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Taking the next step

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JBondurant804, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. JBondurant804

    JBondurant804 Member

    I work at a paper with a circulation of over 100,000. I've been working at the prep desk of this paper in this market for a year and a half now, and I started here less than a month after graduating from school in May 2012.

    I've had some great experiences, and I feel like I've grown as a writer. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my career.

    But working part-time, just an hour shy of being considered full-time, I want to find that full-time gig. I feel like I'm ready to take on the extra responsibility having had the chance to do the things I've done so far.

    With that said, I am just looking for some input as to what my next move should be. I have some experience covering a college (Division 3) beat, but the primary focus of my beat coverage has been at the high school level. I'm open to anything and going anywhere.

    But when looking at full-time prep and college gigs, should I take into account circulation sizes along with the prep scene and/or the college(s) I'd be covering? I want to aim high, but I definitely don't want to aim low either. Or should I wait a little longer until I'm up into that three-year range? Sometimes when I apply for some paper jobs, I get the feeling that aside from my skills not necessarily matching what an editor is looking for, that maybe I should probably be looking at bigger papers. At least that's what I think when I try to get into the mind of an editor or hiring manager when I look at the clips I've submitted.

    Some input would be great. I don't want to make this post any longer than it is, but you can DM me if you'd like to know more about me if that would help.
  2. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Do you really think there is a lot of difference in the day-to-day operation of a 100,000 circ. paper with a larger one? I don't.

    Sounds like you have gotten some good experience in your current position and you can use that to move on when the time is right. When is the right time? Well, that's largely up to you, what's happening in your personal life and what opportunities out there interest you. No two people are the same.

    Try to get a vision of what you really want to do at your next position. Do you want to cover certain sports? Certain levels? Sometimes a smaller paper in the right location can offer more and better opportunities than a larger one.

    For example, if I want to cover college or minor league pro ice hockey, I'd be better off going to a small paper in the northeast or Midwest than a metro in the south or west coast. If I want to cover high schools, I might aim for a mid-size paper that has a good number of schools in the area, but not in a metro area where my work is going to take a back seat to a host of professional or major college beats.

    Your clips should speak for themselves. Good writing is good writing, regardless of where or how it is published. I do think too many people pigeonhole someone and get caught up in "he's never covered anything but high schools". Well, most people do start there, so no shame at all in that.
  3. JBondurant804

    JBondurant804 Member

    Thanks so much. I appreciate it. It's funny you brought up hockey, because that is definitely something I'd love to cover.
  4. Morris816

    Morris816 Member

    What Mark said about deciding what it is you really want to do, is the best piece of advice to follow.

    Decide what it is you would really like to do, whether it's a prep beat in which you can get more opportunities to interact with coaches and athletes (in which case a smaller paper may be your best bet) or to pursue a beat at a specific college or sport (in which case papers with larger circulations might work better).

    You indicated you would like a full-time gig, so keeping your options open as far as the size of paper goes is a good idea. Don't think of it as aiming high versus aiming low, but think of it as looking for the job that will give you the best opportunity for a full-time gig while giving you the opportunity to better hone your writing skills. You can learn just as much from a smaller paper as you can from a larger one.

    So don't limit your options too much. Figure out what you would like to focus on as far as your writing goes, then go from there, looking at whatever options are out there that fit what you would like to do.
  5. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Some people make the faulty assumption that the best reporters always work at the largest papers or cover pro beats. Not true at all. I've met some terrific writers who really enjoy and do a fine job covering high schools or colleges at smaller and mid-size papers.

    And smaller papers do tend to give more space and emphasis to high school and (depending on location) college sports.
  6. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Well, the first thing you ought to do is change your handle and edit your post to remove some of the specific details about your situation, because it's waaaaaay too easy to figure out who you are. Which means your editor and your colleagues can figure out who you are — and I can assure you that your paper has some pretty good representation on this board.

    Unless you've already talked to your editor about this, I'm guessing he/she won't be happy to find out by stumbling on your post here.


    That said, just as important as deciding what you want to do is where you want to live. Are you willing to move to take a F/T job? If so, where? Are you willing to move for a F/T job even if it's not exactly the type of beat you want? Or would you rather do P/T or freelance work in the area where you are, in hopes of finding a job in that area?

    So narrow that stuff down first.

    And in the meantime, every little bit of experience helps so keep busting your ass where you are until the right opportunity comes up. You're working for a damn good paper right now; take advantage of that to soak up every little bit of knowledge from the people you work with and keep working hard to improve.

    Journalism is a small, small world. People never forget who works hard, who goes above and beyond, who never acts as if they're too good/big for an assignment. Those qualities matter, too.
  7. joe_schmoe

    joe_schmoe Active Member

    Mark's advice is spot on.
    Your decision relies solely on what you want to do. But don't expect to go from a part time prep desk at a major paper to a full time pro sports beat writer at another major metro. It can happen, but very unlikely. Finding a decent midsize opening that allows you to cover a variety of events may be the bets move for you.
    A lot of people assume the bigger the paper the better the gig and pay. That's not always true. Early in my career I got a significant pay raise moving from the copy desk of the state's largest paper to a writer/desk guy at a mid-size.
    Apply for those jobs that interest you, and do your research on them, even if you never get contacted for an interview. If someone calls you, that little research you've done so far is invaluable.
    And if you get the interview, research before you go, and make sure you know what exactly you are getting into before you get an offer.
  8. Dog8Cats

    Dog8Cats Member

    Your next move should continue to be (or should start being) making sure you are kicking ass at your current job. Many times, the BIG opportunity comes to you because of how you've approached the small opportunities. I would bet, however, that you have enough self-awareness to realize that.

    Consider how long you want "the job" to be the primary factor in where and how you live. I used to think I'd do anything to work at a certain-size newspaper. Now, unless a stable, well-paying job in San Diego or Vancouver, B.C., came calling, I don't think I'd take it -- unless it were publisher-level salary. Quality of life, not just professional prestige, counts for more and more the older you get.

    Remember that not every move needs to be vertical. A horizontal or downward move (however you define them) can get you where you want to be, sometimes. And sometimes, that can happen quicker than if you'd only looked "upward."

    Realize that with the increasing emphasis not just on digital, but on mobile, the "writing" is getting short shrift compared with the "informing." Big difference.

    It's unfortunate, but most hiring editors/managers will consider the "level" of sports you have covered. Which isn't always smart. Covering a high school football game, with all of its possible variances, is exponentially harder than covering a college/pro game.

    Make sure, before you take your next job, you know the entirety of the job responsbilities. Are you expected to handled desk duties during your beat's shoulder seasons? Will I (or, Can I?) contribute to beats outside of my primary responsibility? What are the key performance measures (unique visitors to my stories? Facebook recommendations?)

    I could go on and on from my experience, but those are some things I'd recommend you consider.
  9. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    What defines a horizontal, or downward move? Is it salary? Or size of paper? Or what you'll be covering? Or the city? People move for a lot of reasons.

    It does really come down to how satisfied you are in your current place and what you really want to do. I was at one place where I really wanted to cover a certain team and sport, but there were two people ahead of me who had been on staff there much longer and didn't show any signs of moving any time soon. I knew what I wanted to do and felt like I was more than capable. But I wasn't willing to wait a really long time to get the chance.

    Sort of like a ballplayer who's a backup behind an established star. You have to decide if you're willing to do other things, bide your time and wait your turn. Or if you want to go someplace else --- maybe even for less money --- to do what it is you most want to do. (Turns out, in my case, the move was a parallel one and I wound up with a horrible boss. But the other people at the previous paper were still there five years later, so it's doubtful I would have gotten my prized beat even had I stayed.)

    Only you can make those decisions for you.
  10. JBondurant804

    JBondurant804 Member

    Thanks everyone for the input.

    The biggest thing for me right now is figuring out what I want to cover next.

    I'm definitely open to relocating anywhere. However you want to see it, I don't have a wife/girlfriend or things at home that are preventing me from making any sort of move, which is a good thing.

    A daily would be ideal. So I mean going from where I'm at to a paper with a circulation size of 20 or 30k wouldn't be considered a downgrade for me. A better-paying job with benefits that showcases my skills and allows me to continue to learn and develop as a journalist is what I seek.

    Whether the money in this business is great is definitely up to interpretation, and that's something I can totally understand. I definitely take into account quality of life and making sure I could actually live comfortably on an advertised salary for a job. Everyone's circumstances are different. But if I were doing a job for the money, I wouldn't be a sports writer. This is my dream. I love this business.

    Also I'm not too worried about this getting back to my editor. There's a bit of an understanding between us, at least that's how I feel, that I don't intend to be here forever working part-time, and we've had that conversation before. But I don't intend to leave in the middle of a season. That wouldn't be fair to him or my fellow part-timers at the prep desk. But obviously it seems like more jobs are posted in the summer as that's usually a slower period for everyone. I want that full-time gig, I'm just not in a big hurry. Why rush?
  11. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    Don't listen to that. Everything counts. It's what you do in terms of the work and the quality of it that matters.

    And again, it all depends upon circumstances and desires. But I doubt there's hardly anybody who got good part-time gigs at major metros -- and the opportunities that come from those places -- who would say they wished they hadn't gotten those jobs or been there or done that.
  12. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Not true at all. Everything you do counts. Maybe you're the backup QB or goaltender who doesn't get a lot of playing time because the team has an accomplished star at the position. But you make the most of what chances you have and do the best you can.

    I think most decent managers are going to be understanding, even supportive, of someone's desire to improve their circumstances.

    JBondurant, what I would do is..... casually scan the job boards for someplace that interests you. You don't have to be desperate and jump at the first thing that comes along. But put together a package of 8-10 writing clips and (if applicable) 3-5 page design samples. Have that on file and ready to go. When you find an opening that interests you, shoot out a letter saying "here is where I am now and what I've done..... this is what I would like to do next and am confident I can do the job.... and this is why I believe your opening would be a good fit for me."

    As long as you don't price yourself out of the marketplace, I suspect you'll get some interest. Might not land the first thing you apply for, but keep at it. Good luck. You seem like a smart guy.
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