Archive for the ‘ Professionalism 101 ’ Category

Entry-level journalism jobs: expectations and misunderstandings

I intervened yesterday in a simmering conflict between several current and former Stony Brook journalism students on the one hand and their employer, the editor and publisher of a local newspaper, on the other. The students (some are alums, but for simplicity I’ll refer to all as students) were angry about what they perceived as their boss’s arrogant, demanding and inconsiderate behavior – “brutal,” one called it. The boss viewed the complaints as the grumblings of young people unprepared for the reality and responsibilities of the weekly newspaper business. As far as “truth” goes, both perceptions appear to have considerable basis in fact. But in the end – sorry, students – I side more with the boss than with you.

Maybe that’s because I’ve already lived through my share of management decisions that smacked of unfairness. I’ve paid my dues. I’m still paying dues in other ways, and so does everyone throughout life, but that’s another story. For now, I’m talking just about paying your dues in entry-level jobs.

It’s not that I disbelieve the students. I believe them when they tell me about the 10- to 12-hour days, the boss’s seemingly unfair refusal to let them off assignments for important personal obligations, the unfeeling way he edits their stories and his cluelessness about the paper’s Continue reading

Work/family conflicts can arise early in a journalism career

One of this year’s graduates wrote to me recently with a pressing question:

“I know I JUST started working at [a major television network], but I have a question for you. … How did you know when to put your family first, before your job?

“…The reason I am asking is because when I was hired, my boss said I would be working Monday through Friday. But now, judging by the schedule, it seems she may not be giving me the weekends off, and, instead, will be giving me weekdays off.

“I am nervous because I am newly married, and with a schedule like that, I will never see my husband. Do I say something? I really would like at least one weekend day off so I can spend time with him, at least one day.

“But I feel like, since I am new, it is wrong to ask for that. Keep in mind, I am a freelancer still. I am not salaried yet. I get paid per day. Then I get worried that if I say something and ask for a weekend day as one of my off days, I am jeopardizing the potential for me to become a salaried employee.

“What is more important, my job, or personal time with my husband? Do you have any words of wisdom?” Continue reading

Live-Tweeting the Class Lecture: A #selvin247 Exercise

I tried Staci Baird’s live-tweeting exercise in yesterday’s Journalism 24/7 class, using the Twitter hashtag #selvin247. I gave a lecture on net neutrality and students tweeted their notes, using their phones or laptops to enter their 140-character comments on Twitter; the “hashtag” allows Twitter users to search by topic. I projected their tweets on the board, updating every 10 minutes or so. Some of the #selvin247 timeline is still up on Twitter as I write, though it’s fading fast.

Results: Students took stabs at conveying the facts of the lecture; many missed the mark. Too much effort expended on wit. A former student posting prank tweets. Students tweeting to their friends on personal topics during class.

As an exercise in comparing tweets with traditional, handwritten note-taking, I’d call the live-tweets a failure. Baird’s instructions, however, included an admonition to give students “some examples of what good live-tweeting looks like.” I didn’t do that. I’ll save a few examples and try once more next semester.

A few wrinkles emerged, besides those prank tweets from a student who took the class last year (“Can I go to the bathroom?  #selvin247 #educationalvalue #justkiddingidonthavetogo #gogojournostudents”). Tweeters circled the points I made, occasionally landing on the bullseye, but anyone trying to follow the lecture from afar would have been confused. Jokes distracted tweeters and their followers: “If the ISP is the gatekeeper, who is the keymaster?  #selvin247 #ghostbusters  #thereisnodanathereisonlyzuhl.” A follow-up check on students’ timelines found some unpleasant surprises, like this one from earlier in the class: “Ugh this class is killing me! Idk how [a classmate] and i are going to surviveeee.” Or this, far uglier, from last summer: “The only thing more despicable than the muslims building a mosque near ground zero is @sarahpalinusa trying to gain from it politically.” This one was pointed out to me by someone who was deeply offended by it.

Twitter being a public medium, I could rightfully identify those posters, but as both are students, I will refrain from embarrassing them – or, in the case of the tweet about “the muslims,” maybe costing the student an interview or a job. The point is that everything on a public Twitter feed – everything on the  Internet — is available to everyone, now and forever. Students: Keep your online identity professional! Think before you tweet: Do I want some future potential employer, or some future source, or a professor, reading these words?

The idea for the class-tweeting exercise came at the end of a Knight Digital Media Center blog post on teaching mobile journalism, which some enthusiasts call the most important journalistic tool to emerge in recent years. More sober observers point out the limitations of live-blogging (of which live tweeting is a subset), the most critical being the lack of context or analysis. In my view, live blogging is one more tool in the journalist’s expanding toolbox, useful during breaking news events but far less so during speeches or talks. Few lectures are of such white-hot importance that every thought needs to fly through the twittersphere the moment after it is uttered. Some people seem to thrive on that hothouse sense of immediacy, but I find its breathlessness forced. I’d rather wait an hour or two, or a day, and read a considered report on a lecture, context included.

Today’s journalism students must understand media policy and business

I began my previous post with a story about my first, feeble attempt to discuss net neutrality in Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry,  planning to segue into a response to Nick Lemann’s recent “Dean’s Letter” in a Columbia J-school alumni publication. Lemann’s letter addressed the importance of teaching journalism students about media policy, but I never got to it. Instead, I wrote about how that teaching blooper (what students might call an epic fail) taught me an important lesson about pedagogy, one I’ve used to great advantage in the years since.

And now to Lemann’s letter. Lemann, Columbia’s dean since 2003, writes that his attitude toward teaching students about media policy has evolved. His letter begins: “For most of my life as a journalist, I was blissfully, even willfully, ignorant about media policy.” But, he continues, Continue reading

Summer travels I: Barcelona’s language lessons

I mention my trip to Barcelona here because of the opportunity it afforded me to think about language. For 35 years, I have retained a smattering of schoolgirl French and Spanish that has seen me through travels in France, Portugal, Switzerland and Italy. Though Barcelona is part of Spain, Spanish is not its primary language. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, was the last stronghold of the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and retains an abundance of regional pride. The people speak Catalan, and one of the region’s triumphs since Franco’s death in 1975 has been the establishment of Catalan as an official language. Public signs are written first in Catalan and secondarily in Castiliano, as the Catalan people refer to the language spoken in most of Spain.

It didn’t take long for me to see that Catalan lies somewhere between Spanish and French — naturally enough, as Catalonia, or Catalunya, as its inhabitants call it, borders the Pyrenees that divide Spain from France. Take, for example, the Catalan word for “you,” vostè. In Spanish, the word is usted; in French, it is vous. Vostè is a nice compromise, don’t you think? Catalan reads phonetically, like Spanish, and uses accents, like French. Questions have question marks only at the end, without the upside-down opening question mark of Spanish. The most common expression for “please” is si us plau, sometimes rendered sis plau and meaning “if it pleases you,” not far from the French s’il vous plaît.

I had failed to find a Catalan phrasebook before leaving the States. There were none on the big bookseller websites or on Google. A friend sent me a link to this useful online source, which I cut and pasted into Word, edited for the needs of my trip, shrank the font of and printed on seven sheets of paper, which I then folded to pocket size and stuck in my Barcelona folder. Naturally, it was missing when I arrived at the flat my husband and I had rented in the Eixample (pronounced eye-ZHAMP-la) section of Barcelona. Continue reading

SBU/Journalism Commencement 2010: Our third graduating class

It’s over.

The busy spring semester is finally finished. All the work is graded, all the grades are posted, the orations have been heard and the cap, gown and master’s hood returned to the university bookstore. Our third class of graduates has moved its tassels from right to left.

I’m enormously proud of this group, as I have been of our first two graduating classes, but in some ways of this group just a bit more. These graduates embody not only their own talents and perseverence but also our growth as a faculty and a school.

It’s our biggest class yet (seven majors in 2008, 19 last year, 29 last week). Three are going to prestigious graduate programs in journalism (Columbia, CUNY). One has already started as a reporter for the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder, a six-day-a-week newspaper near his upstate home. One has a job as a desk assistant with WCBS-TV/Channel 2 in New York, which she earned after proving herself in a semester-long full-time internship. Another expects offers from either of two major metro news websites. Another has been called back for a second interview at Cosmopolitan. Another will be attending law school at St. John’s University. For students graduating in this economy at this point in the evolution of the journalism industry, having a quarter of the cohort with something solid ahead of them seems a victory. And I expect to hear more good news in the coming months.

