Words of Wisdom: Washington Journos Dish Out Advice for New Grads

“Life is a constant struggle between your head and your heart. Our head tells us to play it safe. It tells us to settle. Do what pays the bills and makes others happy. But there almost always is something deep within us that beckons us to another calling. Even, during these hard economic times when jobs and our futures are uncertain, you will likely never be as unburdened as you are today — to truly pursue your dreams,” CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux told new grads at a Gannon University commencement address in early May.

Malveaux’s inspirational words were written to do just that — inspire. But new grads are entering an incredibly unstable marketplace and J-school grads have it even worse. So FishbowlDC reached out to some of our favorite DC journos for some real-world advice. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s better to work at a small, uncool news organization where you’ll get to report and write — and learn by doing it — than take a glorified coffee-fetcher gig at a glamorous place that sounds impressive to your parents’ friends. Looking to move up to the next step? You need to start producing the kind of bigger stories you want to do in the next job NOW — that’s how you prove you’re ready.”

– Amy Argetsinger, Reliable Source, The Washington Post

“Maybe this isn’t the best advice (after all, it took me three months to find someone to take me in), but I flooded more than 100 media outlets with resumes. I didn’t care if they were newspapers, magazines, or radio or TV stations, on the East Coast, in the South, or in Hawaii (still waiting on a call from the Honolulu Advertiser). Of course, at the time I thought I’d take the first job I was offered but then I turned down a beat with a weekly in Mississippi. Luckily, things worked out at Roll Call and I’ve been here ever since. But if I got that offer to cover the local cops today? I’d probably take it – if that paper is still publishing.”

– David Meyers, Managing Editor, Roll Call

“Man, talk about bad timing! Five years ago, you J-school grads walked into newspaper jobs. Five years from now, you’ll walk into whatever replaces newspapers. But right now: Zippy the Chimp. In short: You’re screwed. Community newspapers folded, and the market’s now filled with 20-year reporting veterans. Two options: Go to grad school (but study something useful, like Shakespeare), or go into PR. Actual advice: Take that job for $17,500 at a website. You’ll be in tight before all of us come knocking at the door. And we will.”

– Joe Curl, White House Correspondent, The Washington Times

“Be creative in attempting to get your foot in the door. If you can’t land a job, offer to work as an unpaid intern. During interviews, don’t cite your work on the college newspaper. Instead, stress that the job will become your life. If it doesn’t, you won’t survive in this business.”

– Bob Cusack, Managing Editor, The Hill

“Cliche? Yes. But it really is better to be a big fish in a small pond. What you do is far more important than where you do it. Gain some experience, enjoy some reporting outside your comfort zone and you’ll be grateful when you arrive at your final destination.”

– Jeff Zeleny, White House Correspondent, New York Times