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Got my foot in the door. Now what?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by sportsguy47, Jan 22, 2015.

  1. sportsguy47

    sportsguy47 New Member

    Hi everyone!
    After being a stringer for the past four months for my local paper, I was hired as a staff employee and scheduled to work 16 hours a week (I'm a 19-year-old college student) covering prep sports.

    I guess my biggest question is if anyone with newspaper experience can give me some advice on how to progress from here. I must admit that it will be a bit intimidating when I start on February 3rd. I'm the youngest person on staff and most of the writers have been there 10+ years. I'll mainly be covering high school/ local college games like I was doing before, but now I'll be asked to do profile stories and I'll need to learn how to set up and format the paper. Are there any good books you guys suggest I read? Any input would be appreciated. Thanks!
  2. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.

    Oh, and congrats.
  3. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Well-Known Member

    First, congratulations. Next, read your co-workers' stuff and read several national writers. You'll find certain styles you like better than others. Don't be afraid to borrow from other peoples' styles until you figure out your own. Once you've turned in an article, go back and read it the following day to see what kind of changes/edits were made. Learn what your editors like, don't like and what they're looking for. Above all, listen to any advice they offer and seek their advice often. One good book you can read is The Word by Rene J. Cappon.

    Good luck and congrats again. I remember when I started. Good times. And they still are 23 years later.
  4. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    1. Congrats.
    2. Be a sponge.
    3. Do whatever they ask.
    4. Don't be afraid to pitch feature ideas.

    As for any good books? Any of the best american sports writing books and any compilations by top writers (Red Smith, Frank DeFord, Rick Reilly, etc.). Comb the wire and the web, reading the top columnists and beat writers. Really study what they do, how they approach their stories. Glean as much as you can from them.
  5. sportsguy47

    sportsguy47 New Member

    thanks guys! I really appreciate it
  6. Bronco77

    Bronco77 Active Member

    If possible, develop a rapport with as many of those experienced co-workers as possible. A few may emerge as mentors who can serve as sounding boards, provide constructive criticism and offer workplace insights -- things such as, "So-and-so can be tough to deal with on deadline," "The boss likes versatile people," etc.
  7. mwj71

    mwj71 New Member

    Congratulations. Getting an opportunity like this at 19 is fabulous. There's some good advice already posted here, but the bottom line is that you've got a chance to impress some people who matter now, so devote yourself to learning everything you can about the business. A few thoughts:
    --Be as versatile as possible. Learn about the many aspects of putting together a news report, whether it's in print or digitally. You're 19, so you might think you know what direction your career is headed, but you never really know what the future holds. I began as a writer but moved to editing after about six years when I realize that there was a lot more chance to make a difference in that discipline. And I've managed to do a lot of writing as well.
    --Read as much as you can. Don't necessarily try to emulate the writers you like, but try to analyze why you like their writing and what you think makes it effective. My belief is the simplest, clearest writing is the best writing ... and usually the most difficult to produce. Don't spend too much time on clever turns of phrase; spend the time accumulating information that will make your stories stand out, which leads to...
    --Report, report, report. There are a million talented writers out there; you need to separate yourself by gathering information that will make your stories stand out. You do that by asking questions relentlessly and listening intently. Never be afraid to take an interview in a completely different direction than you anticipated when the person you're talking to says something unexpected or particularly revealing.
    --When you're covering events, make sure to talk to other experienced writers and editors. Milk them for whatever insights you can. Most people in this business love talking about it; find out how people who have established their careers did it. You'll generally find that most people who have succeeded believe they've been very lucky, that they happened to be at the right spot at the right time. The truth is, most people who make it create their own opportunities by establishing contacts and becoming known quantities so that when openings develop, those doing the hiring already know your name.
    --Never get ahead of yourself. At some point, you might find that you really want to be covering a major beat rather than prep sports, or whatever your beat/assignments might be. But the only way to move ahead is to do the absolute best job possible on what you're doing at the moment. You get to a bigger beat by doing great work in a lesser-profile role, not by thinking about doing something other than what you're currently assigned. If you take care of the present, the future will take care of itself.
    --Work your butt off. I can tell you as someone who was involved with hiring for years, I'd always gravitate toward an enthusiastic young writer with boundless energy. And by all means, when you've got story ideas, pitch them. Editors love self-starters.
    Good luck.
    sportsguy47 likes this.
  8. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    As the low man on the totem pole and only working 16 hours a week, be aware you'll be getting the leftovers in terms of assignments and duties. You'll be doing a lot of grunt work and covering a lot of crappy games.
    That said, there are ways to make the most of it:

