How to Break into Journalism

When I was eight I knew I wanted to be a writer when a short story I wrote got an A plus.

I spent my childhood writing from then on, but of course I was too young to know who to break into the field until I started high school and started looking into college.

I started as a freshman at West Georgia College in Carrollton, GA in the fall of 1984 and immediately signed up to write for the college paper. I worked my way up through the years from beat reporter to typesetter, to staff writer, assistant news editor, and finally, editor.

I was also co-editor for one year of the campus magazine.

I attended every staff meeting at the newspaper, majored in Mass Communications, minored in English, got a mentor (my journalism professor and advisor to the student paper), soaked up every ounce of advice, opportunity, and information I could from the staff of the paper and Sigma Delta Chi (Society of Professional Journalists) of which I became a student member, and totally immersed myself in my career.

In those days computers were huge VDTs (video display terminals) that crashed frequently and I had an old electric typewriter I used to bang out my stories often, then walk them down to the newspaper office and re-type them.

Sometimes, if I didn’t have typewriter ribbon or couldn’t afford it, I would hand write my stories first.

I volunteered to cover campus and off-campus events, as many as my schedule would allow and type in other staff writers’ copy often.

I covered all kinds of events and made myself available.

In the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year I interned at the local paper.

I even tried learning some photography, layout, and design.

I participated in the campus’ annual Media Day event where networking took on a whole new life with alumni, professionals, students, professors, and published writers convening on West Georgia for a day, offering tips, job leads, assistance, and speaking to the crowd about the future of journalism.
In the summer of my sophomore and junior year I went to summer school and continued writing for the campus paper. That fall I interned at the campus’ Public Relations office where I learned the ropes of promotion and gloss.

In February 1987 I received a small ($500) journalism scholarship that I have found out about through my journalism professor who used to be editor-in-chief at Newsweek. On top of this, I work part time at a couple of hospitality jobs available in town to support my family.

In April I ran and was elected editor of the student paper, having written for them for the past three years, proven myself.

That summer I began my new position and it was much harder than I had anticipated but I did it.

In the fall I got the chance to attend the annual Sigma Delta Chi’s National Newspaper Convention that only three main staff members and the newspaper advisor were allowed to attend as a rule.

That Christmas I got to intern for The Marietta Daily Journal, my hometown newspaper that I used to fantasize about working for.

Even though I had to leave school in March 1988 due to a serious illness, I was hired a month later at that paper as an editor at the age of 22.

A year later I was working for The Florida Times-Union Newspaper as an editorial assistant and was allowed to write a book review from time to time, too.

Since that time I have written for numerous newspapers and magazines and now have six portfolios of my work.

In 1991 I won a Florida Press Award for a series of articles I wrote about Bible reading and prayer in the school regarding some parents who sued the school board through the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).

There is a saying for one of the many online writing publications I subscribe to – “Writers write.”

And it’s true. I know some people who say they’re a writer or want to write but never do.

To be a writer, you must write as trite as that sounds.

It is a passion, discipline, commitment, and love like no other I have found.

It is rewarding beyond any extravagant material gain, popularity, recognition, or accolades.

It is simply doing what you love and creating something of your own, using your God-given talent to do what you were meant to do all along and engage in something that brings you the only happiness you have ever known.