The 30 Things I've Learned About Journalism

Woman multitasking with cell phone, laptop and newspaper
Woman multitasking with cell phone, laptop and newspaper

"Your senior essay drafts are due next week," you said last Wednesday. I scribbled down the due date in my notebook, slammed it shut and then didn't think about it again until tonight -- the night before. Professor Hartman, as a disclaimer: I swear I'm not your typical procrastinating college student. I just got a bit busy, you know?

Maybe I put this off because of the topic itself, which is a little, sort of, super-mega insanely daunting. In 1,000 words, you want me to sum up what I learned in college, inside and outside of the classroom, which will help me practice journalism in the real world.

I've thought about it. I've thought about it a lot. As a result, I've devised a comprehensive list of everything I've learned about this field in my years at Central Michigan University. Important stuff -- the stuff I plan to take with me after I'm gone. And as it turns out, I've learned a sh*t load. Ready?

What I've learned about writing...

1. It can be really, really hard.

Especially when you're just not in the mood and all you can think about is pizza, your Snuggie and Netflix.

2. But it can be really, really awesome.

When you are focused, feeling great and in a groove. You've got some killer music on and your brain is fired up. (Fire up Chips! Get it?)

3. It can be therapeutic.

So you're feeling a little less than fabulous. In fact, you're feeling really sad, or angry, or stressed, or like you're at your wit's end. This is when I whip out my laptop or journal and churn out my feelings. And sometimes it turns into a really amazing article.

4. It can reveal things you weren't even aware of.

Often I write things that I never even knew I felt so passionate about. And having that passion feels incredible.

5. It's my life's calling.

Over the years here, I've realized this is genuinely what I was meant to do. Couldn't have picked a better-suited profession.

What I've learned about going viral...

1. There will be haters.

There will be people who make nasty, awful comments online. About the article topic, about your writing, about you as a person. They will cut you down and unleash the meanest sh*t you can think of.

2. You should stay away from the bad comments, no matter how curious you are.

To say such comments have never disappointed me or brought me down a little would make me a statue. And I'm not. I'm human.

3. People will also be super supportive.

Some commenters said I transformed their thinking; I lifted them up and gave them a fresh perspective and renewed hope. I changed the way they thought of themselves. These people are why I do this.

4. Your phone will blow up for the remainder of the day.

It's kind of nice, actually.

5. When it's all over, you'll feel good about what you wrote.

The excitement has passed, but you'll still look fondly on the article you wrote that made so many people talk. The good and bad reactions themselves aren't as important as the fact that you elicited a strong emotion in your readers.

What I've learned about the law...

1. Journalists can be sued for libel, among other things.

I say this not because it's happened to me (I've managed to dodge that bullet so far -- knock on wood), but because I'm learning all about it in the media law class I'm taking.

2. ...But First Amendment rights go pretty far.

This is the 21st century, and we live in the United States. Our rights extend a decent distance.

3. However, journalists often still end up in court for a variety of reasons.

Like one of my teachers from a few semesters back, who went there, like, four times or something over the span of his career.

4. Basically, you have to be careful.

Don't write stuff that could get you in major trouble. Don't crop pics in a way that changes the meaning. Remember the standards of a libel suit.

5. And always tell the truth.

Because that's just a basic proponent of good journalism.

What I've learned about the job search...

1. It is hard.

Especially if you've got one particular dream job in mind, and you worked really, really hard on your application. It's quiet on their end, and you don't know why.

2. Remember you won't hear back for a while.

You might have gotten as far as the edit test or beyond. It's been a few weeks, and you're freaking out. You're feeling so impatient. Don't get flustered -- patience is a virtue (tiring but true).

3. In fact, you may never hear back.

This field is competitive as f*ck. You may be the best journalist out there and the offers still don't roll in like you want them to. (Disclaimer: Definitely not saying I'm the best. Totally not.)

4. And that's okay.

Why? Because it is. You're still so young. What's the rush?

5. Thinking about the real world is scary.

You might even call your dad in a panic one day because you don't know how to be an adult and you feel like you're not going to make it out there. You will. It's going to be okay; you're going to be okay.

What I've learned about making connections...

1. You need to.

Even if it's hard and you're kind of antisocial by nature. Talk to people. Network.

2. Because they'll come in handy.

Trust me, your connections are incredibly useful. You already know this.

3. Network in person.

Grab a coffee with the friend of a friend who works at the huge newspaper you lust over. Be likable.

4. Network online.

Reach out to people on Twitter and LinkedIn especially. These sites are super great for getting your name out there and building your personal brand.

5. Do professional favors.

Especially if other journalists have done favors for you.

What I've learned about journalism as a whole...

1. It is f*cking awesome.

The most terrific field in the world.

2. It's kind of evolving, but definitely not dying.

A) Print media is still huge B) Online media is now huge C) Both are awesome.

3. You picked the right major.

If you're passionate, a degree in journalism is the greatest one to have. Hands down.

4. It'll change your life.

It will transform your character in the best possible way.

5. You're going to love it out there.

I know you will. And I know I will.