Home > J-school > How to get a journo-job, redux

How to get a journo-job, redux

February 10, 2011

Never have journalism program graduates needed more help finding jobs. Fortunately, they’ve never had more advice.

Not long after Burnaby Now editor Pat Tracy gave aspiring reporters a piece of her mind, Joe Banks, a journalism professor at Algonquin College and a former community newspaper reporter, offers up some tips for would-be Ottawa journos.

The advice is just as good for graduates here (British Columbian grads can probably just substitute Victoria, Vancouver or Kamloops for Ottawa).

The column in four words: Find a hick town.

A friend of mine owns a paper in Fort Frances, Ont., just west of the northern tip of Lake Superior. Few months go by when Jim Cumming is not phoning me about another opening for a general assignment or a sports reporter. It has now reached a point where if I feel a student is the right fit, I’ll tell him there’s an opening in Fort Frances, because if there isn’t one now, there will be in five minutes.

I heard stories like that at an Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association symposium in Edmonton last month. Editor after editor asked me where all the young grads are, even though I know we are pumping them out at a feverish pace all across this country, from both colleges and universities.

“Mine love Ottawa too much,” I shrugged, sitting around a table of colleagues. That was followed by nodding heads of journalism instructors from Edmonton and Calgary, whose own urban-centric grads are reluctant to leave their cozy mass transit lives for northern Alberta towns where the ground leaks money.


Clearly, big cities hold a certain allure for journalists who want to break big stories and get noticed. Unfortunately, there’s also a complete dearth of jobs. I don’t know if small towns are ever going to be as enticing a location than a place like Ottawa or Vancouver. But I bet that journalism professors can probably do a better job of letting their students know why a community newspaper job may be better than there dream job at the Citizen or the Sun. Certainly, it would probably stop some qualified reporters from retiring their pen prematurely.

I want to post on this in-depth one day, but I don’t have the time today.

Still, here are three things that you can get at a small-town community newspaper that you can’t get at a daily.

1. Freedom – your story pitch is never going to get turned down or spiked and never run.

2. Freedom – you can write columns, you can write features, you can write breaking news

3. Freedom – there’s more flexibility when it comes to your hours. When the paper’s done, you’re done (sometimes).

Bonus: Freedom – as in working practically for free. But at least you’re not working for the government.

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  1. February 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    My first job was in Fort St. James, a logging town of 2,000 people at the end of the highway. I took the job there because nothing else was opening up at the time and I was desperate for work. Frankly, the drive up to the Fort was one of the most bleak in my life. I was leaving friends and family in Vancouver for a complete unknown in Central B.C.

    I was sure my career was over before it even started.

    How wrong I was. Fort St. James was great for all those freedom-loving reasons you listed, blogger. I was in a one-person newsroom where even the publisher was 45 minutes away down the highway so what I wanted to cover got covered. Yes, there was some rather tedious stuff, but I still managed to make the short list for the 2007 BCYNAs for a series I wrote there.

    Small towns can have big stories. This blog has mentioned the great work done by the reporter in Vanderhoof around the murder of a 15-year-old girl is just one example.

    While Fort St. James wasn’t my first choice, I knew I wanted to work in the Interior where I hoped the newspaper could play a vital role in the community. I was so cute. So earnest. I wanted to write stories that had a direct connection to the reader. My rationale was that a story about a development, for example, would have less relevance to readers in a large centre like Vancouver (where the development would be across town) compared to a development in a smaller community where everyone reading my story would drive by the proposed project.

    Actually, even now that I’m 32-year-old grizzled news hound (ahem), I still feel that way.

    I’m sure that idealism will be beaten out of me eventually.

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