positions available. Let’s look ten years down the road. Will daily newspapers be forced back to weekly print production in favor of online content? This has to be a concern for the established cohort.
What I would tell a young journalist (admittedly without the J-school bonafides) as a first step is to identify a top-notch mentor, an individual who approaches life and work with excellence and energy. It doesn’t matter whether he or she works in journalism; it’s their striving for excellence that counts. Learn from this person! Study his or her habits and what drives the hunger for excellence.
Whether the mentor is an auto mechanic or nuclear scientist, this mentor will (hopefully) demand the same level of excellence from the young journalist. The mentor’s example may also broaden the aspiring journalist’s perspective about possibilities for an alternate livelihood where the young journalist may be as effective (even more so?) through a re-evaluation of options.
As a second step, unless you choose to be a novelist (fiction), never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever sacrifice Truth for the sake of enhancing a story! Write, rewrite and rewrite some more and never let go of your integrity. In the end, you’ll have no reason for regrets.