How To Get Started Writing Before Graduation

So, you made up your mind to be a journalist and enrolled in school - congratulations!  That is the first step towards carving out a career for yourself in the world of journalism.  But do not think that you are going to walk out of college and land the dream job of working for a travel magazine and taking exotic trips.  It doesn’t work that way.  Before anyone will hire you full time, you are going to need experience.  This is just the same thing as any other college graduate who finds it difficult to land a job without experience.  This is why students often intern while in college - to gain experience.  The good news about a career in journalism is that you internship can pay. 

 While some of my friends interned at larger city newspapers that are now out of business or heading that way, I decided to get a job as a stringer for my local paper.  I commuted to college so I had evenings free.  I went to the editor of the paper and asked for a job.  And just like that, he gave me one.  Although I was still I school and had not earned my degree in journalism, I had clips to show him.  After he read my clips, he said that he could hire me to work on a part time basis, covering meetings.   This was a part time job that paid a little bit more than minimum wage, but I was glad to get it.   I was getting a byline and experience working as a newspaper reporter. 

 I imagined myself covering all sorts of crime and corruption in my town, even though there wasn’t much of either.  Instead, I found myself sitting at school board meetings, township meetings, zoning board meetings and other municipal meetings that were boring.   And they seemed like they lasted for hours, although they only lasted at the most, two hours.  I had to report on what was going on and then send it to my editor that night.  I didn’t have a lot of time to mull over the story. 

 There was no set schedule for me at first, although as time wore on, I began to go to the same meetings over and over again.  I got to know people who were leaders in the community as well as others.  I got to understand the issues.  People would usually come to the meeting with complaints and I would have to write about it.   Often, they called me a few minutes before they needed me to go out, if no one else on staff could go.  The most exciting thing that happened to me was to go to a reported fire at the nearby restaurant.  It turned out that the fire was merely faulty fans and by the time I got there, all the fire trucks were gone and everyone was eating at the restaurant.  I still managed to get a story out of it, but not the story I imagined. 


That is what life is like being a stringer.  When I worked at this job, I found that a great many people worked as stringers for part time pay or additional income.  Most of them did not have a journalism degree.  While we were technically on the payroll for the newspapers we were with, we did not have the same perks as those who were either part time writers or full time writers.  We were not considered to be “real “ reporters, but stringers.  But having only a couple of hours to write a news story was the best experience that I ever had when it come to writing. 

 That was six years ago.  Much has changed since them.  A great many papers, even local ones, are cutting their staff.  They are not putting anyone else on the payroll.  But you can still get a job as a stringer.  As a matter of fact, freelance reporters are in high demand.  Newspapers still need content to keep the news going, they just don’t want to pay benefits to anyone who is on the staff.  Being a freelance, or contractor for a newspaper will usually net you money per story.  Some papers pay by word count, hours or a flat rate for the story.  This is a job that you can still get at print newspapers, although many print newspapers are closing their doors due to the fact that people would rather get their news from the internet. 

 You can also write on the internet for money and build up a series of clippings that you can print out for your portfolio.  The internet is the way of the future when it comes to journalism.  The only problem with internet writing is that it tends to be a bit sloppy as compared to media print.  This is because internet news is published right away, after a quick job of proofreading and sometimes, editing.  As time wears on, however, and internet news becomes more influential, look for it to be a bit more polished. 

 There are also sites online that can help you earn money writing before you graduate.  Such sites like Elance and Guru are a good way to get your foot in the door and start earning money for your writing.  The only problem with these sites is that you will most likely be doing ghostwriting.  While it will pay some bills, it does not afford you the byline. 

 There are many different news outlets online where you can apply for jobs.  You will earn about $50 per article if you are accepted.  They will want to see copies of your work before you get started.  Some of them will test you out so that they can see if you can write in the style that they like. 

 There are sites like Associated Content, where you can get a few dollars for an article and also get a byline.  This is a good way to get started writing and they are one of the few legitimate companies online that actually pay you for your work.  You will not earn a lot of money when you write for them, but you will be helping yourself build your portfolio.

 Another option is to write for free.  See if your local paper has an opening for a columnist, movie critic or other type of writer who is willing to write for free.  This will not pay you anything, but it will get your name out there. 

 Although the newspaper was the first job that I got that paid, I did have another job that led to me getting the newspaper job.  A small shopper paper was looking for a columnist that could talk about what was going on in the town.  I sent them a sample of what I would write as I had no clips and they accepted me.  I used these clips in order to get the newspaper job so that they could see a sample of my writing.

  Even if you are still in school and have no degree, you can make money writing and gain experience at the same time. It is important that you start to gain experience in the field right away, paid or unpaid, so that you have a better chance of getting a job once you complete college.  Look at all avenues and do not forget to look at your local paper.  Most papers today are only too glad to get freelance writers as they do not have any employer obligation towards them.  You will have deadlines and will have to teach yourself how to write quicker.  You have to be able to write quickly and concisely when you are working as a journalist and there is no better training than working as a newspaper reporter.  As a matter of fact, there is no better training for being any type of writer than working on a newspaper.  You do not have to have a degree to be a stringer - you can look for a job by talking to your local newspaper editors.  

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