advice

5 ways to get the most out of the next journalism conference

By Luis Gomez:

Conferences are opportunities to meet like-minded journalists, find jobs, learn new skills or simply recharge your batteries.

Life in a newsroom often revolves around chasing stories, finding sources, producing and packaging a segment, and ultimately meeting those deadlines. And when you account all the hours in the day, odds are you will not get much of an opportunity to learn a new set of skills every month or even every year.

Yet, career growth in journalism depends on acquiring new skills and staying relevant. Coding, video editing, or even solid writing are just a number skills most newsrooms seek in journalists today; they represent a foot in the door or one step above in the career ladder.

One solution: Attend a conference!

Journalism conferences offer access to workshops, insightful people, job opportunities, and that reassuring sensation that everything will be okay because now you know how to work with Google’s Fusion Tables. Everyone has a unique experience, we all walk away with different things.

Not sure where to start? Feel free to try any of these exercises at the next conference you attend: (Plus, I’ll share a list of upcoming conferences in California below.)

  1. Plan ahead: Sign up to a conference with intention—know why you want to attend, whether it is to meet a number of specific people or attend a workshop. Look at the full schedule and plan your day accordingly. Use the time gaps between workshops to mingle or schedule a lunch/coffee/beer meeting with someone. Try this tip: Email someone you want to meet ahead of time, preferably before the conference begins, and ask to pick their brain.
  2. Carry a notepad: Take notes, take notes, take notes at all times. Nothing says you’re truly invested in what people have to say like taking notes while they talk. Yes, conferences are like classrooms and you will benefit from writing down information. Try this tip: Use your notepad to write down notes about someone new you met, whether it’s about where they work or what they do.
  3. Ask questions: Stick around after a session, ask questions to the presenters, ask questions to the organizers. Walk around the booths, ask questions. Spend every hour asking questions. And take down notes. Try this tip: Here’s some good questions to ask someone you meet: What are the pressing challenges in your newsroom and how would you solve them? What will be the journalism jobs in 10 or 15 years? If you could run your own newsroom, which existing brands would you emulate and why?
  4. Mingle, mingle, mingle: Rub shoulders with strangers. And if that’s not your thing, recruit someone you know to help make an introduction. It is perfectly OK to leverage anything (food, drinks, people, anything) to start a conversation with a stranger. Try this tip: Arrive early for a workshop, stand by the door and hand out your business cards and introduce yourself with a handshake. People will remember you for being bold and proactive.
  5. Keep in touch: After it’s all said and done, you will have walked away with a renewed sense of purpose in your career not just in the skills yo pick up but also in the people you meet. Follow up with those people you met and maintain those relationships. Try this tip: Make your follow-up email short and interesting, add a GIF or a scenic photo of where you live. It adds a personal touch and makes you stand out.

Now to the good part. Here’s a list of upcoming journalism conferences in California where you can try any of the above tips:

  • V3con (AAJA-Los Angeles) June 26 to 27 in Los Angeles, CA
  • AEJMC 15 (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) Aug. 6 to 9 in San Francisco, CA
  • AAJA National Convention (Asian American Journalism Association) Aug. 12 to 15 in San Francisco, CA
  • Coming Home (National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association) Sept. 3 to 6 in San Francisco, CA
  • ONA15 (Online News Association) Sept. 24 to 26 in Los Angeles, CA
  • ASNE-APME 15 (American Society of News Editors) Oct. 16 to 18 in Palo Alto, CA

Also, across the country:

  • NABJ Conference (National Association of Black Journalists) takes place Aug. 5 to Aug. 9 in Minneapolis, MN.
  • Excellence in Journalism (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) Sept. 18 to 20 in Orlando, FL
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Tips for landing and getting the most out of your next internship

Alex Corey, second to the left, participates in Chips Quinn training in Nashville.

This past summer I had the opportunity to intern as a general assignment reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada. I wrote 30 stories over 10 weeks on a span of topics from business to crime to politics. Two made the front page.

I think a lot of the success this past summer came from having learned from my mistakes at previous internships. Here’s what I learned:

Getting the internship

I landed my paid internship through a program started by NAHJ-Nevada. A professor told me to apply for it and wrote me a letter of recommendation. It’s worth noting that I had done a good job in that professor’s class, so she remembered me when this opportunity came up. Just another reason to do well in class.

There are paid internship opportunities out there, but you need to seek them out. Websites like journalismjobs.com are a start. Your college or journalism department might have a blog with internship opportunities. You can also ask your college professors about opportunities. College professors are sometimes asked by friends working in the field for input on applicants or recommendations.

Alex Corey, farthest right, poses for a photo with NAHJ-Las Vegas members.

Alex Corey, farthest right, poses for a photo with NAHJ-Nevada members.

Gatherings like CCNMA’s Journalism Opportunities Conference are also a great resource to build relationships with recruiters and learn about what opportunities are available. I met my mentor at the JOC conference two years ago. I had hastily put together a resume with work experience at ROSS and KFC. I had no idea where to begin, but I kept in touch and got feedback on my resume, clips and cover letter. It can be tough, but try to keep in touch with the professionals you meet. They are invaluable resources.

The Reporter Prepares

Most importantly, come prepared. Read the newspaper or media outlet that you are going to be working at and come ready with story ideas. Where are they lacking coverage?

You need to be reading or watching news from the media outlet you work at. If something breaks and they need you to write a story or follow up on something you haven’t been paying attention to, then you’ll be in trouble.

Don’t wait for editors to assign you stories. That will happen for sure, but if you’re prepared when you come in, you’ll have your own ideas to pitch and those are usually the most rewarding stories to write. Ask other reporters if there are stories they can’t get to and ask your editor if you can spend some time talking to potential sources. When you go cover daily stories, keep an eye out for other ideas. Exchange information with people you meet and make sure to keep in touch. This is one of the best ways to show your value: Proving that you can build sources within a new community and report on issues that other publications aren’t paying attention to. That, and being able to do it in-between whatever else your editor throws your way.

Getting the most out of your internship

It’s important to be assertive in order to get the most out of your internship. If there’s something you want to do like shoot photos for a day or cover a different beat, you should ask. Your supervisor might say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It also shows your supervisor that you’re hungry to learn and eager to take on anything.

Be willing to work weekends. Those are actually prime days to work at a newspaper, because if you get a good scoop or write a strong story, there’s a greater chance it could land on Monday’s front page. My biggest learning experience came when I volunteered to cover the NAACP conference on a Sunday. I was excited about it, then they told me it would be running front page the next day and that I wouldn’t be working with my regular editors since they were out. I also had a dirty deadline of 10 p.m. No exceptions, it had to go to print.

It was nerve-racking, but I prevailed and it was awesome.

Ask questions

It’s important to make sure you’re communicating with your editors. Sometimes we feel intimidated and think we should know something. We don’t want to feel stupid. Someone once said: “The only stupid question is the one not asked.” If you don’t understand something, then how will your readers?

Asking editors and reporters out to lunch is also worthwhile. It’s an informal way to ask for advice and learn more about what you want to do for the rest of your life. Ask them how they got started, how they got to where they are now.

Got your own tips? Share them in the comments below!

Alex Corey is a student at California State University, Northridge. He currently serves as president of the school’s Latino journalist club.

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