Thursday, October 14, 2010

aspiring journalists: don't despair

“You do not need to attend journalism school to become a journalist”, seemed to be an overarching consensus at the NYC Career Services International Media Panel, held on October 12. Actually, you may be well advised not to do so. Most companies are interested in experts from different sectors with an interest in journalistic writing. Consider The Economist, a weekly news and international affairs publication, which often seeks “scientist with an interest in journalism not journalists with an interest in science”.

Amongst the NYC Career Series invitees were Robert Lane Greene, Business Correspondent for The Economist, Elizabeth “Bibi” Nunez, Production Assistant for CNN (SIPA and J-School ’09), Yalman Onaran, Senior Writer for Bloomberg (SIPA and J-School) and Michael Roston, Web Producer for The New York Times (SIPA ’06).

“[Your degree] doesn’t matter. What matters is how look at the world and how you question it. It is all about your outlook on life and how you perceive things. And SIPA does a good job at preparing you for the globalized world,” affirms Yalman Onaran, Senior Writer for Bloomberg. “We appreciate an International Affairs degree. It shows you have a wide view of the world.”

Onaran offered some hope to international students seeking to work in the United States. “Times haven definitely changed since 9/11, but you can do it,” he said. “I didn’t hire a lawyer because I didn’t have the money. But I filed my own applications. That was not fun, but I obtained two H1-B visas. So you can do it.”

Onaran added that, except for financial journalism – which he guarantees will always have a place in the media world – the outlook for the sector is very bleak. “In general, what relates to money and market is expanding. Other than that, it doesn’t look very good.”

“Journalism is about selling the news,” stated Robert Lane Greene, Business Correspondent for The Economist. “If you want to be in high demand, you have to ask what is in high demand and what is in short supply.”

For Greene, we should all ask ourselves: “What do I know, and what do I do that makes me in short supply? What do I know that nobody knows? What am I known for? Or, what can I be known for?” If the answers to these questions are unknown, take some time to figure them out.

Panelists were unanimous with respect to the value of SIPA dreaded courses: statistics, finance and economics – all very important, irrespective of area of interest or industry you end up in. “It is essential to know how to crunch in numbers and make sense out of data,” said Elizabeth Nunez, Production Assistant for CNN.

“Be adaptable and flexible,” added Roston, Web Producer for the New York Times and one of the founding editors of The Morningside Post. Technology is changing so rapidly that we do not know where we will be writing in five to ten years. We don’t know what platforms will prevail. “The important thing to do is know how to be a good beginner at everything,” Roston added. “And learn as things are changing.”

Take advantage of the “two year gap” while at SIPA, and focus on building your niche – be it in languages, regional expertise or any academic field. Make a name for yourself and don’t be afraid of putting your writing out there. Make use of new media to establish yourself as a writer. All of this so that one day, you may bring to publications a combination that no one else can offer.

“Make yourself distinguishable,” they all claimed. But more than that, make yourself indispensable, essential, ultimately irreplaceable. And, if you are lucky enough to be hired, make sure you are unique to your organization. Make sure that – and if – the time comes to make cuts, you will not be on the lay-off list. Easier said than done, I suppose.

Enlightening as the panel may have been, the many recommendations and “ought to’s” put forth seem to have overwhelmed – or in some cases even discouraged – many of the attending aspiring journalists.

This article was published by The Morningside Post, on October 12th, 2010.

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