Gone Fishin’: Spring Break Edition

This week, UWO goes on Spring Break, so I’ll be doing the traditional thing of using this time to catch up on grading, reading contest entries and pondering how much longer we’re going to have snow out here.

I’ll also be doing a non-traditional thing of helping Dad use a Sawzall on a dead refrigerator in his basement. Something tells me it’ll go something like this:


In any case, it’ll be relatively quiet on the blog this week unless something crucial occurs. If you have any requests for posts starting next week, just drop me a line.


Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

“Your resume is not about you:” Insights from a journalism hiring manager on how to succeed in applying for internships and jobs

Tim Stephens has spent more than a quarter of a century at various media companies, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel and CBSSports.com, where he helped recruit, hire and develop talent.

“I placed a high premium on being connected in the industry and knowing what other outlets were developing track records in terms of producing quality journalists who could fit into our fast-paced, evolving newsroom culture,” he said. “Your organization will only be as good as the people working for it, and I didn’t want to miss on hires. I wanted a pipeline of talent.”

Stephens said that no matter who he hired or how long they worked for his organization, he was always looking to put the best people in the best positions when he hired someone.

“I was never afraid of losing talent…” he said. “I wanted ambitious, high-achieving performers to have opportunities to move up in their careers. Every time I lost an employee to a larger organization or an expanded role, I took it as an opportunity to find the next high achiever.”

A few years back, Stephens and I were at a convention where we talked about a massive disconnect between college-age applicants and places that hired them for internships and jobs. His insights shaped how I work with students as they build their application packages, resumes and cover letters

Last week,  I asked him some questions via email so that he could share some additional thoughts about how hiring works, what he looks for as a hiring manager and other things that might help you get where you want to go in this field.


What is/was life like as a person responsible for hiring interns and employees? What goes on behind the scenes that students or newly minted graduates don’t know about between the time they send in an application and the time a person gets hired?

I planned for openings months before I had them. Part of that was because I was accustomed to large organizations making occasional raids on our staff, and part of that was because of the shrinking nature of the newsroom made it extremely important to make strong hires when you had an opportunity to do so.

I had my eye on candidates who were often 2 or 3 moves away from a position on our staff. I talked to hiring managers at other companies all the time, picking their brains for potential candidates. I referred people who impressed me to hiring managers who had openings when I didn’t, with a special eye for matching those talents to newsrooms where their best attributes would be developed.

Bottom line is that it’s a small industry and you are rarely more than two or three people removed from knowing someone who knows someone.


One of the things you mentioned to me a long time ago was that students don’t really understand the point of their resume from a hiring-manager’s perspective. What are the problematic things students or new job seekers do in terms of creating documents or applying and how can they fix that to improve their odds of impressing an employer?

Your resume is not about you. It’s about ME, the hiring manager. If I move your resume through the stack, I am attaching my reputation to yours. I am being judged in large part by my hires. Don’t ever forget that. When I am looking at a resume, cover letter and portfolio, I am not looking at what you’ve done. Frankly, I don’t care.

What I care about is how what you have done translates into what you will DO if I hire you. Big difference. I have always tried to encourage job hopefuls to try to view the search from the perspective of the person doing the hiring.

First, you have to find out who that is. Be a reporter and do some digging. What is this person’s track record? What attributes do they value? Who previously held the job I am going for? Do your homework and help me project you into the job rather than simply to view you as an applicant.


If you had any key advice for students or one thing you would want to tell them about this whole process, what would it be?

Network. Always be professional — always. You never know who someone knows … or who they will become in this industry. And last, when you get an interview, try to flip that conversation toward how you’ll do the job you’re applying for, and you will take a big step toward landing it. You want me leaving that conversation feeling like you’re already part of the team.


Is there anything you think I missed or anything else you’d like to add?

Where you start in your career isn’t as important as who you are starting with. Do your homework on the hiring managers and the person or people who will supervise you.

Who has a track record of investing in and developing talent? Who has a track record of sending people on to bigger and better things? Who gives young journalists prime opportunities to shine when they earn them? Will you get feedback? Will you have a strong cast around you who will support your development? The most prestigious media company isn’t necessarily the best opportunity to advance.

