Articles tagged with: Serena Renner
Wyoming reveals majestic mountain peaks and a bubbling underground.
Three days and three states, from a spooky mining town and hippy enclave to a fossil-filled river gorge.
It looks like Will and I had similar ambitions for the summer: to breathe some fresh air, rediscover open space, and set out on a wind-blowing-through-our-hair car adventure to explore our own Western United States.
If ever I doubted the importance of connections in the media industry, I’m now a believer. I’m a week and a half from being back on the job market, and after months of sending out applications with little to no response, an opportunity may have reared its shiny head. I had a successful interview yesterday for an associate editor position at a magazine whose name I won’t mention as to not jinx myself. It ended with an invitation back next week to meet the publisher. Before jumping up and down and giving myself a big pat on the back, I need to pay credit where credit is due: to an editor.
It just so happens that this editor works at VIA (where I’m finishing up a six-month internship) and she’s a friend and former colleague of the editor-in-chief at this anonymous magazine. In fact, she’s a big part of why I applied to this magazine in the first place, and she was kind enough to phone the editor early on to sing my praises. This scenario reminds me a lot of my application process for VIA–where my former editor from the UCSD alumni magazine knows two editors (including the editor-in-chief). Are we starting to see a pattern here or am I having a deja vu? There may well be seven degrees of separation, but to get a journalism job these days, it’s better that you only have two.
I’m so convinced of this pattern, in fact, that I’ve almost given up applying to jobs where I don’t have a strong referral. In case you’re still skeptical, let’s take a few other examples of interconnectivity. Two editors at VIA used to work together at Stanford magazine, where (surprise, surprise) my former editor at the UCSD alumni mag also worked. Three editors are also former colleagues at Men’s Health and they followed each other, one-by-one, to VIA.
In my most recent round of applications, besides this magazine whose name I will not mention, I only got one other call back–from the editor at the Monterey County Weekly, for which I interviewed in the past. While I’m not too much more qualified to work at the paper than I was the last time around, I think I got a call simply because I was a familiar name and face. In today’s economy, when editors are deluged with hundreds upon hundreds of resumes, they’re going to latch on to those people who provide even an extra ounce of comfort. Maybe it comes from a friend’s stamp of approval or a prior meeting that proved the applicant isn’t crazy.
Knowing this, I even contacted my friend’s mother’s co-worker’s brother who worked at Surfer magazine to try to get an upper hand on that application. (It didn’t work out, but it was worth a shot.)
While I recognize that you still have to prove yourself, and I haven’t given up all hope on personal merit, sometimes connections are the only way you’ll get a chance. If nothing else pans out for me, at least this experience has been a good reminder to treat every opportunity as a stepping stone to the next bigger thing. Even if you don’t see your current job or internship leading anywhere, foster relationships with your colleagues, and they just might help you land a job at an unnamed magazine a few years down the road.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to jump for joy.
If ever I doubted the importance of connections in the media industry, I’m now a believer. I’m a week and a half from being back on the job market, and…
Serena’s finally got her hands on a new camera all her own!
For the past two and a half months, I’ve been interning at Via, AAA’s travel magazine for Northern California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. On top of adding several new destinations to my travel list, I’ve already learned a lot about magazine production, from pitching and assigning stories through the various levels of editing, and I hope to share my discoveries over the next few months.
During my first few days of work, I learned that it’s nearly impossible for freelancers to get feature pitches accepted at Via (you have a better chance of getting accepted to Harvard). There are a number of reasons for this, including the magazine’s bi-monthly frequency and small size, the fact that editors map out feature stories as much as a year in advance, because the magazine has grown to depend on a group of tried-and-true veteran freelancers who are given regular assignments, and because it’s very rare that you and I have heard of a must-see destination that a travel magazine editor has not.
A new writer’s best bet is to pitch the front-of-the-book section called On the Road, which includes short travel-related roundups, interviews, hotel and museum openings, neighborhood rundowns, etc. I sat down with the On the Road editor, Dan Warrick, last week and he shared some tips on pitching etiquette.
