Shawna VanNess, journalism professor at Hofstra University, Hofstra graduate, and deputy features editor for Newsday, spoke to Hofstra journalism students on October 4. Even though it was 8 a.m. VanNess was enthusiastic to share the details of her job, what she looks for in new hires, and what journalism is really like today. Keep reading to find out her tips.
Like most of us, VanNess was told that it was a terrible time to be going into journalism. She was told that there were no jobs and she would be better off going to grad school. After graduating, she ventured into the real world and found that those horror stories were a load of phooey. Which brings us to her first tip: Don’t buy into the horror stories.
Journalism is an ever-evolving market. As VanNess said, the older reporters and newer reporters bring different skills to the table. It’s about balancing new and old ideas to tell stories in multiple ways.
Journalism today is about “fast reads,” being “service oriented” and sometimes catering to what the reader wants. The days of writing 2,000 word pieces are over. VanNess proposed that you can still pack life, color, and detail into 600 words and it will often end up being a stronger piece.
With a faster paced society, journalism is becoming faster news. It focuses on key words, search engine optimization, and multimedia. Our society has a “we don’t touch things if we don’t know what they are” mentality, meaning that creative, clever headlines are fading and being replaced with accurate, descriptive ones. Viewers also like to be entertained, which is leading publications to feature photos, videos, polls, message boards—anything interactive—to keep viewers attention.
Social media and the web have become increasingly important to the journalism industry and the future of publications.
“Approximately 60 percent of traffic comes from Google and Google searches,” she said. The good news is that this rise in the web is opening more jobs. Companies are looking to manage their social media presence and to show up first on Google searches, which will benefit new grads in the long run.
“All this [social media and web] stuff is second nature to you guys. You understand how to think, you know how to upload, and you get twitter. This is stuff that we have to teach people in our newsroom,” she said. This social media and web knowledge is what VanNess believes is the selling point for college grads. It’s something students can offer potential employers that they can’t necessarily get with someone else.
What are come other ways for potential interns and employees to stand out? VanNess' biggest focus was clips. Clips, clips, clips! And it doesn’t necessarily matter where they are from. Blogging, school newspapers, internships, everything counts. VanNess advises that journalism students should be “writing and reporting all the time, even if it’s not for money.”
She also recommends that students should focus their resume to the job or internship they are applying for. VanNess had three resumes; one for magazines, one for hard news, and one for web. For each resume she picked work that showcased that type of writing, so the places she applied for could get a good idea of her skills and how she would fit in at that publication.
Another tip; don’t wait for a job posting. VanNess says that by the time jobs are posted she’s already had people expressing interest. These are people who work at the paper and people who have heard about the opening through the grape vine. While that may make getting a job seem nearly impossible, VanNess has an easy solution.
“What I tell all of my students is that it’s great to monitor job postings, but it’s also great to be proactive. Think about where you want to work—make a list of your top twenty places—find out who their recruiter is and send your stuff,” she said. That introduction opens doors for connections and follow-up conversations. “It’s good to take that initiative.”
By now you might be wondering what you’ll do once you get the job. VanNess shared with us her typical day, not that there’s ever really a typical day in journalism. She has an editors meeting in the morning, where all editors get together to discuss the stories they will be working on today. At this meeting the editors look at Google Trends to see what the most Googled topics are, and if a story could come from the searches.
While it may seem silly, VanNess said that more viewers click on a story about Nicki Minaj than a story about an earthquake in India. That’s sad, but true, and publications need to cater to their audience in a way. If there are no views, there are no advertisers, which means the publication won’t make money.
VanNess’ day features an afternoon meeting, around 2:30 p.m. where the editors update each other on their reporters’ stories and any new developments. By 5:00 the print edition of the paper is pretty much “all sewn up.”
To conclude, let me leave you with one last tip from VanNess. Do internships, and take any job—it may not be perfect, but “once you’re in, you’re in and you can move up from there.”