Ten years in the television news business has taught me some very valuable and hard lessons that I didn’t learn in Journalism school. A year or two of real-world experience in the news biz will let you know if you are cut out for this or not. Here are some tips that will give you a jump start on getting in the know.
Prepare yourself to live on very little money for the first few years.
Unfortunately, you are not going to go from college journalism class to Barbara Walters’s status. There is going to be a good two to four years where you are going to live on the poverty line, followed by another two of just getting by. Realistically, unless you are something special, you will not exceed $50,000 annually until you have been in the business for close to eight years. So save when you can, don’t make expensive splurges and prepare yourself for that kind of lifestyle.
Flood the market
Yes, we would all like to get our first jobs in Miami or in New York City, reporting on hard hitting investigative pieces, but the reality is, that’s not going to happen. You will most likely have to start somewhere like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Mobile, Alabama. So when you start applying for jobs, flood the market. Apply to everything, everywhere. This will increase your chances of getting a job, because it is very competitive out there. When you made the decision to be a television journalist, you made the decision to move anywhere in the country.
Take all the advice you can get.
Many journalism majors get out of college and think they know how to make beautiful TV, when the reality is, you have no idea. The one week you got to put your story together in college will now be cut down to one to two hours if you are lucky. So seeking the advice of journalists who have been in the business for years will help you learn how to manage your time, look and sound better and know what to expect at the station you are going to or looking to go to.
You are just a warm body
This is a competitive business. If you won’t take the $20,000 starting salary, there is someone right behind you that will. You are easily replaceable and until you build a name for yourself or become exceptionally good at your job, you will most likely be treated like a warm body filling a seat in the newsroom. Don’t get offended by this; it does get better, but the earlier you are aware of this, the better prepared you will be.
Be prepared to work…a lot…but get ready to have one of the most exciting jobs around
You will work overtime and you won’t get paid for it. Even if the schedule says you are working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you will finish your day when the story is over. Whether that is 6 or 9 p.m. You will be expected to go above and beyond because the news really never stops. However, this job gives you access to some of the most interesting people, exciting happenings and thrilling stories you will ever be a part of.