Revisiting “The Midterm From Hell”

In honor of my students who will be taking this exam today, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this post with a few tweaks. Enjoy. — VFF

I often get to hear students complaining about classes and professors, as that comes with the territory of being an academic adviser, a  former newsroom adviser and having an office right next to the computer lab. When they don’t think I’m listening, I’ve heard students mutter about the amount of reading I assign in Feature Writing or the way that AP style is way too big of a deal in the Writing for the Media class.

However, two grievances have been repeated about two specific things I force students to do that are both points of annoyance and points of pride for them. When they gripe about these things, they do so loudly and with an odd tone like someone in a really bad 1980s movie yelling, “I was in ‘NAM, man! You don’t even know!” It’s a mix of irritation and self-congratulations.

The first we’ve discussed here before: The Feel-It Lab.

The second is what one student referred to as “The Midterm from Hell.”

Conceptually speaking, it’s reporting in its purest form: You get an assignment you know nothing about, you research it, you find sources and you turn the story in for publication immediately. Maybe working night desk where asking “Can I get this done tomorrow?” would have gotten me mocked and then fired and then mocked again has jaded me to the difficulty of this, but I doubt it.

Below is the outline for “The Midterm from Hell” as it is presented to the students. Feel free to use it as you see fit or adapt it as you need. Consider it a “share the hate” moment from me to you.


Reporting Midterm Assignment

The 24-Hour Story

As promised, this isn’t going to be your standard “memorize some facts, regurgitate them and move on” type of midterm. Reporting is a skill that you hone over time and in many cases, you don’t have a lot of time to do the honing. You will be responsible for your own fate and the fate of your colleagues in this midterm exercise.

Part I: The Pitch

As per your syllabus, you will have to email me a midterm pitch no later than Sunday at noon. If you do not turn in your pitch, you will not be able to participate in the midterm itself on Tuesday.

(UPDATE NOTE: About one student every other year fails the midterm before it even launches because of this. I guess if I had this threat hanging over my head, I’d make it a priority to beat the deadline by several days.)

What you are attempting to pitch is a story that you believe you could accomplish within a 24-hour period. The pitch itself should include the following things:

  • Your name
  • Your contact information (phone number, email address etc.)
  • An introductory paragraph of about five or six sentences that outlines what the story is about, what makes it worth doing and why it matters to a specific readership.
  • A list of at least THREE human sources, including contact information and rationale behind these people being used as sources.

You should attempt to create a quality pitch, obviously. If your pitch is too weak or fails to meet the basic elements of the assignment, your pitch will be discarded and you will not be allowed to participate in the midterm.


Part II: The Story

Everyone who turns in a pitch will be expected to be in class ready to go on Tuesday. I will print off all of the acceptable pitches and give each pitch a random number. Each participant will select a number and thus receive the associated pitch. YOU CANNOT RECEIVE YOUR OWN PITCH. I will read the pitch to the class and give you a copy of the pitch. The person responsible for the pitch can then augment the pitch with additional information or suggestions. We then open the floor for other people to suggest other sources or other places for information. Once you feel comfortable with your pitch, we move on to the next person.

When all the pitches are handed out, you will then have approximately 24 hours to complete a solid news story on that topic. It must be at least 2 pages, typed, double-spaced. It must contain no fewer than three human sources. You do not need to use any or all of the sources suggested to you in the pitch. You can augment the list or stick to it. The pitch is merely meant to guide you.

Your story must be in at noon on Wednesday.  If you are late, you fail the assignment, so remember the old line we repeat in here: Journalism is never done. It’s just due. Your completed work will be graded along the same lines as your previous stories, with one-third of the grade being assigned to each of the three main areas: Reporting, Writing and Style.

This is going to typify the quote on the front of your syllabus: You have to improvise. You have to adapt. You have to overcome. Stuff can go wrong. People might not get back to you. Sources might be out of town.  Your job is to be a reporter and figure out how to get the best possible version of the story out of the assignment based on what you have available to you at the time. Perfection is unattainable, so don’t panic about that. Make sure you’re accurate, clear, concise and balanced. Work on smoothing out your writing without obsessing about how perfect it is.

You can do this. We’ve been preparing for it all term.

Questions? Ask ‘em.

