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Experience on School Newspapers is Key to Getting a Job

Almost every college student who searches for a newspaper internship or full-time job in journalism will list salary, the reputation of the newspaper and the depth of experience they can achieve as the three factors that drive their job hunt.

The order of importance those three factors assume will vary from student to student, however. Choosing which newspaper to work for is a very personal decision.

Students should understand that the size of a newspaper and/or the frequency it is published are minor points in the eyes of most newspaper editors who evaluate job applications and clippings written by their future reporters and editors. The primary reason one student is hired over another one for a newspaper job is the quality of his or her writing ... regardless of where that writing occurred.

Job candidates who think salary is the most important factor may want to consult the salary article on the NJCPA website.

The reputation of a newspaper often is associated with the number of journalism awards the newspaper has won over the years. In New Jersey, for example, the state press association's Better Newspaper Contest honors each year's best journalistic performances at its member daily and weekly papers.

It's no secret that the depth of experience an intern will receive varies from paper to paper and that dailies give students somewhat different experiences than weeklies offer.

Here are some points students can consider as they decide what type of internship experience they want:

  • The typical internship or first job, regardless of whether it is a daily or a weekly, involves working as a general assignment reporter. That may mean covering a school board meeting one night and writing about a traffic accident the next afternoon.
  • Daily newspapers often assign interns to a "beat" or a specialized topic in addition to those general assignments. Also, many large dailies ask their interns to help veteran reporters gather background information for articles. Some papers hire interns to work exclusively as copy editors, photographers or graphic artists.
  • Interns at large papers, especially dailies, are likely to have their articles edited by several people before they appear in print.
  • Weeklies and small dailies depend heavily on their interns to produce a large quantity of articles on every topic. It isn't unusual for an intern at a weekly to receive front-page bylines immediately after starting to work and to write dozens of articles in every issue.
  • In addition to reporting and writing news and feature articles, interns at small dailies and weeklies may be asked to take photos to accompany their articles, do some copy editing or to help with laying out the paper.

As with any other company or any other industry, the decision about working for a weekly or a daily sometimes boils down to a personal preference of whether to be a "big fish in a small pond" or a "small fish in a big pond."

The quality of the experience during an internship or first job after graduation will depend on the commitment of the newspaper to help prepare a student for his or her future in a newspaper career.

The New Jersey Press Foundation believes strongly that every newspaper assigned one of its interns ... regardless of whether it's a daily or a weekly ... has set as a top priority its commitment to preparing future reporters and editors.

This article was written by Tom Engleman, program director of the New Jersey Press Foundation. It was updated in April 2003.

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