The competition for journalism jobs is rough.
So how can an aspiring reporter stand out?
Turns out, there are skills that can help develop a young journalist into star reporter that go beyond hustling for bylines at an internship or the college newspaper (though don’t bypass that; it still is considered a rite of passage into the profession).
Here are six unexpected pastimes that can boost a journalism resume.
1. Public speaking skills:
In his previous role as social media manager at Patch, Gerick said he “traveled the country speaking for hours in front of different people every [business] trip. … “[Experience with public speaking] made me more confident and self-aware about how I communicate.”
2. Greek life involvement:
Though Greek life is sometimes perceived as solely a social experience, the “social” aspect of Greek life can be developed into an essential asset in a news environment. Not only do Greek students learn how to work and operate with people of different backgrounds, but they develop communication, problem-solving and leadership skills.
“In Greek life, between recruitment and all of the meetings you have, you get very used to [the business of] attending meetings and networking,” said Nancy Kerr, editor of special projects at USA TODAY and an alumna of Kappa Delta Sorority at the University of Maryland. “It’s all about contacts. Getting contacts for your stories, getting contacts to move positions — so having a Greek background is very helpful that way.”
3. Humanitarian work experience:
Nahal Mottaghian, a recent college graduate from the University of Maryland with a journalism degree and a resume full of humanitarian work, said volunteer work is helpful “in more ways than can be counted.”
“It’s great for making connections, keeping a blog and realizing what committing to a task really means,” said Mottaghian.
4. A minor:
By pursuing a minor, you open yourself up to specialized reporting opportunities.
“If you minor in business, for example, you might understand business stories better. If you minor in Spanish, it might boost your chances of getting a job in a Spanish-speaking country,” said Gerick, who was an English minor in college.”I think it basically comes down to, how well-rounded and valuable do you want to make yourself?”
5. Being a computer geek:
The need for tech-savvy journalists is skyrocketing. Nick Diakopoulos, a Tow Fellow at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism working on applications of data and computational journalism, said that understanding algorithms and sharpening data skills are important for students who wish to work in digital journalism.
Reporters with these types of skills can participate in “collecting and scraping data from public sources, or organizing it and transforming it into datasets that can be used to aid investigations or tell stories through visualization,” said Diakopoulos. “Knowing some basic programming will be helpful for these kinds of data journalism projects, since students will be able to manage much larger projects and datasets that way.”
“With a little creativity there’s almost no limit to the new user experiences we can come up with,” he added.
6. Interest in music:
Being in a band or listening to the Top 40 hits may not sharpen your reporting skills, but showing interest in the music industry may deliver a variety of opportunities.
“The music community is just an amazing network of people,” said Marc Shapiro, a reporter at the Baltimore Jewish Times and who has been lead guitarist of the Baltimore rock band Humanoise (which recently disbanded). Shapiro’s experience working in the music industry has involved throwing concerts and festivals, which has also connected him to a variety of sources.
If you are already largely invested in music and wish to venture into music journalism, Shapiro, who covers everything from medical marijuana to crime in the Orthodox Jewish community, encouraged getting as involved as possible.
“Listen to as much music as you can of as many different genres you can, go see as much live music as you can, and read other music journalism to see what’s good,” he said. “Don’t be intimidated by publicists and by how popular bands are. There’s always someone who can help you get ahold of those people.”