Fetch-Gate Parenting: Stop trying to name every phenomenon with some cute term

The saga of rich parents trying to bribe people to get their kids into great colleges has given birth to many stories, arguments and memes built from old “Full House” episodes, thanks to Lori “Aunt Becky” Loughlin’s involvement. One of the more annoying trends has been the media’s desperate need to name this phenomenon, something the NY Times chipped in on this morning:


The Times is a bit late on the name game in this situation, as others have already dubbed these folks “lawnmower parents” because they like to “mow down” any obstacle, discomfort or problem for their children. My favorite idiom was “curling parents,” named after the stone-and-broom sport, because the parents frantically try to sweep all the problems out of their children’s path.


Prior to this situation, we had “helicopter parents,” named for their ability to hover over every aspect of their children’s lives, who were quickly replaced by “drone parents,” who are like “helicopter parents on steroids.” A number of years back, we had “soccer moms,” stereotypical middle-America parents who used a calendar and a mini-van to help their kids engage in every possible extra-curricular activity that looked great on a college application.  In resistance to all of this hovering, sweeping, plowing and mowing, the concept of “free-range parenting” became popular in the media, with publications telling tales of parents who kind of just left their kids alone for 10 seconds or more each day.

This phenomenon of naming something that doesn’t really need a name isn’t new, as any journalist who started working after 1972 can tell you. In that year, several men connected to President Richard Nixon were caught while attempting to plant listening devices in the offices of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. This led to arrests, congressional hearings, impeachment hearings and Nixon’s resignation as president. The scandal became known as “Watergate,” named as such because that was the building that housed the DNC’s offices.

In the years that followed, every scandal has seemed to enjoy a -gate suffix moniker. We had “Bridgegate,” “Pizzagate,” “Deflategate,” “Clown-and-Cheesegate” “Sausagegate,” “Hookergate,” “Penisgate,” “Vaginagate,” “Dildogate,” “Potatogate” and at least two dozen more.

This is stupid for a couple reasons:

  • It’s not clever or unique: I remembered the first three. After that, I just started randomly typing foods or sex terms into Google with the word “gate” attached and got all of these. I never missed once, so you get the idea that this concept of “-gate” naming stuff isn’t new or innovative. It’s lazy writing and a stupid idea.
  • The scandals aren’t that scandalous: Watergate was a scandal that went to the highest office in the land and forced a sitting president who had won re-election in a walk to resign, something that had never happened before. Tom Brady “maybe” making footballs softer isn’t in the same neighborhood as this. Hell, it’s not even on the same planet. I’m sure that your university’s decision to keep taxing feminine hygiene products is a problem and should be covered, but don’t call it “tampongate.” (Besides, not one, but two, “scandals” have already used this one.)
  • The -gate thing isn’t real: The reason we called the Nixonian scandal “Watergate” was because that was the name of the building. It wasn’t like he used a “gate” to try to stop “water” or something. Thus, a scandal about a bridge or a clown or whatever, shouldn’t reference a suffix that isn’t part of its original title. I’m trying to imagine if someone stole stuff out of the Watergate now and how it might be a “Watergategate” or “Watergate 2.0,” another stupid way of building a term.

When it comes to covering a topic, you want to tell people what happened that matters to them. Your job isn’t to become a lexiconnoisseur or some sort of trendsetter. All it does is make you look like you can’t do your job without being cute. In addition, it will annoy your readers as you try to make your “-gate parenting” thing happen. As Regina George famously explained, you need to stop this right now:



GAME TIME! Spring Break AP Style Quiz

If you’re anything like my students, you are desperately awaiting the start of spring break. Or is it “Spring Break?” Or maybe Spring break…

See what you know about AP style with this quiz on our favorite time of the spring.

You don’t have to establish an account to play. It’s 10 questions and you will be judged on speed and accuracy.

Take a screen shot of your score and post it everywhere! Challenge a professor (who likely wants this break more than you do) and earn bragging rights for the year.

To start, click this link.

Brown M&M’s and The “Deliverance” House: Why details and first impressions matter

When my wife, Amy, and I went looking for our first house, we had 72 hours to find one and make a decision. We were living in Missouri and I had a job waiting at Ball State University in Indiana three months down the road. We didn’t want to move a bunch of times, so we decided to take one weekend, work with a realtor and get our first place.

The realtor did a great job of setting up dozens of appointments, which made the whole process dizzying for Amy and me. We ended up keeping track of the houses based on things that stuck out in our minds. One house had this immense great room that was filled with infant supplies and toddler toys, thus leading us to call it the “Baby House.” Another must have been owned by a heavy smoker who died months earlier (possibly in the home) and it became the “Smoking House.”

The last house we saw on the first day took the prize, however. The family inside was either renting or squatting and the place was a disaster. Every appliance had about a quarter-inch of grime on it and there was a Ball jar on the stove filled with grease that they used to butter bread.

Kids were everywhere as were piles of clothes and used food items. Doritos were ground into the carpeting on the steps and every bedroom just had a mattress on the floor. It was one of those homes where we kept telling ourselves, “Look past the mess.” However, when we went into the secondary basement, we decided to get the hell out of there.

There was a kid, about 7 or 8 years old, sitting in the dark, watching TV while rocking in a rocker. A big horse saddle was next to him on a wooden beam. The real estate agent tried to say something engaging to him. He just stared forward and kept rocking.

Thus, the “Deliverance House” was born.

I thought about that last night, when I was reading through some student journalism contest entries I needed to judge. The candidates for Reporter of the Year were impressive from this particular state and the broadcast reporters in particular were amazing. The first kid, however, had me in a bit of a pickle because I couldn’t get past my first impression.

I read her resume and something in her listing of TV work didn’t look right. I was a bit tired, so I reread this spot about four times before I realized that I wasn’t going crazy. She couldn’t spell:


I did a screen grab and cut off as much of the identifying content from her resume as I could so you could see what I saw. Over THREE positions, she spelled “February” THREE ways. Obviously, only one of them could be right, and I guess you could argue that the third time was the charm. Still, I found myself watching her packages thinking, “If she can’t get this right, what else isn’t right?”

That was the lesson I hope you took from the spot in the writing book where I talked about the Van Halen 1982 tour rider. The band denied this existed for years until The Smoking Gun ended up finding a copy. The rider, which detailed specific needs of the band that went beyond its contract, was 57 pages long and called for all sorts of crazy, tiny items. The famous one was the requirement that the dressing room be stocked with M&M candies, with the admonition, “Warning: absolutely no brown ones.”

The guys in the band later explained that they had a lot of stuff to worry about during a show, such as if instruments would be set up right and if the lighting systems would work properly. If they walked into the dressing room and found the M&M’s and there were no brown ones, the staff at the venue had paid attention to detail and the band could relax about everything else. If the guys found brown M&M’s or no M&M’s, they began to worry about what else might be wrong.

I’m not writing this post to pick on this student, who I have no doubt will have a heck of a good career ahead of her. Truth be told, I once sent in a cover letter where I misspelled the name of the hiring editor in my salutation. (He hired me anyway, but that’s not the point.) The point here is that I hope you can see how something so small, especially in a first impression, can make a difference in the minds of readers, viewers, contest judges and even hiring managers.

As much of a pain as it is to pick at every document and review every comma, know that your work isn’t wasted. Even if nobody notices how clean your work is, at least they won’t notice something negative and get the wrong first impression about you.

Why NYT’s Theodore Kim ticked off a squillion journalism folks with his list of Amazing Journalism Schools and why you shouldn’t care about it at all

Theodore Kim, the director of fellowships and internships at the NYT, recently posted what he called a “super unscientific opinion on which U.S. schools churn out the most consistently productive candidates.” This list came in several tweets and tiers:

Best (no order): Columbia, Northwestern, UC Berkeley, Yale

Honorable Mentions Tier 1 (no order): Missouri, Harvard, Florida, USC, Duke, Stanford

Honorable Mentions, Tier 2 (no order): Howard, Texas, Maryland, UPenn, Cornell, UNC, Syracuse, Illinois, Arizona State, Colorado State, Florida A&M, NYU, Miami of Ohio, Western Kentucky, UC San Diego

I also forgot to mention the Newmark School (formerly CUNY), which is definitely in the mix…

Kim’s list set off the kind of social media rage usually only seen at a New England Patriots’ fan site when someone notes that Eli Manning beat Tom Brady twice in the Super Bowl and is thus a superior quarterback.

Most of the responses kind of fell into two basic areas: Outrage that the respondent’s school wasn’t included on the list/was listed too low or that the list itself read like a rich kid’s guide to picking out schools. Katy Culver, an assistant professor at UW-Madison and a Teachapalooza instructor, took a different angle, examining this as an ethics issue, noting in part:

Journalism needs to do far more to diversify the people who produce it if it’s going to have any fighting chance at representing us accurately and in the rich contexts in which we live. Bias in favor of students at elite schools only compounds the lack of diversity.

Others pushed back at this in an even more pointed way: If you’re the guy picking interns and you lay out a list like this, it really comes across like you have a bias toward Schools A, B and C and maybe against those X, Y and Z Colleges. To his credit, Kim didn’t claim he was hacked by the Russians or that someone spiked his Diet Coke or something when he wrote the original list:


While you decide whether it’s worth it or not to scour Kim’s list in search of your school, consider a few thoughts:

  • Lists Like This Are Just Stupid: Look, I get it. Lists can seem like a fun idea and they often get a lot of traction. This is why Jonah Peretti and the Buzzfeed crew have enough money to buy half of the planet at this point. It’s also why we can waste half of our day arguing about who was a greater “clutch” quarterback or which “Star Wars” movie was the best/worst. In the end, however, these things lack value and come from no serious vantage point. If you want the best look at how stupid this is, consider a classic clip from “The Newsroom:
  • Your Degree Doesn’t Make You: In going down the rabbit hole that was Kim’s tweets and the backlash that followed, I found support for the argument I’ve been making for years now: It doesn’t matter where you go to school. If you want something badly enough and you work hard enough, you’ll get something great out of your time as a journalists.One of the things that came up when I left Mizzou and went to Ball State was the students at my new university wanted to know if they were as good as those at my old university. “Do we measure up to the Mizzou kids?” one newsroom student asked me. The answer I gave him was the same that I give the kids at UWO, who ask if they’re as good as the kids at Ball State:

    The degree from one of these places is shiny. It looks good and it can open some doors. However, the dumbest kid I ever taught at (Aspiration School X) isn’t automatically better than the smartest kid I ever taught at (Downtrodden School Y). Those Lord Almighty Schools of Journalism Brilliance and Deity don’t hand you a brain when you graduate that has all the answers in it. In fact, I find that a lot of students who rely on the idea that graduating from one of those Holy Grail Universities to solve all their problems tend to do horribly once they graduate.

    Maybe this is a better example of how this doesn’t matter at all. Check out this photo of two dudes from the same state who graduated from college at about the same time:


    The guy on the left is me. I grew up in the largest city in Wisconsin, attended the flagship university in the state and got a journalism degree from the oldest journalism program in the country. I also got a master’s from there and a Ph.D. from Mizzou, which will argue with anyone that it is the greatest J-school in the country. I worked on a night desk at the Wisconsin State Journal and eventually went into teaching.

    The guy on the right went to UW-Oshkosh, occasionally derisively called “UW-Zero,” and got a degree in poli sci and journalism. (UWO is in nobody’s top anything and its so far off Kim’s list that he probably couldn’t find it with a search light and a posse.) This guy worked as a sports writer at the Oshkosh Northwestern for a while and could have stayed in his hometown forever.

    Instead, he scored a job working at the Washington Post. That’s impressive but what’s even more impressive is that Jim VandeHei quit the Post and co-founded two of the most important political journalism organizations in the past 50 years: Politico and Axios.

    Axios, his current gig, has a readership in the millions while I’m writing a blog with literally tens of readers (and I’d like to thank you all for getting me up to that number). He drew in millions of dollars of investment capital for the Axios launch and it is so successful, Axios has a video news program on HBO as well. I bogart video clips from YouTube that feature programs that once ran on HBO.

    The point is, if you looked at both of us on paper in the mid-1990s, you’d never guess who would go on which path and the degree of success the guy from a “branch school” would have achieved. And I know he’s not the only success story like that out there. And you might be the next one.


