Stephanie Heckman

Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Hope to work in public relations? Prepare now!

In Branding, Career, College, Journalism, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media on April 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

How to prepare for a career in media or PR while still at college


Still in college? Fear not! This is the best time to focus on your career.

1. Choose the right major

Considering majoring in journalism, broadcast journalism or a writing-intensive public relations, communications, mass media, advertising or business communication. Some mass media or communications programs require no or few writing courses. If this is the case, back up your major with writing-intensive elective or minor courses. I chose a major in strategic communication, with elective courses in journalism and creative writing.

While many publicists started with a major in English or other liberal arts subject, this will not prepare you for specific PR job skills. It will teach you critical thinking and essay writing skills; however, you should be focusing on learning journalistic writing and marketing techniques.

If you choose to major in English or a similar subject, make sure to also work for the student newspaper, write freelance articles and learn business and technical skills. If you attend a larger university, I highly recommend choosing one of the more journalistic majors alongside other courses in business, marketing, public relations techniques and communication theories.

2. Select a complementary minor

Everyone should make time for a minor or even second major before graduation but choosing the right minor is tricky. Every hopeful journalist, publicist or marketer should take courses in technical skills such as multimedia journalism, audio and video editing, graphic design, digital photography and Photoshop. If your college has a program in a relevant technical subject, consider adding a minor or at least taking enough elective courses to become proficient.

I chose a critical theory-based, liberal-artsy type minor because I enjoy working for nonprofit organizations and social justice causes. If this sounds like you, consider minoring in a subject related to the type of nonprofit organization you hope to work for. Examples include environmental studies, public health, women’s studies or political science. If you would prefer a corporate or agency environment, you could major in business, economics, finance or marketing.

I think it’s perfectly fine, even advantageous, to add a minor or second major in any subject that interests you, as long as you choose a core major that will give you the skills you need to succeed. If you enjoy a subject, you will do better and learn more than you will in a subject that seems more career-intensive but causes boredom, frustration or poor grades.

3. Get involved!

Join the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) if you are a current student. Your school likely has a chapter and will allow you attend meetings, if you can’t pay to become a member. If you are a recent graduate or soon-to-be graduate, join the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Consider joining other student or professional groups related to journalism, marketing or advertising.

Write, write, write! Join your school’s newspaper or magazine as a reporter or editor. One of the best things I did during college was to become a student reporter. It taught me how to come up with story ideas, decide what was a marketable story, track down potential interviewees, conduct interviews and write effectively in AP style.

But I don’t want to become a journalist, you say? I’m sorry to break the news, but to work in public relations, you must be an effective writer, reporter and editor. Public relations requires knowledge of AP style and the fundamentals of journalism, the ability to write news and feature stories and an awareness of how editors think. You must be able to pitch your own stories to the media and this means that you need to know how to think like an editor. The important aspect is that you get experience now.

Furthermore, get involved from your own computer. Create an online presence by starting a LinkedIn profile and a professional Twitter account. Learn to effectively use many social media websites, as social media skills is an important skill in this industry. Delete inappropriate photos and content from Facebook and Twitter pages. Employees do Google you and they don’t need a photo of you passed out drunk in a puddle of tequila.

4. Find an internship — better yet, do several of them.

During university, I’ve had four internships. Is this excessive? I don’t think so. Each one taught me more about what I wanted out of a career. Did I want to work for a tiny office or a huge organization?Do I prefer a well established one with a century-long history and much bureaucracy or something new and energetic with a young leader? Should I do grassroots community work, administrative type tasks or event planning? What kind of coworkers do I want to spend over a third of my day with?

Internships are short — typically 2 to 6 months — which gives you much more flexibility in choosing the right career and job environment. In my opinion, this is much more effective than waiting until your first job after college to decide if you like what you do. Having many short internships is normal while job hopping after college is frowned open.

Speaking of jobs, public relations and other communications careers are very competitive. They seem glamorous, are frequently shown on popular TV shows and movies and are highly desirable to people in all majors from business and marketing to English and art history. Try doing a search for entry-level jobs in PR or related jobs. Not only are they difficult to find, but many of them require one to two years of experience. Yes, “entry-level” jobs require experience, on top of having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

If you want to work in the media, marketing or communications industry, you will be competing against people with family connections to the industry. Create an advantage by gaining more experience than your peers. How do you find an internship? Check out my prior post on obtaining an internship. Keep your ego in check and be willing to work hard and for little or no money. If you put the time in now, soon enough, the jobs will follow. You will likely have to do an unpaid internship or much relevant volunteer experience before you start getting offers for paid internships, fellowships and freelance work. Take whatever experience you can get now.

