Want to get hired as a journalist? Follow columnist Joe Banks’s three steps and he guarantees you a full-time job.
Photo courtesy of Jimmy Thomson
By Joe Banks
It has become a well-worn refrain: there are no jobs in journalism. It’s untrue, but never let truth, as the cliché goes, stand in the way of a good story.
What is true is that there have been some well-publicized job losses at Canada’s big glass-and-brass, urban-based corporate chains (the reverberations of which were felt in smaller markets) and the big networks. Some new free papers that started up as defensive products in competitive areas have closed too. But to pronounce there are no jobs for properly trained journalists is grossly inaccurate.
Fact is, there are plenty of jobs out there—for journalists with the right set of skills. How can I say that? Well, each year, at some point in the semester, I make a tacit guarantee that goes something like this: You will land a job in print or broadcast journalism (and the online versions of them) within three months of graduating if you are willing to:
- leave this city,
- relocate to anywhere in rural, urban or suburban Canada and, finally,
- acquire your driver's licence prior to graduation. Owning a car that can get you to that job is a bonus, but not a deal breaker.
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Put another way, you've got to be prepared to plan ahead and prepare to relocate if you want work in your chosen career. That’s true for any vocation.
That advice may seem obvious to those of us who found ourselves hitting the road after college in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. But it remains just as true today as it was then. Happily, many of our grads at Algonquin College, in Ottawa, heed that advice and head off to the far-flung corners and reaches of this country. These days, that means the west, the same region that drew labourers aboard wheat harvest trains in the last century. Or, more relevantly for the new reporter, the prosperous enclaves in the oil patch, the Rockies and coast of B.C., covering town councils and minor hockey games for small newspapers and TV and radio stations with tiny staffs and limited resources.
If graduates want to remain in Ontario, they have to be willing to go where newspapers, magazines or broadcast stations still operate profitably (there are several, but they don’t advertise that), where media competition is more moderate. And yet, relocating or obtaining a driver’s licence is not something every grad embraces, for a variety of reasons, often related to finances, even as the government offers tax incentives to leave. Sometimes the facts of life don't seem very fun, but there is a price to be paid for success. Ask anyone who has been successful. And success isn’t always defined by the size of a pay cheque.
But don't take my word for it. Look no further than the array of posted journalism jobs in Canada, today so easily collected from free websites and networks.
I encourage our graduates to scour every day Canadian job search sites like JeffGaulin.com, MediaJobsCanada.ca, MilkmanUnlimited.com, CharityVillage.com, JournalismJob.com (mostly U.S.) and FYIMusicNews.ca (that latter one was forwarded to me just a few weeks ago by a sharp-eyed graduate who had already landed a full-time job).
We also forward job notices on to our graduates as we receive them via an email list-serve. I keep all of those job notices that come my way because they’re the best indicator of the skills that new journalists need.
Here’s an example of one I just received from the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Times in B.C.:
"The Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Times has a full-time contract position available for a reporter who is experienced in covering all aspects of community news, from human interest features and local entertainment stories to breaking hard news, from local politics to community events and sports. An important asset will be a solid understanding of social media strategy and application. The successful applicant will be a dynamic, energetic self-starter who is interested in being an integral part of the community he or she will be serving. Pagination and photography skills will be favourable assets, as will familiarity with web-based reporting and an ability to embrace innovative approaches to offering information to the community. A team attitude is a prerequisite in the Times newsroom."
That's just one I received from a small market paper. I checked my archives and found a dozen more similar ads emailed to me in the past three months. That's not counting the ones I found on the sites mentioned above, newspaper association sites or American and foreign job sites.
But surely, you say, the gross number of journalists employed in the country has declined because of all those high-profile job losses in the corporate media?
Well, I have yet to hear anyone refute Vancouver Sun reporter Chad Skelton’s analysis that said the following: “According to the 2001 census, there were 12,965 Canadians working as journalists. In the 2006 census, there were 13,320 journalists. And in the recently released 2011 National Household Survey, there were 13,280. In other words, there are pretty much the same number of journalists in Canada today as there were a decade ago.”
It would be naïve to proclaim there is a journalism job for every j-school graduate. But it is not a stretch to say there is a journalism job for every graduate willing to do what it takes to get one.
Joe Banks is the coordinator of and professor in the Algonquin College Journalism program, in Ottawa, and has been a working journalist, editor and publisher for 36 years. He writes the Media Musings column for J-Source.
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