  • There Are Always Folks Like This. Your Job Is To Prove Them Wrong: The thing that bugged me the most about Kim’s list wasn’t that he published it or that he ranked certain schools in certain ways. What bugged me was that this wasn’t the first time I’d see this kind of attitude and I know it won’t be the last. Here’s a story I shared with some friends after this broke:
    I had a student who was an editor for me at UWO. Smart kid, decent grades, hell of a good student media practitioner. I took her with me to a college journalism convention where a variety of people were doing internship recruiting. She had an interest in PROGRAM X, and I happened to know the recruiter, so I asked how she did in the meet and greet etc.
    She’s fine, he explained, but she’s not going to get in. When I asked why, he said, “We don’t take people from branch schools.” He then elaborated that they only really take people from ELITE SCHOOL X (one of those listed on Kim’s top of the pops), ELITE SCHOOL Y (a good tier one on Kim’s list) and people from GEOGRAPHIC AREA X. His rationale was that the kids there were just “better” (although he couldn’t quantify that for me) or if the kid was a disaster, they could say, “How could we know? The kid went to X or Y!” (the geographic area was because they could get kids there and ship them out for bus fare, basically.)

    The silver lining was that I told my student to apply anyway, she did, she got in and she got a hell of a good scholarship, a hell of a good internship and a hell of good media life out of it. The reason? It was her sole goal to prove this person wrong and show she was just as good as anyone else.

    I know I tend to get a little too “rah rah” on this blog some times, but it’s only because I see so many students on a weekly basis who feel they can’t succeed. It’s like the world is filled with better, smarter, faster and richer kids than them and it’s only by a miracle on par with the loaves and fishes that they managed to get this far.  The truth is, gumption, grit and a general sense that you CAN do it often separates those folks who get where they want to go from those who don’t.

    The best form of revenge for being told that you aren’t of the proper ilk is to go out and find a way to have an amazing fulfilling life. It also feels pretty good to flat-out crush these folks at their own game and become awesome.


GAME TIME! AP-Style, Spring-based Quiz of Mirth and Hope

In Wisconsin, this time of year makes you really question your sanity and hate every Facebook friend from Florida who is posting beach photos. It was -18 windchill the other day and I don’t see it getting better any time soon. A friend of mine told me that the giant pile of snow at the airport in Milwaukee is expected to melt no sooner than July. And he was serious.

In hopes of bringing on a season in which “windchill” is not a word, here’s an AP quiz based on spring themes. Speed counts, but accuracy matters most.

You don’t have to create an account to play, but if you want to, it will rank you.

Post a screenshot of your score here and brag to your friends. Challenge a professor so you can have bragging rights all year.

Click here to begin the quiz.

Cover Letters 101: How to tell your story and connect with an employer in journalism

I spent about half of the week working to get students into classes through our advising process and the other half working with students in a panic over trying to get an internship or a job.

Their biggest freakout? Cover-letter writing.

I’m hoping this post can help you (or your students) build a pretty standard cover letter that will touch on the basics, avoid any major problems and possibly even stand out among your peers as a quality candidate. (I grabbed most of this from the reporting book’s appendix, with a few alterations to make things clearer or better…)

Cover letters 101

In the days of texts and tweets, the idea of a cover letter can seem as quaint and unnecessary as communicating via the Pony Express. Some publications require a cover letter as a matter of course and to meet specific requirements set forth by a human resources department. Other places will ask for an email or a video or some other form of introductory element that goes beyond the resume to explain who you are and why you matter. Regardless of the format, you want to put your best foot forward when you formally introduce yourself in the hiring process. Here are a few bits of advice to help you alone:            


Start with a connection if you have it: If it’s an opening paragraph or an opening line in a video, you want to introduce yourself to your audience in a way that gives you an edge over any potential competition. One of the best ways to make this happen is if they already know you, which is why networking is so crucial throughout your college (and professional) career.

If you went to a journalism conference and met a recruiter for the Johnson Journal, she might say, “Hey, we have an internship this summer that you might want to consider.” That connection can be helpful in pulling you to the top of the stack, if she remembers you. That’s why you want to start with something like, “It was great to meet you this fall at the ABC Media conference, where we talked about potential internship opportunities. Given what you told me there, I was excited to see you had this internship available and I couldn’t wait to apply.”

In some cases, you won’t have that connection, but you will have that “friend of a friend” connection that you can exploit for your own benefit. Professors get emails or messages from former students all the time, asking if they know of any good students that might be interested in an internship or a job. If the professor handed this off to you, this is another great way to connect with a potential employer: “Professor Smith said you were looking for a hard worker to fill your internship position this summer and he recommended that I send you my resume.”

