Back to school: What if you don’t land a job in a newsroom? There’s still hope (and it’s not just PR)
Despite the state of the journalism industry with layoffs, buyouts and dwindling ad sales, there is still hope for finding work after graduation. J-Source speaks with three journalism grads who applied the skills they learned in j-school to non-traditional jobs, along with one journo who made the switch from working in print to the emerging area of analytics.
By Vanessa Santilli
Mick Côté experiments with a wide variety of storytelling techniques in his job as a multimedia content producer for the Montreal-based startup Spundge.
“We started something fairly new called live curation,” said Côté, a journalism grad with both a bachelor and a master’s degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax. “Instead of live blogging, it’s curating live events, so you archive things that other people are saying.”
It’s not your typical journalism job working as a reporter or editor, but Côté uses the journalism skills he learned at university as he edits, writes blogs and creates videos for clients via Spundge, a platform that helps professionals—newsrooms included—create and curate content. “You need some sort of editorial eye for to know what the good content is and to make sure there’s no repetition,” he said.
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Despite the current state of the journalism industry with layoffs, buyouts and dwindling ad sales, there is still hope for finding jobs after graduation, said Christopher Waddell, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. They might just be non-traditional—but that doesn’t necessarily mean working in public relations.
Waddell said the reality is that in addition to journalism students pursuing traditional entry-level positions, they are also taking on other kinds of jobs—particularly those related to the Internet.
“I’m thinking of things like non-governmental organizations or organizations that require a good presence and visibility for fundraising, for instance,” he said. “Some of them are setting up their own websites and their own publications.…All these people realize it’s important to have a presence on the web.”
That may not be what most grads want to hear. Some might have fostered dreams of working from an anchor chair or writing investigative stories for an NNA-winning newspaper. But in today’s brave new world of journalism, it’s important that students think outside the box, said Côté. “Don’t be afraid to bring change [to the industry] by taking part in unusual jobs because I think the skill set that’s being taught in journalism schools now is valuable for newsrooms, but other people are also going to be interested in hiring you for what you have to give.”
Miles Kenyon, a graduate of the one-year bachelor of journalism program at King’s, works as a digital journalism specialist at the live blogging platform ScribbleLive.
“Our platform enables clients to produce news content in real-time, so what I do is mostly training reporters, editors, writers and the like to use the platform effectively.…It’s a fairly new realm that people are starting to venture into.”
Kenyon said he really enjoys working with the company’s not-for-profit clients, such as Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).
“They’ve already done a successful real-time campaign that was based out of the Congo,” he said. “It allowed journalists there to skirt around a media blackout and to email content to JHR for them to post on a live blog. That’s a really powerful example of the tool in use in terms of how I work with them.”[node:ad]
Kenyon advises students to prepare for the identity crisis that comes with finishing j-school, as many people have it in their heads there are a finite number of routes you can take to be considered a journalist.
“Recognize that there are different forms of storytelling and you can still be an impactful, important person in the journalism field even if you’re not a daily reporter.”
He felt that in order to compete in the current job market, he needed to improve his digital and online skills. “I sought out a non-traditional job because I felt like I still had some holes in my skill set that I wanted to improve in order to make myself a better journalist in the end.”
Elianna Lev, a former full-time freelancer, now works as an editor and writer at MSN Canada. “If I was told many years ago when I graduated from school that I’d be working at a tech company, I probably would have had a hard time, but this is the reality.”
At MSN, she mostly focuses on writing and editing travel and money stories. “And some of it’s pretty back-end stuff, like making galleries.”
She recommends students gain as many skills as possible to meet the demands of the workforce. “Once you have those skills, you can go pretty far.”
“No one knows what’s going on with journalism so get whatever work you can,” she added. “If it’s writing-related, that’s awesome. Know that, as a writer, your skills are a really valuable.”
In Chris Boutet’s work as senior manager of brand insights at Infomart—a media-monitoring company owned by Postmedia Network—he helps companies track and analyze their media mentions and the impact of their communications efforts.
Having started his journalism career as a sports copy editor at the National Post, Boutet took other positions over the years, which eventually led him to being director of digital news. After that, he worked as deputy editor of digital operations at the Globe and Mail.
He said his journalism background helped him to understand what happens to a story when it’s posted online, how it moves around and how it’s shared—which are all important factors in web analytics. At Infomart, researchers comb through media coverage of specific brands and synthesize it into simple themes and narratives that tell a story about the impact of their communications.
“In that sense, it’s very much like researching a story,” said Boutet. “When you’re a journalist in a newsroom, you go out and find out all the information that’s relevant and potentially interesting and you distill it all down into a narrative that captures all that. We do find that journalists or potential journalists are really valuable for that type of work.”
Vanessa Santilli is a Toronto-based freelance writer and former youth editor and reporter for The Catholic Register. She has written for a variety of publications including MoneySense, The Medical Post, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, This Magazine, CAmagazine and Bankrate Canada, among others.
Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.