    1) Realize that you don't know anything yet. Ask questions, but don't come across like you've got three Pulitzers sitting on your shelf and barge into the editor's office demanding to know why the last three paragraphs of your story were cut. Similarly, you're not Grantland Rice -- at least not yet. Don't be too flowery and wordy in your features. Read other people's stories, even as much wire copy as you can, to figure out the why and how of story construction.

    2) Learn about the production side of things. Learn InDesign (or Quark, or whatever you use) and Photoshop. Someone who can do the little things like that frees up others more than you realize. You'll be helpful at the same time you're learning.

    3) Proofread your copy before you turn it in. It seems simple enough, but the less an editor has to rewrite or clean up your copy, the more they'll like and trust you to do bigger things.

    4) When you do cover a game or do a feature assignment, keep your ears open to what people are saying beyond the interview. Most times, stories are chain reactions -- one leads to another, leads to another, and so on. If you can generate an idea or two, even if you don't end up writing it yourself, it'll show you're listening and learning and contributing.
    sportsguy47 likes this.
  9. sportsguy47

    sportsguy47 New Member

    Thanks everyone for responses so far!
    Thank you for the very helpful insight. I particularly like the point you made regarding making contacts and being versatile. I job shadowed my newspaper when I was a senior in high school but made sure to keep in contact with the head sports editor. He is an alumni at the college I currently attend so I feel like he's always taken a liking to me. I'm just going to try and soak everything in that gets thrown at me. I'll make sure to keep everyone updated when I start in a couple weeks!
  10. sportsguy47

    sportsguy47 New Member

    Being the low man on the totem pole is definitely humbling, but something I expected being the new guy. Out of the six schools our paper covers, I'm usually asked to cover the two bottom feeders on Tuesday/Friday and the local community college on Saturday. I'm just grateful for the opportunity they gave me and I'm anxious to learn more and more
  11. TopSpin

    TopSpin Member

    Congrats on the gig. This thread has plenty of good advice, but here's my .02 to potentially carry the rest of your career to remain grounded.

    1. A wise editor once shared with me long ago: It's one thing to love to write, but quite another loving to write under fire to meet a deadline.
    2. Every sporting event you cover is a networking opportunity. Don't be afraid to put your business card in a colleague's hand.
    3. Always remember no matter how good you think you are, there is always someone better. Keep the ego in check, as previous posters mentioned.

    Now go kick butt, young man.
  12. ncdeen

    ncdeen New Member

    If you can learn page design and photography, you will have a huge leg up on your contemporaries. Get Tim Harrower's The Newspaper Design Handbook. Pay attention to the design of your paper, ask the editor what makes a good front page. Ask your paper's photographer if you can spend a Saturday afternoon with him shooting. If you don't have a camera, he probably has a backup you can practice with. You may be a great writer, but don't think those things are beneath you. To get the job you want, you will probably have to work your way up through jobs that require you to do those things. I work at a paper with a two-man sports staff and one photographer. The photographer can't always be everywhere we want him, so guess who has to step up? If I couldn't take good photos, I'd be screwed, the paper would look like crap. Good photos are everything in making a page look good. If the page doesn't look good, they automatically assume the stories are the same quality as the photos, and they're less likely to read them.
    Good luck.
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