Republishing a Q&A I did with Aspiring Journalists

Last week I was interviewed via email by Alesa Commedore, a journalism student at the Univeresity of South Florida, for a Q&A on Aspiring Journalists. With her permission, I’m republishing my answers for posterity. The answers, which read like a journo-biography of sorts, are the same as the original interview — with a few additional links.

Why did you decide to study journalism? What made it appeal to you?

GL: My experience on the high school newspaper for three years set me on a path to study journalism in college. Also, a conference for journalism scholarship winners in DC cemented my decision to do so, providing a broader view of what’s like to work in news. At the time, my interest in writing and current events provided much of the foundation for my interest in journalism, but I later realized my motivations included the collaborative nature of the work, ability to constantly learn and try new things.

How was your university experience? Do you think your university/professors have prepared you for the realities of the industry?

GL: I attended the University of Miami, where I received a double major in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. My experience was extremely positive because I took advantage of all the university had to offer. Specifically, I worked on The Miami Hurricane staff for three years and served in an advisory role as a senior, enrolled in more journalism classes than were required and even took several visual journalism classes outside my major. I also made connections with professional journalists and other student editors in South Florida. Overall, my schooling provided a very important foundation that was supplemented and further built upon by other opportunities I pursued.

Today you hear many stories of newspapers going under and journalists losing their jobs. What was it like to be a journalism student during such an uncertain period of time in the industry? How did that make you feel?

GL: Following the professional news business closely in college, experiencing it first-hand at internships and hearing stories at conferences provided a realistic view of the state of news organizations. I knew the reality and sometimes felt dismayed that so many news organizations were struggling and people were losing their jobs, but I was never dissuaded or discouraged from pursuing journalism after I graduated. Instead, I saw infinite opportunities and focused on the positive aspects of how digital technologies could improve how journalism is practiced. Journalism might have previously been an “industry” when the barrier to producing news products was high, but I don’t believe there is such a thing anymore. Anyone can practice journalism and publish, broadcast and engage online. You don’t need to work at a legacy news organization do that.

How have you prepared for the field as a journalism student (internships, getting clips, etc)?

GL: As I mentioned in the second answer, I pursued a number of different avenues to learn more and better prepare myself as a journalist. My resume offers a comprehensive list and a top 10 list of tips I wrote has more in-depth thoughts on this. The most important things for me included:

  • Co-founding CoPress, a college media tech startup, with other student editors as a senior.
  • Working for The Miami Hurricane, at least a little in almost every role on the editorial side. Leading the effort to move our site from College Publisher to WordPress represents one of the highlights of my time as editor. Without that — and doing it so publicly — I likely would have not been involved with CoPress
  • Attending local, regional and national events and conferences because of my involvement with The Hurricane and the student SPJ chapter.
    Living my life as a college editor and journalism student publicly online, whether it was through blogging or engaging with others on Twitter.
  • When I went to conferences, I would liveblog, tweet and sometimes stream sessions. By doing so, I was providing value to people who couldn’t attend and their sharing of my live coverage increased my presence and reputation. My primary reason for doing this: because I would want others to do the same for events I couldn’t attend — and was inspired by others who did the same in varying degrees.
  • Freelancing before I started college and interning each summer during college. Also, seeing each experience as much more than just an opportunity to get clips, but primarily to learn and improve as a journalist. Keeping in touch with people at those internships was also valuable.
  • Taking additional journalism classes, plus several visual journalism classes
  • Talking with older students about good classes and professors.
  • Getting to better know professors beyond merely taking their classes, including getting to know professors before I even took a class with them.
  • It’s implicit to almost all these items, but in one word: networking.

How do you think technology will affect the future of journalism? What do you think are the pros and cons? Are there any cons?

GL: Technology has been a big part of my experience working in journalism, beginning in high school and in everything I’ve done since then. But that’s not unique. Technology has always been a significant part of journalism, but now it’s digital instead of analog and distributed instead of only owned by media companies. I see technology as something that journalists should not only use, but also create and shape. We should be disruptors, not disrupted by new technologies and the resulting changes in business models. That doesn’t mean every journalists needs to become a programmer or engineer, but they should all possess a fundamental understanding of the role of technology in society, how it works and how they best use it to better do their jobs. If they don’t have the skills to create technology, they should have the skills to effectively work with those who do.

Despite my love of technology, I’m no utopian and — as with everything — think there are certainly cons to technology. It’s hard to paint technology pros and cons broadly, but I would say that the biggest pro is the ability to help us do things humans can’t do — or can’t do as well — and the biggest con is the relative ease of which technology can be misused and abused. In response, I think we need to identify and address the cons, not ignore or avoid them.

How has technology affected you as a journalism student?

GL: Personally, I’ve always been interested in technology. That interest increased significantly as a teenager and even more so in the past few years. I’ve gone from a journalist interested in technology during high school to someone working at the intersection of journalism and technology at Publish2. Looking back at my high school newspaper experience, I see how I served as the de facto IT person. Yes, I fixed paper jams, operated the scanner, downloaded photos from the digital camera, conducted an InDesign workshop for the staff and things like that. But I also created the first email account for The Circuit [view my first version; their current site] — no one else ever thought to — and built its first website in Dreamweaver — design view, the thought of which makes me cringe today.

How did your preparation and experience help with your job search?

GL: Everything I did to improve as a journalist helped me so that I didn’t even need to do a job search after graduating. I applied for a Publish2 job contest online in January 2009, while still in college and before I began a formal search. My work, experience and other qualifications stood for any prospective employer to see. To get the Publish2 job, I:

  • Submitted a short text answer (republished here) and audio slideshow in response to the question “Why are you the future of journalism?”
  • Had my entry voted up to the top 10 (I held the top spot for a while and finished with a close second rating of my entry).
  • From those 10, Publish2 conducted a first round of interviews before a second and final round (both of mine were Skype voice calls).

How have you incorporated the web (social media, personal websites) to market yourself for the industry?

GL: I defer to David Cohn: “It is NOT personal branding – it’s just living your life online.” The point is you shouldn’t market yourself for the sake of marketing yourself — what you do and how you lead your life in public should be all “marketing” you need. That includes connecting with people online and in-person (the latter can’t be emphasized enough), experimenting with new tools and platforms, attending events and conferences, volunteering and adding value (such as with the live coverage) whenever you can.

What are your ultimate hopes/dreams for your career in this industry?

GL: I try to avoid specific plans and focus on more general goals. To quote my friend Michelle Minkoff, my ideal job hasn’t been created yet. Personally, I know that I want to continue working at the intersection of journalism and technology, pushing forward in what I do and how I do it.

What advice can you give to journalism students who are preparing to enter this career?

GL: Most of the advice I’d give is included included in the list of tips. Some other points:

  • A degree is not a ticket to a job.
  • When you graduate, you should be fully prepared to get a job or make your own.
  • Look for opportunities outside the traditional realm. Be receptive to new and different opportunities.
  • Find people and materials that challenge your assumptions, inspire you and better inform your perspective. Search beyond the journalism world for answers and insights.

An open mind, ability adapt, drive to continuously learn on your own and deep passion are some of the most important and fundamental traits to be successful in whatever you do. Take all those traits, go forward and do awesome work.

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