Yesterday, a reader asked us: just how the hell does one get a media job in this town? Good question! Even the recently-graduated Ivy Leaguers have it bad, notes the Observer today. ("You've got 21-year-old girls being hazed by their 25-year-old bosses, and the assistants have college students that they're totally hazing.") And that if you get a job. We rounded up the best comments into a list of servicey advice that's actually useful!
1. Be a Temp Slave!
"Temping temping temping. There are agencies that specialize in media/entertainment companies, and you can get your foot in the door and prove yourself in person rather than on paper or email. I had 3 long term (several months) temp positions before being hired for the position I am in now. Granted, most offices treat temps like shit, there's no hand-holding, and you can get let off at a moment's notice."
From it takes a train to cry:
"I'll second the recommendations that you temp. Many jobs, formally or not, are temp-to-hire. Don't worry about the 20 jobs at Time Inc. that you applied for - in many cases, the person who's doing the hiring has already picked someone within the company for the job, and the posting is just a policy requirement. So, you probably never had a chance to begin with on most of them."
From Cannot Find Server:
"To reiterate: Temp. Unless you're very, very lucky, you won't get that job at the big media company right out of the gate. I did eight terrible months as a personal assistant before landing a real job at a real company with real benefits. Almost everyone has that shit job in New York their first year. Just don't get stuck in it."
Because practically nobody's on staff anymore!
"Otherwise, as others have said, freelancing is the way to go. I was surprised to learn that few writers are on staff anywhere. That's just the nature of this very crappy industry. I eventually left to get a better-paying, more rewarding job outside the magazine industry and can freelance on my own time. It's just better this way."
"Kid, no one in NY "applies" for a job. You freelance, you get known by the company, and you get hired. I get resumes and cover letters all the time, and most of them are so poorly written they go straight to circular."
3. Have Some Totally Important Connections Already (In Which Case You Wouldn't Even Need to Ask)
Rich parents, famous parents, parents in media... you get the picture.
"Part of the problem is that you even have to ask. This means that you don't have the familial or interpersonal connections to fill the desks currently filled by those kids. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is all of them."
From ian spiegelman:
"Magazines are totally, totally lost to the children of the rich and connected now as far as entry level is concerned. Magazines, as this site illustrates again and again and again, are for and by rich dupes, trust-funded babies..."
4. Start a Blog
From Yazz Flute:
"CVs are for kids. Clips are currency. My first clips were from an online e-zine (which I cofounded so that I could get some clips). I used those to get an internship at a newspaper, and voila, foot was in the door."
From Nick Denton, the boss around here:
"I think the value of connections is wildly overstated. Certainly on the web. We're always looking for writers with a track record of productivity (a personal blog is just fine), flair and an area of interest. And it's even better if they don't have connections, because then we get the satisfaction of discovering them, and a little bit of gratitude before the inevitable entitlement settles in."
"Most companies in this town, media or otherwise, won't even double-click to open your resume, unless it was submitted by someone who already works at said company. Referrals are often the ONLY way to be even considered for a job."
"Meet anyone at the company you want to work for, and with their permission drop their name like a atomic bomb in the first letter of your cover letter to HR. I got a job within two weeks of doing this."
6. Intern (Also see: Don't intern)
Oh, the time-honored internship. Better hope you can be "subsidized" or working another job while work for media-peanuts—or for nothing! Or, as Adelle Waldman says in the New Republic today: fuck that. Don't intern. Internships simply reinfornce the status quo herd mentality of the already-provincial media jungle:
For one, most journalism internships discriminate on the basis of financial wherewithal... The rule of thumb, when it comes to internships, is that only the well-heeled bother to apply. (Newspapers may be a bit exceptional in this regard, as historically they have paid more.)
The other big problem with the internship culture is that it rewards young people who know exactly what they want to do and immediately begin strategizing about how to get there. Wouldn't it make sense to do the exact opposite? That is, create incentives for people who have wider experience in the world?
There's a social good problem at play when news is delivered by people who harbor such similar ambitions and come from such similar backgrounds, people who have spent their summers in the same cities and have worked at the same types of organizations. Naturally, they are likely to keep spotting and writing about the same types of issues—and keep missing different ones. What would it be like to have more education reporters who'd spent time teaching in struggling public schools or metro reporters who'd been cops or social workers?
7. Buy Your Job!
"The way I got my first job in book publishing was incredibly easy (but pricey): the summer after graduation I signed up to do a summer publishing course at one of the big universities in the city. Two months of classes (that I skipped out of, for the most part) and $5,000 later, I did a mock interview with a major publishing house as a part of the course, and they liked me, so they gave me a job. This happened to lots of people I know from the course. By the way, even though I'm in book publishing, it was a course for magazines too...but I'm not sure how successful the magazine people were getting jobs out of the program. But seriously, best investment ever."
"That is how I got my gig at a book publisher as well. I know people that used the course to segueway into mags, but most were doing non-editorial jobs like sales. I know having clips + the summer publishing program tended to work for those that wanted to write. Both Columbia and NYU have these summer publishing intensive programs."
