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Seeking advice for college journalism students

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This Thursday, I’m headed to Central Washington University, my alma mater, to talk to a handful of journalism students about that almost-ubiquitous question: What skills will we be expected to have when we graduate?

It’s perhaps not the best question because the easy answer is, well, you’re not really expected to know anything, you’ll just live or die by what you do know. But everyone asks it anyway and I don’t necessarily blame those who do. If you’re in college, especially if you’re staring at graduation, you want to cut through all the crap and just figure out What do I need to get hired? My advice is generally to not worry about appearing a certain way; it’s more important that you develop a mindset that’ll lead to you learning those elusive skills organically. (Better that than me saying, Take this video class! Follow these 6 easy Twitter steps! No—the best thing I can teach someone is that they need to teach themselves.)

I’ll delve into specifics, too, of course, and probably drop a few tips, but what I’m really hoping for is any must-have advice of yours that I could pass along to a handful of aspiring journalists. Please leave a comment if you have time…

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  • seth miller

    “the value of your degree is exactly proportional to what you put into it” – That is absolutely right but the problem is if you are talking with seniors in college your message may be too late (or they may think it is too late when truly it is never too late). I only know a handful of people that went through the same program as you at CWU but the ones that are still working in the field are the ones who put in a lot of effort working for the school paper, getting internships, and making connections. They were the ones that were truly working on their craft.

  • @seth – I think I’m talking to a mix. It’s true that if you’re a senior and just realizing this stuff, you’re probably in panic mode. But it really is never too late to change what you’re doing and start teaching yourself. My journalism major formed the base of my skillset, but most of what I use day-to-day is stuff that I taught myself (re: blogging and doing, even if I wasn’t employed) or learned on the job.

  • seth miller

    and I would say the skills that built your skillset (your work ethic, critical thinking ability) were things you probably had before you stepped foot on to a college campus. Hopefully CWU helped you increase them though.
    One thing I have realized through my current job is (I’m still trying to figure out how to phrase this better but I’ll give you my thoughts so far) that college will give you the specific skills you need to perform in your job. That is not true for almost every college degree or job. What you could be getting out of college is how to develop an even stronger work ethic, how to find and explore new ideas, how other people see the world and what you can learn from that…
    It seems too often that high school students understand that they have to do above the minimum to get in to a university but once they arrive at the university they aren’t able to see that they need to do more than the minimum to be better prepared for when they leave.

    I realize most of this has little to do with journalism.

  • @seth – Well put, and I’d say that’s something that I picked up, too.

  • thurstongore

    In my opinion, the best skill to have is, like you said, the ability to rapidly learn new skills on the fly and apply knowledge quickly and effectively after you learn it. Being a journalist isn’t about knowing everything…it’s about knowing how to learn anything. Even more so, I always tell people to get involved in everything; blog, radio, print, TV, web, photography, etc. Why not add more tools to your toolbox? Some of those things may be more practical than others, but any and all skills are worth having in the set.
    Lastly, it’s not too late to transfer to Western :) Just kidding. Good luck!

  • thurstongore

    ha! Didn’t realize my derby name was logged in…you know who it is though :)

  • @thurstongore – Good quote: “Being a journalist isn’t about knowing everything…it’s about knowing how to learn anything.” And good point that that applies to more than just whatever topic you’re reporting on.

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