I am in a way, writing this letter to all young Journalists, as well as to myself. Consider this a note from this dear writer.
It amazes me whenever I find young Journalist who’ve just graduated from University moving around with a sense of entitlement. They feel they ought to join a company and immediately get bestowed with the title of “Editor”, “Editorial Manager”, or “Beaurue Chief.” Many are hungrier for titles than they are for skills. Many of them have not yet done the real work of Journalist. All they have to show are their degrees earned after four years of rote memorisation.
I want to say it with a sting that; “Just because you graduated with a Journalism Degree, doesn’t make you a Journalist.” You don’t become a Journalist by going through the structured world of University.
I was at an event a few months back when someone asked for Journalists to stand up and be part of a certain project. A few young Journalism students who are awaiting graduation were the first to stand up and offer to lead the project. I was happy for their confidence and self-belief, yet another part of me wanted to cut their bluff and make it clear to them how they were not yet Journalists.
Many young Journalist constantly complain that no company is willing to take them on even after they presented their Resumes. Those who are lucky to get jobs are annoyed when they are sent down to work as Field Reporters. Some assume that they should simply land in an organization and immediately be given titles such as; “Managing Editor” Not to say that young Journalists don’t deserve these titles, but they must work for them and the surest way to do this is to work from the bottom-up.
So for the sake of young Journalists who have graduated or are about to graduate, I will offer my tips, and gentle advice. Consider me as an elder brother trying to clear your minds of all the illusions.
1.Your lecturers were not Journalist so most of their lectures were detached from reality
One of the biggest failures of our education system is the fact that people who have never done things are the ones trying to teach people to do things. Until I had started practicing Journalism, I vowed never to write a single word about Journalism.I am the guy who loves to learn based on the realities on the ground. So everything I advocate for, must be practical. Why then do we have people who have never started a business or managed one, lecturing students in business administration or entrepreneurship? Why do we have people who have never practiced as Journalists being responsible for producing the future Journalists of the country? Would you want to have a home dog lecturing a puppy on the laws of hunting in the wild? So to you dear young graduate, yes you learnt the basic principles of Journalism graduated with that degree, but that doesn’t make you a Journalist. Until you’ve worked 10,000 hours in the field, only then should you claim to be one.
2.Contrary to popular opinion, Journalism graduates are not in short supply, and the jobs are scarce
Many people joined Journalism Schools under the false hopes that the jobs were a sure deal. They were humbled the moment they completed their last paper to find out that there were more graduates than jobs. Secondly, you are no special flake. There are more Journalists out in the real world, most of them with Second-class upper degrees as you. So what makes you think that you should have the job instead of them? Fight for your place.
3. You must work out from Scratch
It is once in a while that you find examples where a Journalism graduate gets a job and is immediately made leader. Instead, you are going to have to work your way up from the ground. You will have to join the field Reporters and get yourself dirty and taste teargas(yes our police oflate have perfected the art of being brutal to journos) accumulating real skills. Sometimes, you will keep questioning why you had to suffer with that Journalism English. One advise, don’t let that discourage you. That’s just a furnace to harden and anneal you as a Journalist. So take heart. Build those practical skills, and become a good Journalist.
4. Your Passion Is More Important Than Anything
You may get a job that pays you well, but all that is just a side effect. The most important thing for a young Journalist is passion. Passion is the garden for persistence and persistence is the nutrient for the people who eventually win. There are going to be many times as a young Journalist when you will harbor thoughts of quitting. But your passion will be the one voice that will convince you to hang in there. Make sure you really love this path. Because if you don’t, when it gets hard, you will definitely drop off, especially when you may have to work longer hours than your friends.
5. The Soft Skills May Actually Matter More Than the Hard Ones
Networking skills, negotiation skills, marketing skills, presentation skills, communication skills, writing skills and above all, emotional intelligence matter more than anything you were taught at University. You will find that emotional intelligence is handier at a workplace than your IQ. Kindly build these skills; they will get you moving faster than your counterparts.
6. Self-Awareness Matters More Than Anything In The Field
Please and please, this is the most important of them all. “Know yourself” said Socrates. Just because everyone is doing something at work doesn’t imply you too, should do the same. Know yourself. Leverage your strengths. It is of no use becoming a fish trying to climb a tree that will be preparing your life for regret and misery. Are you a fish or you’re a monkey? Don’t focus on your weakness; everyone is already playing that role for you. Your only responsibility is to focus on your strengths.
7. You are a liability to many employers
Even though you think you are an asset to the employers, many of them view young graduates as liabilities. Many of them know that by giving you a job, they will also take two more years investing money in training you on things that Universities were supposed to teach you but didn’t. The things that matter in the workplace were not actually taught to you. Nobody taught you how to prioritize at work, which meetings to attend and which ones to cancel. Nobody teaches a Journalism student the concepts of lean management. I have not seen it happen in any leading Kenyan University.
8. Prepare to Learn Much As Fast As Possible
The workplace is not a University, so prepare your brain for another journey of learning on the job. And you must learn as fast as possible. Your boss doesn’t want to teach you the same thing more than two times. They want to show it to you once and be expected to do it excellently the next time. This is a challenge for young journalists, but you must have the resilience and be a constant learning machine.
9. Be Prepared To Cry Sometimes on Your Own and Develop A Thick Skin
Work can be challenging. And if it is not challenging, then you are not growing, kindly tender in your resignation and look elsewhere. If you never doubt yourself constantly, if you never contemplate quitting in those first days, rest assured you are not growing. But if the reverse happens, then be happy, you are in the right place, develop that thick skin. In the beginning days as a young Journalist, the work-life balance will be more of a myth.
10. Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture
I think this is the most important thing for every young Journalism graduate. Don’t lose your imagination. Don’t let the system to eat you up. Keep those big dreams, keep those ideals. Don’t let the older minds to poison you. Don’t conform. Keep that little rebel alive. Above all, don’t let the short-term blind you to the long term. Remember, you are working in the background to build those highlights that everyone glosses over when they think of a Journalist.
And in case you want to always keep in touch, we can always touch base over a drink or two. And share more learnings. Even I, after these many months, I am still learning. Every day is a humbling experience for me. The more I know, the more I realize that I know nothing. One last thing, you may always feel like you are the dumbest person in the room. But you’re not, even the older Journalists are more confused than you are, and have their own doubts. Those thoughts are normal.
I sign out….
Adopted from Ian Ortega’s letter to Engineers