Today’s journalist must be multi-skilled and versatile, with a mindset of continuous learning, to be able to work across platforms and succeed in the digital age. According to the International Center for Journalists 2019 survey The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms, “The use of fact-checking and social media verification tools is on the rise, while many newsrooms are securing their communications to protect themselves and their sources. Journalists are also using a multitude of new techniques and platforms to better engage their audiences – and earn their trust.” To succeed, aspiring journalists must build a digital community and engage with it regularly: whether through social media, video platforms, a website, or blog. Editors are more willing to seriously consider a pitch if it comes from someone who already has an engaged audience.
Newspaper journalists usually begin their career in small markets, and often follow their undergraduate degree with another summer internship or longer post-grad internship in the field before finding work. With the increasing number of digital and hybrid publications, many entry-level journalists are beginning their careers at these publications, both in the U.S. and abroad, and freelancing is now the norm. Data-driven journalism continues to grow, so aspiring journalists should also build comfort in searching, understanding, and visualizing data.
Most creative writers begin by submitting their work to literary journals, editors, agents, film production companies, or television series. However, more and more creative writers are finding an audience through social media and blogging, and/or are making the decision to self-publish. Students interested in jobs using writing skills may want to consider other careers as well—advertising, public relations, corporate communications, speech or position paper writing, and development are all good examples of careers that require facility with the written word.
Though these fields are related in that they all involve working with the written word and are interdependent, the business focus of publishing is significantly different from the creative focus of journalism and writing. Typical entry level positions in the field of publishing include editorial assistant and assistant editor, publicity assistant, and other assistant positions in areas such as technology, marketing, production, and sales.
Internships provide the professional contacts and clips necessary to obtain future work. If you’re looking for your first or second print journalism internship, think small. Many larger papers/prominent magazines (e.g. Washington Post being one example) won’t even consider you unless you’ve already had at least two previous journalism internships. Also, don't focus solely on print; online publications have just as many and perhaps more internship opportunities.
Publishing internships can be found in all areas of the industry, from editorial to publicity to digital to sales to subsidiary rights, and may be found in large publishing houses, university presses, and small independent houses and presses. Writers and illustrators should look for internships that will enable them to develop and hone their creative skills and learn more about the industry in which they’d ultimately like to work (i.e., a student interested in becoming a screenwriter might want to spend the summer interning in the development department of a film production company).
Employers in these fields don’t generally recruit on college campuses, particularly as much of the work is done on a freelance basis. As previously stated, students looking for journalism positions will need to have clips and a few internships under their belt, strong multi-media and big data skills, begin at least three to four months in advance of the anticipated start date, and network! They’ll also need to look at online and multimedia opportunities, as well as post-grad fellow or intern opportunities (many of which will potentially lead to permanent jobs). Those wanting to write for magazines can look for fact-checker or editorial assistant roles, or choose to freelance, pitching magazine editors ideas for the pieces they’d like to write. Jobs in the publishing industry can be found posted on industry-specific sites and on the web pages of individual publishing houses. Illustrators are more likely to find freelance opportunities. Employers recommend creating a blog/website with writing/multimedia posts.
Opportunities in these fields do exist abroad, particularly for journalists. Foreign language skills are very important for journalists wanting to work abroad, so take advantage of the opportunity for language study and study abroad while you’re at Harvard! Many budget travel guide publishers hire recent grads to write for their guides. This can be a great way for nonfiction writers to get some experience while traveling to interesting places. For opportunities with travel guides, check the following links: Bradt, Frommer's, Let's Go, and Lonely Planet.
Graduate and Professional Programs
It’s not necessary to obtain an advanced degree to find work in these fields. However, some students do choose to enter MFA programs for writing to concentrate on refining creative technique. In addition, some students elect to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. It’s a good idea to talk with people working in your field of interest to get a better idea of whether graduate school makes good economic and professional sense for you.
There are limited funding opportunities for these fields through Harvard (see Funding Database and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships). Many of the traveling fellowships provide funding for writing-related internships. It may also be possible to qualify for public service funding by interning as a writer at a nonprofit organization, or developing a writing program for at-risk children or youth. Be creative in the way you think about things! As for internships in journalism, many pay, as do internships with the big five publishing houses.