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Tips for Young Journalists/Students at the NABJ Convention

May 29, 2017

Each year, hundreds of young people attend their first National Association of Black Journalists Convention and Career Fair.

Many are looking for jobs or internships and this is, by far, the best place to find both. But, in my twenty+ years as a mentor for young people, I’ve seen them make mistakes that can cost them opportunities. This has prompted me to share some things that others (Louise Ritchie) have shared before. Tips 1-9 apply to all students and young journalists. #10 is specific to those interested in working in print or online media. Because the industry has changed, you should be comfortable working in all platforms. You may find yourself writing for the newspaper, taking photos and video and posting to the web. There are tips for aspiring broadcasters but they, too, should be able to work in digital media.

Bob Butler
Executive Director, Butler Media

RESUMES should be one-page. They should include relevant journalism or communications experience and links to your social media pages or resume reel (you’ll see why in a few). Make sure your name and contact information is in bold at the top of the page.

Cover Letters should also be one page and should quickly tell the reader who you are, what you have accomplished and what you want to do. Since this is a career fair, your cover letter can be general. But, if you are applying for a specific job, your cover letter should explain why you are uniquely qualified for that position.

RESEARCH You can find the list of companies that are recruiting here. Take a few minutes and check these companies’ corporate “career” pages. It helps to know what jobs these companies are trying to fill.


1. Have a positive attitude. You never know if the person to whom you’re complaining about the lousy food is not only the NABJ member who spent hours of free time helping to plan the convention, but also is a recruiter on the lookout for an entry-level hire or intern.

2. Be gregarious. Some good conversation openers include saying things such as, “Have you been to other NABJ conventions?” (A good follow-up to a “yes” could be to ask the person’s advice about how you can get the most out of this one.)

3. APPEARANCE/BEHAVIOR: The type of attention you attract is based on your professional look. Remember that even parties at conventions are professional situations. Have fun, but have fun without telling the intimate secrets of your life or without becoming an intimate secret in someone else’s life! Especially on Saturday night!
MEN: NO SAGGING. T-shirts celebrating booze, sex or drugs, the “n” word, etc., definitely will attract attention but not the kind that will lead to a job or internship. Leave that attire at home. Don’t even wear it to convention parties.
WOMEN: Deep cleavage, mini and micro skirts, T-shirts celebrating booze, sex or drugs etc., definitely will attract attention, but not the kind that will lead to a job or internship. Leave that attire at home. Don’t even wear it to convention parties.

4. Talk to everyone. This includes talking to attendees who may be several decades older than you. Instead of clustering with your classmates at meals, make a point of sitting with people whom you don’t know. Your schoolmates can’t hire you or give you an internship. When you select a seat, walk around the table, shake everyone’s hand and introduce yourself to them.

5. Know that many people — including veteran journalists — are shy (It’s amazing how many journalists are tigers when they’re pursuing stories, but in their personal lives they are quiet and shy!) so are very happy when you take time to reach out to them. Some people who especially may be appreciative are families of attendees and recruiters who are not black and who may not have had previous experience attending a gathering in which they are the racial minority. You also can get some valuable tips and information from such people, including members’ families, who often have lots of inside knowledge about the field and may even have journalism experience, too.

6. Attend the workshops and, when you go, sit up front and be prepared to ask questions. When you ask questions, stand up and say your name and your school or affiliation. Students have been known to get job offers and internship offers by asking thoughtful questions at workshops.

7. Seek out opportunities to get feedback. Ask recruiters and veterans to critique your work. When they do so, don’t argue with them. If you don’t agree with their assessment, then you don’t have to follow their advice. But if you start arguing with them, you will get a reputation as a person who is not interested in learning and that can prevent your obtaining a job or internship. People who are hired as entry-level employees and interns are expected to grow and learn as part of the job. For that reason, many employers will choose a student who is eager to learn over a more experienced student who is a know-it-all.

8. In interviews, make sure that you highlight the excellent things you’ve done in journalism. Explain how you got the reluctant source to talk. Describe how you did a tough story on a tight deadline while you were also editing copy. Don’t wait for the interviewer to directly ask you about these things. The recruiter cannot read your mind. In addition, an interview is not a modesty test. You easily can highlight your strengths by, when you are showing your clips, also telling the story behind your clips. “When my editor assigned me this story, he said that he chose me because I handled deadlines better than the other interns. I got the story at 7 and by 9, my editor had it on his/her desk.”

9. Be prepared for a current events quiz. With news available on your cell phone there is no excuse for not knowing the news of the day.

10. Prepare packets of your resume, cover letter and clips. Put them in separate envelopes to give to recruiters. That way, when the recruiter packs the stacks of resumes and clips s/he has received and piles them into a suitcase, yours won’t become wrinkled. Never give away your last package. Create a file that includes your resume, cover letter and clips and email it to yourself each morning. You can show the recruiter your clips, then email them the file at the end of the interview. (This is a great way to get contact information for potential mentors and hiring managers.)


1. DON’T huddle with your classmates like a sheep. Among the no-nos are sitting only with other students or your friends from school or waiting for your roommate to get up in the morning so that you can go to the convention together. Don’t let them make you late. Your classmates may be your BFF’s but they can’t hire you or give you an internship.