I’m confident because while we as a school still have a lot to figure out about what and how to teach, we’re learning from each class of graduates, making changes and building on our successes. One thing we’re learning to do better is teaching professionalism. We have emphasized resume writing, portfolio construction and mock interviews, and the results show in the confidence with which our graduates are approaching the job hunt. The Cosmo girl (couldn’t help that) practiced with me in our senior-project class. The assignment was to find a job posting online that she really wanted, tailor her resume and cover letter for that position, research the organization and then sit for a mock interview. When she went for the real thing, she was ready, with ideas for the website and a successful senior project on a difficult topic that showed she could report, write, produce a video, take digital photos and add interactivity online.

Our push for every student to have one solid journalism internship, if not two or three, is beginning to show results, too. Fewer students than I would have liked interned, but 14, nearly half, did, 10 more than once, at newspapers, websites, magazines, television and radio stations, the full gamut. A couple “walked,” as they say, in Friday’s commencement ceremony but are postponing their official graduation date until August to squeeze in one last internship that requires academic credit. We have 15 students interning for credit this summer, at last count, mostly juniors, so I expect the percentage with internships on their resumes to rise next year.

On the day of the ceremony, in their red caps and gowns, many seemed both joyful and anxious. Who could blame them for a few jitters as they leave the intimacy of our program for the big wide world? But they’ll do well. I believe this from the bottom of my heart.

Job-hunting tools: Indeed.com and mediajobpod.org

I added a new category to the blog this week: Professionalism 101. Part of my job at Stony Brook U.’s j-school is coordinating internships and helping our seniors and graduates find jobs. And as the mission of this blog is to reflect on how j-schools are preparing the new generation of journalists for the evolving news industry, writing about job issues and the transition from student to professional feels like a natural fit.

When Joe Grimm met with our graduating seniors last week, he mentioned indeed.com, which he described as a “job board scraper.” Indeed.com has been around for years, apparently, and has been written about widely, yet it’s new to me. I’m an instant convert.

Just for fun, I tried searching for three starkly different job titles — newspaper reporter, hydrogeologist and sewing-machine operator — and got lengthy search results for each. Users can narrow the results by location, salary, company or title, among other choices; one can have e-mail alerts sent whenever a new job is posted in a selected category. The site has a blog examining overall trends in hiring, forums by job title, FAQs, search tips and a neat feature that Joe mentioned: job trends by industry. Today’s page on trends for a category called “media and newspaper jobs” says that job postings last month in this area were up 18 percent over February 2009. How’s that for some good news for a change? (Numeracy alert: Let’s remember that last February, such job postings were few and far between. Still, better up than down.) Among the top 10 job titles in this group: copy editor, with more than 11,000 such jobs posted at an average salary of $48,000.

Another site I’m crazy about is mediajobpod.org, which the Society of Professional Journalists mentioned in a recent e-newsletter; one of my colleagues passed it on to me. This site is the brainchild of two journalism profs at Kent State University, Karl Idsvoog and Dave Smeltzer, a former TV journalist and corporate videographer, respectively. Nice job, guys! They bill the site as “Job Search Advice for Multimedia Journalists and Production Majors.” It consists of beautifully produced video clips of top staffers, and executives who make hiring decisions, discussing topics such as internships, cover letters, writing and multimedia for specific job titles. The journalism job titles currently listed are TV reporter, TV producer, videographer/editor and Web reporter. Among the people who appear on the site are NBC’s Tim Peek, executive producer, new media; CNN anchor/reporter Carol Costello; and the elegant Rita Andolsen, news director at WKYC in Cleveland.

What’s so great about this site is the chance to hear and see professionals giving the advice that matters most to students, the nitty-gritty details about resumes and cover letters and interviews. Hearing from professors is one thing; for students, sometimes, it’s a lot like listening to parents, in one ear and out the other. Or so I fear. But hearing from professionals, and watching them speak, often in newsroom settings, is like diving into the Atlantic off Long Island. It wakes you up. The concern they express for helping students get the job-hunt right, and their passion for finding great young people to bring on board, makes for an inspiring experience.

Thinking twice about Facebook groups

Here at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, we were graced this week with a visit from Joe Grimm, the longtime recruiting editor for the Detroit Free Press, a Poynter columnist and one of the nation’s experts on newspaper careers. Since leaving the Freep 19 months ago, Joe has moved much of his voluminous advice for internship seekers and job hunters onto his Web site, http://www.jobspage.com/. And he’s expanding his bailiwick beyond newspapers to news careers of all sorts. (No fool, he.)