If you lack any specific “in” with a potential employer, consider telling the employer where you found their advertisement and why you felt you compelled to apply for the opening. For example, you could explain that you read the publication frequently or that you have professors who speak highly of the writing it puts out. You could also look for a way to tie your interests to their needs. In doing this you could mention how you covered specific things such as crime or sports and that is what drew you to the company’s open position for a crime reporter or a sports reporter. Look for a way to reach out and explain to the person reviewing resumes, “Hey, I’m interested in you for a good reason!”


Explain, don’t repeat, your resume: When students take essay tests, I often advise them to go through the essay question and highlight key phrases and active verbs so that they don’t miss any section. Things like “Compare and contrast the four ethical codes” and “Describe the structure of an inverted pyramid story” call for specific actions on the part of the student. Going through and noting those requirements can be helpful when the students want to provide the most complete answer possible. If you use that same formula when you write your cover letter, you can set yourself apart from the people who use form letters to regurgitate their experience.

Go through the job posting and highlight specific things the job requires or the employer wants. This could include things like “must be proficient at social media” or “needs the ability to work well under deadline pressure.” Once you highlight those elements, pick out the ones you want to discuss in your cover letter.

At this point, you don’t want to repeat your resume, but rather link your experiences to their needs and do a solid job of explaining how they connect through narrative examples. Let’s say the need is “must work well under deadline pressure.” You can link that to your work in student media with an example of how you did this:

“You noted in your position description that you need someone who works well under deadline pressure. As a news reporter at the Campus Crier, I often found myself working on tight deadlines including one case where I got a tip about the university’s president resigning. In less than two hours, I managed to get the story confirmed and written. Even better, I scooped the local paper.”

Not every need will attach itself to one of your great adventures in media, but you should look for those opportunities to show people what you did and how it can be of benefit to them.


The Money Paragraph: Why should they hire you? After you outline your skills and traits but before you thank the person for considering your application sits the most important couple of sentences in your letter: The Money Paragraph. At this point, you should have made a good impression and have the person on the other end of the letter thinking that you might be a good fit. It is right here that you want to seal the deal and give the employer something to remember.

Each of us has that “one thing” that we think we’re better at that most of the rest of the people in our field. We pride ourselves on our ability to work through problems, to constantly look for positives in every situation or to smooth over personnel concerns. Whatever that “one thing” is for you, hit it here with some emphasis. The goal is to say to an employer that if she is looking through your application and Candidate X’s application and everything completely equal to this point, here’s the big reason why you should get the job over that other person:

“Above all else, I constantly look for new ways to reach the audience. I was one of the first reporters on our staff to integrate digital tools like Periscope and Storify into my work. I knew this was how most people in our audience got the news and now everyone else at our publication uses these tools as well. I will always look for the next best way to connect with the readers and viewers and I think this approach could really boost readership for your organization.”


The last paragraph should simply wrap things up with something like,” With all of this being said, I think I’d be a great candidate for (WHATEVER), so please feel free to contact me at (PHONE NUMBER) or via email at (ADDRESS).” Make sure you type your name and sign the letter. If it’s digital, you can sign a printed copy and then scan it back in there.

(Instead of doing that, a long time ago, I grabbed a piece of paper and practiced my signature until I was happy with it. I then did a large version of it with a big Sharpie and scanned that into my computer. I saved it as a jpeg and just insert it now as a signature. Works well.)

Before you send this off, have at least one other person read it for any spelling, grammar or other goofy errors. Make sure you have the name of your contact spelled right and the name of the organization done properly (is it Advanced Titan or Advance-Titan  and is it hyphenated or not?). Then, fix any minor glitches and submit your application.

Burying the lead (or “Man shoots self in scrotum, see sentence six.”)

In terms of press releases, this one clearly puts the thing you would probably most want to know near the end. This is one of the main reasons why you should learn to write in the inverted pyramid instead of simply recounting things chronologically.

To be fair, a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” does sound terrible, but it only gets worse:


Press releases like this make me miss working on the police beat.

(Instructors: A good exercise with this one would be to write a lead based on the release. The content has a pretty good number of the FOCII elements in there and a rewrite could create a better emphasis on them.)