2. DON’T get up and leave if you realize that you’ve sat at a table with veterans or recruiters. Often such people are very happy to meet aspiring young journalists and are really insulted if you jump up and abandon them. This particularly may be true with recruiters who literally are there to connect with potential hires such as you. You’ll be embarrassed if that same person you didn’t want to sit with is the one at the career fair interviewing for the job you want.

3. DON’T be on the prowl for a date.

4. DON’T sit in the back of the room at workshops. The days of back of the bus are long over.

5. DON’T go on the prowl for free drinks and free meals. Well… I’ll amend this to say don’t go on the prowl by yourself. I have not met a journalist yet who will turn down a free drink or food when not working. 🙂

6. DON’T spend your time telling recruiters what you DON’T want to do. The phrase “I don’t want to…” will turn recruiters off. Spend your time telling and showing recruiters what you can do for them.

7. DON’T tell a recruiter that you have no clips/reel because the people in your student media were mean or cliquish. Recruiters know that if you couldn’t make it at your campus media, you definitely aren’t ready for the outside world. While the recruiter may nod his or her head sympathetically, that person is mentally crossing you off their list of good candidates.

8. DON’T decide that the job fair is a waste of time because recruiters say they have no open jobs now or they have no internships available for this summer. Typically, summers are when there is turnover on jobs, so recruiters are now taking applications for openings that are expected later. If you blow off the interview or stop interviewing, what can happen is that when the jobs open up, your name isn’t in the pool. Even if you’re looking for an internship this fall, it can be important to interview because most internships may already be filled, but often there are last-minute openings, and the students whom the recruiters know are available are the ones contacted.

9. DON’T run around loudly telling your friends and associates how “mean” certain recruiters were. This is a small business. The new friend whom you’re sharing this information with may end up being the recruiter’s spouse or best friend.

10. Don’t use an email address that is inappropriate. or bigboy24@yahoo may have been cute in high school but they are not professional.

11. Clean up your social media pages. Potential employers check those… closely. When someone asks me to mentor them, the first thing I do is Google them and see what’s on their FB page. If your page is dedicated to partying or getting blasted, I won’t be calling.

–Louise Ritchie/Bob Butler


— Bring PLENTY of resumes and business cards. Make sure your resume is ONE PAGE and includes links to your social media pages and your resume reel. The employer doesn’t need to know all the details of every job you’ve had. If it’s not related to journalism just put down what it was. Example: Taco Bell, June 2002 to September 2003. Oh, and make sure your name is in LARGE TYPE AND BOLD FACE. When I’m trying to find your resume, I may not look too hard. So make it easy for me to find you.

— Reporter Resume Reel: Your first job will 95% be as a “multi media journalist.” You will be shooting and editing your own packages. Start your resume reel with two stand-ups and two walk-and-talks then go directly to your first package, preferably from something on your montage. Shoot your stand-ups yourself, if at all possible. When I see a standup where the camera is zooming and/or panning, it tells me you did not shoot that yourself. I want to see what I can expect if I send you out to do a story. Also, put your slate at the end and drop the bells and whistles. If I’m interested in you, I don’t want to wait through a heavily produced slate to see or hear you.

PRODUCERS: Your reel should be the first three blocks of your show, including the open, teases and transitions. Telescope the spot breaks (if you have them) or live shots.

REPORTERS/PRODUCERS: Load your reel on Youtube’s “unlisted” channel. Type the url on your resume and bring 50 copies to the convention. Email that document to yourself each morning so it stays near the top of the email on your phone.

REPORTERS/PRODUCERS: I have often told people to make DVD’s of your reel to hand out to hiring managers. But most managers I know would rather view your reel online. So I now encourage you to bring a couple of dvd’s or put your reel on a flash drive for viewing. You can also show the recruiter your reel from your laptop. Read on for a much better option.

SMART PHONES: Before you head out to the career fair, email your resume and link to yourself. Save the document on your phone if you can. Ask for the recruiter’s email address and forward it to them on the spot. This is a good way to get contact information for potential mentors and/or hiring managers.

REPORTERS: I discourage young journalists from lining up at the network (ABC, CBS, ESPN, etc) career fair booths. Their recruiters can offer great advice but their stations are generally located in top 50 markets where they won’t consider hiring you until you have at least 5 years paid experience. Consider companies that have stations located in DMA 100-210. For example Tegna has 50 stations, 10 of them are located in markets where you can be hired right out of college. Also Raycom Media operates 36 television stations – a half dozen are located in DMA 100+. They and Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has more than two dozen newsroom in starter markets, will be recruiting in the career fair.

Collect business cards. After each encounter take minute and write some notes on the back of the card. Example: “Tall brother with a blue suit, and red tie” or “lady with really pretty earrings. She said they had an opening in Fort Wayne” or “He liked my tape but said I need to slow my delivery.” When you get home (or see ‘Smart Phone’) send an email thanking them for talking to you, maybe comment on the tie or the earrings. And attach your resume. They’ll probably see a hundred people. It’s not uncommon for resumes to be misplaced. You’re ahead of the game because the link to your work is already there.

Don’t rule out working as a producer. One news director told me, “I can shake a tree and 12 reporters and anchors will fall out. But a good producer is hard to find.” These jobs lead you into newsroom management, where the real power and control lie. And don’t be surprised if, while you’re waiting in line at the network booth, producer candidates go to the front. There is a critical shortage of people of color who want to be producers.

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