It’s a tough job environment out there for all journalists but it’s especially tough those trying to get their foot in the door, especially in the newspaper industry. There have been massive layoffs at newspapers: according to the Pew Research Center, 16,200 full-time editorial newspaper jobs were lost from 2003-2012. It may seem like newspapers are going extinct, and it’s true some have, but the situation is not as dyer as it seems. Now more than ever local newspapers need help and this creates the opportunity for a new journalist to step in and gain some much needed experience.
Todd Cline, the Editor of the Gwinnett Daily Post, has been in the newspaper business over 20 years, so he has plenty of valuable advice for journalists trying to get their start. He knew from a very young age that he wanted to be in the news industry.
“When I was a young kid, I thought maybe I could get good enough to get in the paper,” Cline said. “First of all, I started working at my high school newspaper, calling it a newspaper is probably kind of a stretch, but there was writing involved… I learned how to get a byline and saw my stuff in print.”
Todd is a huge sports fan, so his original plan when he went to college was to be a sports broadcaster and give audiences the play-by-play. He quickly discovered that broadcasting journalism was very competitive and constantly had to compete just for a chance to practice, so he wound up back at his school newspaper.
“It was a total accident that I went to the newspaper and asked them if they had anything for me to do,” Cline remembered. “They did, and it was a horrible assignment. It was a cross-country meet at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. What college kid wants to get up at 7 a.m.? But it was an assignment and I did it and it didn’t stink, so they gave me another one.”
Before Cline even took a journalism class, he already had his own beat at the school newspaper. His broadcasting aspirations eventually fell by the wayside. Cline advises aspiring journalists to follow his example and take action to gain the necessary experience.
“Now more than ever newspapers need help and whether they pay, or if they pay poorly, it’s a chance for you to get in there and offer some sort of assistance,” Cline advises. “A lot of it’s being aggressive and saying I’d like to help and being accepting that it’s probably not going to be one of the plumb assignments. If you get a crumb you can turn that into something more.”
Shadowing is great way to gain experience and gather skills. Cline suggests attending a city council meeting, going to court, or watching a high school football game and then writing about it. Submitting articles to smaller local papers and online news sites is also a great way to get your byline and build a portfolio.
The last piece of advice Todd had for new journalists was to acquire as many skills as possible because the digital revolution is continuing to change the role of a journalist.
“The expectations of a reporter are high now. Your job is to report it, write it, take a picture, tone it, get it in the system, and possibly take a video and edit it,” Cline said. “You’ve cut out a lot of different aspects, and one person is doing all these different jobs.”
It may seem scary that newspapers and journalism as a whole are undergoing such drastic changes, but it’s actually very exciting. There’s the opportunity to work with many different tools in order to communicate with the audience. The digital world is the new frontier, and journalists need to train themselves to use this whole new set of digital tools. Cline also feels that it’s important not to get too caught up in technology and remember the basics of journalism.
“A good story is a good story,” Cline said. “Its going to be good online and in print when you do the work to know something someone else doesn’t know. Get a fresh angle and different look, uncovering information that other people don’t have. That’s always going to trump what technology your using.”