By Erica Butler
Vanessa Longshaw knew exactly what she was looking for when she arrived in San Diego for the National Association Black Journalists Conference (NABJ). Contacts and networking.
What better place to find those things than the annual convention of professional journalists and recruiters.
“I’m trying to set myself up for graduation,” said Longshaw, a broadcast journalism major, who will graduate from Syracuse University in the spring.
Using the convention as a way to network with colleagues from different parts of the country is something that members have done for years. But with the recent downward spiral of the journalism market causing journalists in all mediums to lose their jobs, networking has become more important than ever. Various seminars and a large career fair help achieve that goal.
Lines wrapped around the nearly 70 booths that filled the ballroom of the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, the location of this year’s convention. Hopefuls held resumes, business cards, and reels and waited to speak to recruiters at companies like The New York Times, CNN, NBC Universal and AOL’s Patch.com.
The results from a recent study performed by the University of Georgia revealed that just 55.5% of 2009 journalism and communication graduates with a bachelor degree found full-time work within a year of leaving school a contrast from the 70.2% of graduates who found work in 2007.
NABJ’s “The Power of Change” conference sought to offer information and training to hundreds of its members, given the climate in most newsrooms in the United States, where work staff is getting lighter and job descriptions are becoming heavier.
Armed with grim prospects, many took advantage of the information offered.
Budding journalists were given the opportunity to sit with some of the top news directors and writers in the country to receive advice about how to get their first job. The seminar run by Jay Jackson, founder of the Los Angeles Reporter’s Clinic, offered techniques for students to put their best foot forward.
Attendees asked questions ranging from what attire is most appealing to the most important characteristic these news directors look for on the resume of a potential employee.
Like in other fields, these entry level job seekers were advised to be eager and to continually practice the craft.
In addition to sending out resumes to smaller markets to get their break, Jackson offered additional advice to those interested in being on air talent, the aspiration of most in the room.
“You might want to consider taking any job at a broadcast station, “said Jackson, as all eyes in the room were fixated on his words. “It’s hard finding a job right now and you can continue to learn anywhere in the newsroom”.
Freelancing was also a topic of interest for journalists young and old.
“Freelancing used to be something that you did because you wanted to work for yourself,” said Jerry McCormick, president of the San Diego chapter of NABJ, who hosted the conference this year. “Now people are freelancing as a way to bring home money.”
After being laid off from his newspaper job in 2009 after 20 years in the print business, he made the transition to television where he feels the market is more stable.
“Freelancing has its good qualities, you get to work when, where, how and for who you want,” said McCormick, “but the danger is you don’t know when you will get your next assignment”.
Even with the instability, freelancing has become a more appealing option for students just getting out of college and professionals who are nearing retirement, and tend to have more flexibility in their schedules.
“Right now if you’re a young journalist, you are relatively healthy, cheap, and can work everywhere and are willing to do anything,” said McCormick, who proposed that just breaking into the industry at this point could be an advantage.
Even given his circumstance as an example, McCormick has faith in journalism and believes that after this conference there could be a turning point in the industry. Even for those who are interested in print.
“Print used to be able to run marathons,” said McCormick. “Now it’s on life support, but I am not declaring it dead yet, it just will never leave the hospital”.
Similar seminars were offered for those interested in going back to school or just wanting to transition elsewhere in media. This year seminars were split into tiers so that the information given out could be more tailored to the members needs.
And even with the dour market, there were success stories accounted for.
“I know someone who received three job offers just yesterday,” said McCormick, about fellow member who he did want to name. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people walked away with some solid leads”.
For Vanessa Longshaw, those success stories give her hope that she will be given the opportunity to break into the business in just a few months. Armed with the knowledge and advice, she is definitely feels one step closer.