If you want to be a reporter, you’re competing with a lot of noise. So how do you set yourself apart?
Above all else, I’ve learned that it’s important to hustle.
“Just work hard” seems like a simple enough concept, but graduation really changes its meaning. It’s important to tackle the scary stuff–for me, it was an uneasy relationship with math and a fear of public speaking. Plus, reporting is a 24/7 job. A lot of that comes naturally, since you’ll get more interested in your beat as you cover it so you’ll want to know what’s going on. But still, if something big happens on your beat and you don’t know about it, people will notice.
If you’re not working full-time in the industry now, you can still be a reporter. Find an area you like to write about—food, culture, sports, anything—and report on it. Start a blog (just not about your personal life). Find an outlet where you can freelance. The best part of the web is that there are tons of places looking for writers and all you have to do is volunteer. One of my former editors got his job by cold-calling news desks and asking if they were hiring.
In a broad sense, most classes aren’t great preparation for this. The W&L journalism school is an exception, of course, since they made us get out and report on the community.
Thanks to that fantastic journalism department, I landed a beat reporting job in New York at a financial trade publication, called Institutional Investor News.
By covering a niche industry, you’re learning to develop a beat–you’re still immersing yourself in a community, whether it’s finance, fashion or fracking. If you’re open to opportunity and willing to get your hands dirty in the details of unsexy areas, you’ll be surprised at where things go.
Plus, the topics that make people’s eyes glaze over can be really important. The financial crisis was fueled by a collapse in obscure credit derivatives that basically everyone owned but no one knew about, save an important few.
The trade-publication job was tough at first. Reporting wasn’t a natural thing for me–I was raised to be polite, so I felt uncomfortable calling up strangers, and never wanted to impose. But I kept calling. I’ll never forget the first source that I developed a real rapport with: when I asked him to send a head-shot for the newsletter, he sent me a picture of an alligator.
Alexandra Scaggs covers the stock market and equity research for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She joined Dow Jones in 2012, and previously covered big investment funds for Money Management Letter and Foundation and Endowment Money Management, both publications of Institutional Investor News. At Dow Jones, she has written about stock rallies, Wall Street strategists and stock-trading glitches. She majored in business journalism at Washington and Lee. Follow her on Twitter at @alexandrascaggs
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