5. Post-graduation tips

What if you have already graduated or are about to graduate in an irrelevant subject or without enough experience? Consider graduate school. There are many Master’s programs in journalism, public relations, advertising, corporate communication, broadcasting and various other subjects. A master’s degree will give you a heads up in the job search while simultaneously giving you more time to focus on gaining experience.

Can’t attend grad school? Consider taking post-grad classes or workshops in crisis communication, multimedia journalism, feature writing, PR campaigns and other important courses. You may be able to complete a certificate in a short amount of time. Workshops can also be included in your resume under the education section.

If you can’t find a job, find a fellowship or internship. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer one day a week for an organization or freelance for several organizations. What’s important is that you keep gaining relevant experience. Even if you need to work full-time in your current job, find a few hours a week to gain experience.

If you are a current university student, what are you doing now to prepare for graduation? For graduates, what helped you find your current job? What advice can you give to other readers?

Check out my past articles on career advice:


Five Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

In Blogging, Career, College, Journalism on March 13, 2013 at 3:46 am

How to be professional, create better content and attract readers


Now’s the best time to start!

1. Take writing courses.

If you are serious about becoming a professional blogger or writer, take courses in journalism, public relations, business writing and creative writing. If you are not in college or have graduated, consider classes at the local community college. Many are very affordable and open to the community. Just one basic journalism or media writing course will substantially improve your writing.

If you are a current college student, consider adding a major or minor in journalism, PR, communications or professional writing. Although an English major or minor can also lead to great writing ability, it’s best to take courses that teach AP style and media writing techniques. It’s not enough for your only writing samples to be literary essays and poems. I don’t regret majoring in strategic communications.

Even for those not planning to work in PR or journalism, writing skills can be applied to any career. In fact, many professionals lack writing skills and clear communication. Use that to your advantage. Learning AP style is a must. Purchase the AP Stylebook and in the meantime, learn basic AP style through the Purdue Owl. Aside from blogging, it is helpful to practice writing news, feature, online and magazine articles.

2. Use Images, videos and links.

Images, like photos and infographics, add visual interest and attract attention. Humans are visual creatures. We love looking at photos, sharing funny memes and watching videos. Because many writers are natural readers, we forget that most other people are more visual-types. Memes and infographics are some of the most shared items on social media.

Videos are another way to add visual interest and draw in your readers’ attention. YouTube is one of the most popular websites worldwide. What’s the universal appeal? We seem to be both easily entertained and informed by short, user-friendly videos.

Links are great for many reasons. They establish the credibility of your blog, create access to more information and make your blog more likely to appear in search results. Research search engine optimization to make sure that others find your blog.

3. Use a simple format and clear style.

Write shorter, clearer sentences. Keep paragraphs short and single spaced; online readers are more likely than print readers to scan. Don’t use too many types of fonts or sizes. Finally, try to use an active voice and cut down on excessive adjectives and adverbs. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points or lists to help make online reading easier.

In regards to formatting, choose a template that is simple and clean. Black or dark fonts are easiest to read, particularly on a white background. White words on a black background or colors on a colorful background are much more difficult to read. Serif fonts such as Times News Roman or Courier are easier to read, while Sans Serif fonts like Arial are best for titles and headings.

4. Become part of the online community.

Consider sharing your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, making use of appropriate hashtags. Retweet or share others’ great works on your favorite social media sites. Also, make sure to comment with useful information or even words of encourage on your favorite blogs’ posts. By being an active reader of relevant blogs, you will only benefit yourself and make others more likely to read your own blog. Do not simply comment to spam or try to trick people into reading your posts.

If you are an active participant on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or other social media sites, make use of these networks to become involved in the online community. Twitter has a Tweetchat called #blogchat every Sunday night. By participating, you can learn more about blogging while also promoting your own efforts. Finally, if your blog posts are well-written, professional and related to your industry, consider posting a link to them under LinkedIn’s “publications” section.

5. Never stop reading!

The best writers are frequent readers. Read everything you can get your hands on. This includes: newspapers, magazines, online magazines, blogs, novels and nonfiction books. Read frequently in your industry and in your blog’s subject matter. To gain new ideas and to understand what readers want to follow, read blogs in your industry or topic every day.

Furthermore, reading general interest articles, news stories and articles on new topics will increase your knowledge and worldview while giving you interesting ideas. Follow a variety of media, industry publications and thought leaders on Twitter. Without exception, all good writers are avid readers. To not read frequently is to limit yourself professionally and intellectually.

Now get to blogging!

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