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Is there such a thing as starting too small?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Anonymous135, Aug 26, 2015.

  1. Anonymous135

    Anonymous135 Member

    Look, before you start calling me some entitled recent college kid that thinks he deserves a great entry-level job -- hear me out.

    On Monday I interviewed for a full-time "sports writer/copy editor" position at a really small "daily" (no Sunday) newspaper in the northeast, about 4 hours from me. It's a CNHI paper with under 10k circulation, and the sports section is 3 pages most days.

    Their social media presence is next to nothing (one main Twitter account with a little over 2k followers). The sports editor rounds out a two-man staff with three part-timers for freelancing, two of whom are local college kids not even majoring in journalism. I was told oftentimes what they send in is complete crap that needs to be rewritten entirely, and a photographer has been contributing stories along with pictures at events lately.

    As of now the job is dominantly office work consisting of answering phone calls from local high school coaches calling in scores for roundups, as well as working back and forth with a design hub that puts together eight dailies and has no time to read your stories and figure out how to make things look right themselves. There is also your typical copy editing, grabbing pictures and pulling AP stories off the wire.

    Aside from that, it seems like while the SE wants to make the position more writing-oriented, the opportunities for extensive reporting are limited right now. And supposedly they've made "internet pushes" that have yet to gain much traction.

    Now for my background:

    My daily college paper at a state D1 university had a circulation of 18k, where I was sports editor/associate sports editor my junior/senior years and wrote more than 300 stories over the course of 3 years. We had a 4-6 page sports section that I created on InDesign, in additional to 8-page wraps we'd do for special games/events. I graduated in May.

    That job was typically 40-50 hours a week between covering football/men's basketball, assigning weekly stories, overseeing a staff of about 10 and doing office editing/design work -- on top of being a full-time student. I also gathered roughly 50 clips at a local paper with 40k circulation last summer.

    Am I crazy, or is this position something that just isn't going to be a helpful stepping stone based on my current experience? Yes, it's a full-time job. And yes, it's somewhere to "start" out of school. But in all honesty, this paper is piss poor, I'm overqualified and I don't see it challenging me. Nobody walks on The New York Times out of college -- I get that -- and jobs are increasingly scarce in this field, but this seems like too small of a first "real world" step.

    My immediate alternative to this job is waiting out a hiring freeze at the local paper I interned for last summer, which wanted to bring me on full-time last month before corporate backpedaled on filling a departing staffer's spot. I'd be covering a college football team, a minor league baseball team and other high school stuff in addition to office work. SE/EIC are supposedly meeting with the corporate leader soon, and even if nothing is compromised, they said I could still freelance in September if I'd be interested.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2015
  2. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    Your last graf is what you want.
    Cross your fingers and go that route.
  3. cjericho

    cjericho Well-Known Member

    You applied other places besides the paper you interned for? Do what you want, but no matter how much the people in the newsroom liked you, corporate calls the shots. JMHO, but it's better to have a full-time job than freelance. You can aggressively look for other opportunities while you work.
  4. Anonymous135

    Anonymous135 Member

    Yeah, I've applied to dozens of online ads since May. Nearly landed a nice internship at a big sports site last month but didn't make the final cut. Had a phone interview elsewhere in May and then radio silence. Not much traction otherwise. As far as starting small goes, the local place seems like my best bet right now.

    I get what you're saying about the full-time job, but here's the other thing: I'd have to relocate and live off of a 25k salary versus living at home for now and continuing to write in some capacity with the potential of it turning into full-time. Though I need to reach out soon for an update on the situation there.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2015
  5. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    Stay at home, build your clips.
    That piss-poor place will work you like a dog.
  6. Tweener

    Tweener Active Member

    I wouldn't relocate for 25k, but that's a personal decision you'll have to make. And starting at a really small shop so young in your career can actually hurt you. You're still learning so much, believe it or not, and you don't want to acquire bad habits and get stuck at a place where you do not feel you can develop as a journalist.

    So, unless you need health insurance, I personally think you'd be better off freelancing at bigger publications (if you can) where you can still make some money, add to your resume and make connections that could eventually lead to something. It's harder to do that at a really small shop that isn't covering anything other than five high schools. It is very difficult to land good jobs in the industry but that doesn't mean you have to take the first thing that comes along, even if you don't have other opportunities at the moment.
  7. Tweener

    Tweener Active Member

    Also, apply to all the big internships this fall. That could be the stepping stone you're looking for.
  8. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    I'd say that as long as the local paper's freelancing opportunities are solid in terms of getting you good clips, and won't be on corporate's chopping block, then stick with it, and maybe work some other job PT to pay whatever bills you have. From what you described the FT gig, it sounds like something that would be a dead-end. While most of us have done the roundup route, and it does have value in terms of learning to write basic facts and possibly getting story ideas, you don't want it to be the primary focus of your job.

    Now, if the FT gig offered some really good writing opportunities, then you always could take it for a few months or a year, and keep hoping that the frozen position, or another paper similar to it, opened up, which would give you some more lines on your resume. But from what it sounds, you already have a bunch of writing clips, and are beyond the first job/clip gathering mode. One word of caution though. As many of us can attest, the industry as we've known it is in full free fall. Jobs that are frozen generally end up disappearing.
  9. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    I'd keep freelancing and keep looking as long as your parents don't mind and unless you actually are seriously wanting/needing to move that far away from home for a job it sounds like you don't really want, anyway.

    Something will come up and work out. What you want to go for are internships at medium/larger papers and reputable web sites that people have heard of, and for newspaper jobs that interest you that, seem of good quality and say, "recent college graduates are welcome to apply."

    Maybe you could see if you could get even a low-paid internship at your local paper. Right now, the staff byline (as opposed to the "correspondent"/"special to..." reference is more important than the money, and nobody needs to know how much you make anyway.
  10. dirtybird

    dirtybird Active Member

    It's a question of betting on yourself. Do you think, yes I could get this job or something equivalent down the road? If so, it's not the worst to hold out. I've seen folks run headlong into smaller jobs and burn out (I've also seen folks hold on forever and end up in weird spots). In any case, this biz is weird. If got two offers after four months that far outpaced any interest I'd received prior, plus many of the jobs I'd never heard back from. If you can be choosy, have the wherewithal to do so and can work freelance in the interim, it's not the worst call by a long shot.

    Also, that description sounds less than ideal. The dominant office aspect is not great.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    Tough trade off. If you are busting your butt having to churn out copy you're not proud of, it's hard to move ahead.

    Also, you can get pegged as a freelancer. In my experience, if you freelance for a paper where you really want to work full time, it's hard to make that jump. More likely you would use the freelance clips for other opportunities.

    Good luck.
  12. Anonymous135

    Anonymous135 Member

    Yeah, this is what I'm afraid of. Ideally, it'd be nice if they could tell me, "At X date we expect to reach financial stability and can hire you full-time then." That'd give me a better reason to freelance with them, but I'm not banking on it unless another guy leaves.

    Like you said, I already have a wide array of reporting clips (including from that paper), but I still think it makes more sense to freelance there and work PT at some random place than move to a dead end. Though if I can't get any assurance that a FT position will open up sometime in the fall, adding clips on different, potentially bigger platforms might be best. That way I expand my presence as I search for the right FT gig.

    In any case, I need to start covering employment gaps soon. So as much as I've wanted to lock up a full-time gig first, I need to get the ball rolling again in some capacity. Kind of kicking myself in the foot for not closing the deal on a really solid paid fall internship at a big digital media platform I interviewed for last month. Tweener pretty much nailed what I've been wanting to take the next step with -- getting my foot in the door somewhere reputable. That's one thing I didn't get in college.

    Internships are tough to come by for recent grads, though. They usually want people still enrolled. But if anyone knows of any leads, feel free to PM me.
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