It has been 12 years since I left the relative safety and security of Carleton’s journalism school and went out to become “a journalist”. It was mysterious, exciting and worrisome: how do you land that first job? By the Ottawa Citizen's Melanie Coulson.

By Melanie Coulson
Senior Editor and Blogger with the Ottawa Citizen

It has been 12 years since I left the relative safety and security of Carleton’s journalism school and went out to become “a journalist”. It was mysterious, exciting and worrisome: how do you land that first  job?

I remember asking Dianne Francis of the Financial Post what advice she had for an aspiring journalist while working at the student newspaper and completing an undergraduate degree at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.

“Get yourself to a decent j-school,” she answered quickly. “And even then it’s a competitive field – who knows if you’ll make it.”

It was not exactly the encouragement I was hoping for. But Francis had spoken the truth.

This September, I’ll be heading back to Carleton University – not as a student, but to teach a second year course on the fundamentals of reporting. The basics.

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I’m a little nervous – not about teaching the craft, for that is a passion I can easily share with 20 young people – but because I don’t know what the media landscape will look like in two years when they graduate. Heck, I don’t know what it will look like in 2011.

The job market isn’t much better than when I was a student – in fact, some might say it’s worse – but I’d like to think it serves to separate the determined from those flirting with the idea of journalism.

And I am optimistic about journalism. I think we’re about to see radical changes, changes that are scary but exciting.  After all, we have a business model based on the Gutenberg press in the age of iPad – and it just doesn’t fit.

I have hope for the future of journalism, and perhaps it’s unfair, but I think these students will come up with something that’s going to revolutionize this business. I think I have as much to learn about their media consumption as they do about media production.

So I will teach them the fundamentals, filling their toolkits with nuggets on crafting the perfect lead, covering meetings and writing to a deadline, but they will have to take those tools and think about building something completely new and different – using these basic skills to think creatively about their craft.

It is a challenge, but how rich the reward to be a working journalist.