8. Gain Experience in a Smaller "Market"
"Market" is a jargony word that scares us. We'll replace "market" with "a place that is not New York, say, San Francisco."
From ian spiegelman:
"That said, everyone who suggested starting out in a smaller market I tend to agree with. If you hit NYC fresh from college looking for media work, you're kind of screwed from the jump. Some colleges like Northwestern and NYU have—or had—cozy relationships with places like New York magazine and can hook you up with a paid internship as a fact checker or editorial assistant, but otherwise, if you you can't afford to work for free, you need clips from a smaller, out-of-town thing. I did my small-paper reporting while I was still in college as a paid reporter for the Queens Courier and that helped a lot. But I only got my paid internship at New York through a professor who was friends with Maer Roshan.
"Newspapers, however, from weekly to daily, still seek eager kids who will bust ass for a story and who can understand why they are being made to make copies and type up called-in reports from older reporters while they learn the trade. Every single town in America, and in NYC, has a local paper and all those papers have a job that pays garbage for working for the local weekly. Do that for a year and then apply to a bigger paper. You'll be amazed at how much an old Time-y newspaper will respond to a young kid with newspaper experience rather than some recent grad who wrote for a personal blog or interned at Conde Nast."
Find a place where there's a big expat population and English is not the native tongue.
I went to Shanghai and within 1.5 years I was the senior editor (by law the editor-in-chief, although not a 'working' editor, has to be a Chinese National) at the largest English entertainment magazine in the city (about 300,000, weekly.)
Now, this is by no means big by international or NY standards, but I did get to interview and meet people that otherwise I would have never have access to in NY (or any other Western city). From The Rolling Stones to Terence Koh to Giorgio Armani to Mikhail Gorvachev to Olympic Athletes.
Eventually, you'll be well connected in the small (but influential) world of expat media and you'll start getting asked to contribute for larger, foreign (US, Europe) publications who need content from wherever you are."
9. Miscellaneous Advice
"-Claim you're an expert in "New Media." No one knows what the fuck it is anyway.
-Don't say "Web 2.0"
-Do say "I subscribe to [X] feeds..."
-Realize editorial assistants positions bite.
-Demand at least 30 k. they'll claim 22-28 k is good; if they do, make sure you can still "freelance" and make sure you never freelance for a website—unless they are corporately owned."
From Aaron Altman, who's not afraid to be servicey:
"From the TV news side: intern at a non-union news operation. Usually the 24-hour newsers (NY1, News 12) are just that. There you can actually do some of the stuff only union-ers usually do - handle the camera, shoot standups (!!!), conduct interviews, etc. True, it will take a while - and internships being a five- or six-month stint, there ain't much time - but you'll get there.
Work the assignment desk. If you're going in there with the hopes of going on-air, forget it. Even the "minor leagues" like NY1 - i.e., those that serve as sort of "farm teams" for the likes of WNBC, WABC etc. - have enough talent sending in resume tapes for the news director to sort through. (And the blowjobs thing that eleanor and narnio mentioned earlier? Unfortunately, in some cases, true. But DO NOT BLOW ANYONE. It's not worth it.) If they see you doing well at the desk - taking calls from tipsters and publicists, weeding through the BS until you get that kickass story you see on the air - then you'll do just fine. You MUST want to do behind-the-scenes stuff. And no, not BJ's.
Also. WRITE WELL. There is a difference between copy for papers and copy for air. KNOW who you are writing for, and you do that by watching them. Sue Simmons has a different, expletive-free voice than Pat Kiernan, who has a different voice from Steve Bartlestein, who has a different voice from Roseanna Scotto. If you aren't writing for air, then you are taking in info at the assignment desk. THIS IS CRITICAL. The quality and integrity of notes from the police department, from a tipster, yadda yadda is important in whether and how a story makes it on the air. The assignment editor, as I see it, is the central nervous system of a TV newsroom. (Empahsis, most of the time, on "nervous.")
Last but not least - you will deal with a whole buncha jerkdom at these places. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. The good ND's, assignment managers, EP's and producers know TV news talent when they see it. They see that someone consumes the news, lives and breathes it, as a good newshound should. Here in NYC, it is not enough to know about the latest ep of Gossip Girl. You must know how to get a reporter into deep Brooklyn, or the fastest way to Hasbrouck Heights to cover a three-alarm fire, or the names of the press people in Mayor Cory Booker's office. You need to know the difference between Fairfield, CT and Bergenfield, NJ. You need to know how many bridges lead to Staten Island (three) and how many of those come to and from Jersey (two) and which one was named after the Port Authority's first chairman (the Outerbridge Crossing). You have to read Gothamist, the Times/Post/Daily News/Newsday and yes, the Sun, and listen to 880 or 1010 online. In short: BE the news. There is no better way to put it."
Whew! That's a lot of info. We're putting our noses to the grindstone—or as Allen Ginsberg said, "America, I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel."