In Depth

Tips for Finding Jobs in News

By Allison J. Waldman

You don’t have to know the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest figures to realize that unemployment is a huge problem. Couple that with the sea change enveloping the ways of the news business, and you’ve got a job market that seems to be even tougher than most.

According to Dan Rohn, founder of the online media job board JournalismJobs.com, the availability of jobs varies with the different media.

“Online media is still pretty strong, because it’s a growing area,” he said. “Even though there are less people needed to run a section online for a news organization, it’s still an area where you’re not seeing mass layoffs like newspapers, where the business model is out of date.”

Rohn noted, however, that that is not to say there’s no life left in traditional newspapers.

“We still get a decent number of classified ads for newspapers, reporters and copy editors, because even with all the doom and gloom, these newspapers are still operating in their communities,” he said.

The outlook for broadcast news jobs is less than rosy as well, Rohn said.

“They’ve tightened up a lot in the TV industry. There’s more consolidation. In some areas of the country, news shows are being canceled altogether and stations are picking up the news from a larger city. There’s still some hiring because people do leave. They have to be replaced and the show still goes on.”

With all that in mind, how do media professionals find jobs in today’s climate?

For those after the higher-end jobs, it helps to enlist the aid of an executive recruiter who specializes in media positions and can help market your strengths to the right people.

Tom Dolan, president of Dolan Media Management, based in the Washington area, specializes in identifying, evaluating and recommending candidates for jobs at TV stations, cable networks and Internet companies, which pay the freight.

All of the candidates Dolan recruits have to be prequalified by his firm. And in order to prequalify, they must be ready for the prequalifying process, he said.

“They should have done some homework before contacting us,” Dolan said. “Be very conversant in the practices in the industry right now. What seems to be working effectively? Have some knowledge of research and how markets are researched.”

He added that candidates should be prepared to have examples of their work that validates what they’re selling in themselves. “For a news manager, that’s a couple of newscasts. Not on a big storm day, but an average day where you’re generating news and your imprint is on that broadcast in one way or another,” he said.

Dolan also advises that TV news candidate should be prepared to answer the following question: What are the key elements to a good newscast that makes it a good newscast every day?

“You’d be surprised how many candidates respond with two or three elements when you can reel off 12 or 15 if you’ve really studied this and know your stuff,” he said. “You should be prepared to talk about how you produce anchors. How do you differentiate a lead story?”

As has always been the case with finding a job, however, it often boils down to who you know.

“You have to network,” Rohn said. “Contact friends from college, former co-workers, even from two or three jobs ago. Try to stay in the loop with any job openings or any opportunities. Go to conventions where journalists are going to be and work the room.”

Rohn cautions that when applying for a job on a board site like JournalismJobs.com, you might be one of a couple hundred applicants for the position.

“It’s kind of tough to stand out even if you have excellent qualifications. You could be at the bottom of the stack and they don’t read more than 10 or 15 applications and you’re out of the running,” he said, adding, “before that classified hits the job sites, try to be in contact with the person who’s going to be making the decision.”

Rohn also advises the serious applicant to be flexible with regard to relocation. “You may have to go to Idaho or Montana or South Dakota to find a market that’s looking for reporters,” he said. “The big cities are always going to be flooded with applicants. The key is getting your foot in the door. Once you get in, you have to really bust your butt to prove that you can do the job.”

He also recommends taking advantage of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and the professional networking site Linkedin.

“People are much more savvy in the media now,” Rohr said. “These sites are becoming more popular because people are using it for career stuff. Facebook used to be more of a social thing for family and friends and photos, but now you see people putting up their things journalistically.”

Robin Ryan, a Newcastle, Wash.-based career consultant and author of the book “Over 40 & You’re Hired,” is a proponent of Linkedin, but not so much the social sites.

“The people who will hire you are not on Facebook. They are not on MySpace. They are not on Twitter. Job hunters might be on there, but not the bosses that make the decisions,” said Ryan. “Linkedin has the tools to help you in your job search more effectively.” She also suggests using Linkedin to search for past contacts that may be of help.

She cautions not to go overboard with the gimmicks and intrusions, however. “Do not text people. Do not try to send a resume to a cell phone. Don’t IM or send Twitter, because you’ll make people mad,” Ryan said. “The idea of sending a box of candy with your resume or sending it by FedEx so they’ll have to get it … You’ll spend $25 for nothing.”

Ryan’s advice is to create a resume that clearly outlines the depth of your experience, accomplishments, the type of audience you’ve reached, the shows you put together, the people you’ve interviewed, and the skills you have.

She encourages experienced professionals to put an emphasis on their contacts. “Older workers need to ‘sell’ the fact that they have contacts. Also, many bosses know that if they hire the over-35 guy, he’s going to show up. That in the news business is the ultimate,” Ryan said.

For a clip reel, Ryan suggests you “put together the very best clips you’ve got, but they’re only going to look at the first two.” Therefore, lead with your top stories. She also suggests that if you put the reel on a Web site, make sure you utilize the best quality software to run it.

Where reels are concerned, creativity is the key, ultimately.

“Creativity still sells. Pick unique stories for your reel. Show how your teasers sell. If you did interviews, show examples of that. Anything that makes you stand out from the other 12 people applying for that job,” Ryan said.

Also, when selling your services, try to find someone inside the network who can introduce you to the news director or business manager, whoever might be doing the hiring. “Use your contacts,” Ryan said. “They can pass your resume along. If you’ve been in the business 10 years, you’ve met a lot of people.”

According to JournalismJobs.com’s Rohn, the best approach is an aggressive one.

“This economy is not like it was a few years ago. They’re not going to bring you in and take you out to lunch,” he said. “Know when you need to follow up. Be aggressive but don’t be obnoxious. Employers are not going to like that. They have a lot of people who want the same job. You don’t want to annoy them.”