Joe is a witty, warm, nice man. We kept him busy for two days, meeting with faculty, meeting with our seniors and speaking to classes. I’ll have a lot to say about his visit over the next couple of days, but for now, I’d like to reflect on something he said about Facebook.

When Joe met with our graduating seniors, someone asked him what he wanted or didn’t want to see on a job applicant’s Facebook page. Stupid pictures are bad, of course, he said, the ones that show you crazed from booze or flaunting assets best left to the imagination.

We’ve all heard that before.

But then he mentioned Facebook groups, and that was one of those this-is-so obvious-how-could-I-never-have-thought-of it moments. I’d never thought about how groups I’d idly joined, whether out of interest, to show solidarity or to please a friend, could so easily reflect personal opinions, political leanings or beliefs that I might not want to share with every “friend” I have on Facebook. As Joe said several times, anything you put online is ubiquitous–everywhere–and forever.

I’ve dropped some groups from my list now. No doubt there’s still a way for anyone determined to dig up the names of those groups to do so, but few people will bother, I’d be willing to bet. Monitoring one’s online persona is a constant responsibility, and now I’m going to avoid joining groups that reveal more about me than I might wish.

Getting seniors ready for work

After reading my previous post on deadlines, one of the students in my senior seminar expressed disappointment that I hadn’t mentioned her name among those who have been posting regularly to our class blog. She was the first student to post, she noted, and has posted every week. She added that she had put her disappointment aside to concentrate on catching up on her missed work — and on getting her name off our weekly “Work Owed” chart.

That got me thinking about the importance of learning to live without much praise.

I remembered when I was a young reporter on the business desk at New York Newsday — so young, it seems to me now! I was 29 or 30 at the time of the incident I’m recalling; certainly I was old enough to know better, and I knew that at the time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d been at the paper for about a year, maybe a little more. I was meeting with my assignment editor, Steve Zipay. I don’t recall what made me say this, but I clearly remember complaining to him, “No one ever tells me I’m doing a good job.”

He fixed me with a mildly exasperated yet kindly look. “Barbara,” he said, “at this level, no one’s going to tell you you’re doing a good job.”

It’s assumed that you’re going to do a good job, he went on. Occasionally, someone may remark on it, and if you do something really terrific, you may get some brief recognition. But day to day appreciation? No. People are going to tell you what they need. Everyone is busy, and everyone is thinking about the next thing that has to get done, the next deadline.

It was a lesson that stuck with me, obviously.

Most of my students are already working, but not at jobs that mean much to them. When they get a job that serves their passion and reflects their training, they may be hoping for more recognition than they expect now, from the assistant manager at the store, say. Keep that hope in check, I want to tell them. The reason for working at something you’re passionate about is that the work is its own reward.

Recognition comes in other ways. Extra responsibility. A tougher assignment. Eventually, perhaps, an award or a promotion. But day to day, the motivated worker finds satisfaction in the work. In teaching these seniors, I’d better be as demanding, and as frugal with praise, as the overworked editors at their first jobs will be.

A New Year, A New Blog

January 2, 2010. 01/02/10, 01/02/2010. How anagrammatical. Or, as I’m among many to observe, how palindromatic.

JRNTeaching.wordpress.com: Inside the J-School Evolution has two purposes. One is to examine how the Internet revolution, which is reshaping the news industry, is driving changes to the journalism academy. It’s a parallel journey. Just as legacy news businesses — newspapers, magazines, network television — are thrashing about in a frenzy, trying to hold onto readers, viewers and advertisers in an era of free content, journalism schools are striving for new ways to prepare students for a very different industry than the one we professors came up in.

It’s a constant amazement that students are flocking to j-schools despite constant reports  of layoffs, cutbacks in coverage, shuttered publications and the rest of that grim litany. Young people want to tell stories. They want to share information. They’re turned on by the things that alternately intrigue and terrify their teachers: transparency, change, community. The school  at which I teach, the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, is midway through its fourth year of existence and has nearly 300 majors and 70 minors. Our youth as a school makes us more flexible than some long-established institutions, yet we, too, struggle to anticipate what will best serve our graduates.

At the same time, the fundamentals of journalism remain paramount. Those venerable ABCs: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. How to get there? Research. Interviewing. Proper syntax. Quantitative literacy (the clear and accurate use of numbers). Writing about how I teach the fundamentals in the Internet Age is the second purpose of this blog.

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