The biggest thing I learned from professional journalists this semester is that there’s no right or wrong path to being a journalist. From all the journalists who came and spoke to our capstone class, I really took away that getting into this field is not the easiest and it can be a roundabout way.
That roundabout way to the field wasn’t too surprising, but I’m glad I was able to hear it from successful journalists. It's comforting to know that I might not get the job I want right after college, but I can still get there eventually.
Hearing from these journalists on the state of the industry was a little disconcerting as they did not hold back — which is good and bad. I knew the state of the journalism industry was pretty rough even before the pandemic and COVID-19 hasn’t made that much better. One of the keys I heard from each of them was that getting good at one particular aspect of journalism can help in the future. Getting really good at one aspect of journalism — like fact checking, data or video games — can really put you over the edge for some jobs.
And each of these journalists really did have a specific kind of beat or specialty they used to help them in their careers. Brian Crescente used video games to really launch his career outside of his first job where he was on the cops beat. Eric Litke really used fact checking and data to jump start his journalism and even had the FBI use a database he created for a story. Kristina Webb also really got into her beat and really became an expert in that beat to produce good journalism.
So the key takeaway really for me is that I should not worry about how I get to my first job and that once I do, I should really become an expert in that beat and be known for something. If I can be known for something at my first job, that will really help me I think move forward to those next steps.
So what does that mean for me? What did I learn that shapes this field for me?
I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a journalist since sophomore year of high school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do before that year. I had thought about joining the military or becoming a teacher, but I had never thought about journalism until my mom forced our family to watch Spotlight together.
Like many people, that movie really got me into journalism because I want to tell a person's story and hold powerful people accountable. And this semester really hammered that into me. I want to do that in a professional setting and tell people’s stories. I want to work the cops and crime beat to start off and look at all those documents. I want to comb through data and find those stories that no one else sees. And this semester and those guest speakers really nailed that into me.
I think this industry really suits me and these guest speakers also showed me that. I’ve worked constantly at the school paper, at my internships and at any other work I’ve done these past three and a half years. In the journalism field, that’s what you have to do when you start off. I won’t make the job my life, but for the first 2-3 years outside of college, I think I need to especially with how iffy the industry currently is. I’m excited to start my career after graduation and I think this class really helped prepare me for that.