Forget the old model: cover letter, attached queries, full set of clips, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Send an email instead.
Call the magazine to get the email address of the best person to send pitches to (it’s very unprofessional to send an email blast to every editor on staff!) Ask for the writer’s guidelines and what issue is being assigned. Then pitch to a later issue.
In your first email, introduce yourself quickly. It doesn’t matter whether you start or end with your bio; you just need to sell your idea and you as a writer. Have a specialty? Say so.
Show that you’ve read the magazine. Small gestures like “for your trailblazer section” will let an editor know that you’re planning on the magazine’s own terms and not just striving to sell a story on a cherished topic.
Make up your mind. Shotgun-blast pitches with loads of scattered ideas will just overwhelm an editor. Focus on one section and don’t pitch more than five topics at once.
Keep your pitches brief but dense with relevant detail. Research just enough to sound authoritative, compose your pitch, then go back and cut needless words.
Don’t play peekaboo with key facts. It’s unlikely that a magazine will steal your idea and if you’re unwilling to spell out the details of your idea, you won’t have a chance of landing the assignment. Give away the good stuff.
Write well. Match the length and depth of the pitch to the kind of assignment you’re hoping to get (e.g., don’t write hundreds of words for a piece that will run very short in the magazine). Show–with active verbs and precise nouns–that you’re in control of the language.
Don’t try too hard. You don’t have to compose snappy headlines or cute come-ons. Lead with strong facts and keep the blurbs tight.
Proofread, or get someone else to proofread for you. Giving an appearance of grammatical ignorance or simple sloppiness is a fatal mistake.
Attach just a few clips that are most relevant to what the magazine prints. Be sure they’re clear and easy to read. Live web links are an alternative.
Cite your blog or Web site only if it’s elegantly designed, cogently composed, and wholly up to date. Remember, you’re trying to get an editor to trust you. If your last entry was a year ago–or even four months ago–skip it.
Of course, underlying it all is your idea, which must wow an editor while fitting the magazine’s scope. Even OTR receives hundreds of proposals annually but only has the ability to assign a dozen or so freelance pieces every two months–less than 100 a year. Most assignments are between 100 and 200 words, so don’t get your hopes up too high, but hey it’s a start. Read the magazine, read the magazine, read the magazine (and in Via’s case get out there and explore) and you’ll be on your way to successful pitching.
For the past two and a half months, I’ve been interning at Via, AAA’s travel magazine for Northern California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. On top of adding several…
A man’s voice sounded from inside the short white school bus. “Free tea!” the voice declared to the outside world passing by. Guisepi sat perched on a cooler, tending a kettle of tea. He looked so comfortable in his makeshift kitchen of storage tubs and wooden shelves that you could actually believe he had spent the last four years trekking up and down the West Coast serving free tea.
Got some extra time? Like to write? I just heard about a few opportunities for all you bloggers out there, which could help you gain experience and exposure while you’re in between jobs, freelancing or trying to figure out what to do with yourself.
Change.org is hiring full-time bloggers to write about social causes from human rights to environmental issues to social entrepreneurship. Best of all, positions are paid and your posts would be viewed by over a million users. Check out the ad here.
MediaBistro also recently launched a user-generated blog “We the ‘Bistro” which allows any one to submit posts via email to a large audience of fellow media professionals. You can submit photos, video or anything relevant to media workers. I just sent in an old Meridian post to the email address email@example.com just to get my name out there and see how it works.
I hope to open up Meridian in a similar fashion so that readers can email posts containing their work or musings on issues facing young journalists. We’ve also been talking about starting up a guest post series to add more voices to this blog, so look out for that in the coming weeks!
Got some extra time? Like to write? I just heard about a few opportunities for all you bloggers out there, which could help you gain experience and exposure while you’re…
I was recently interviewed by Tanja Aitamurto, a journalist and researcher from Finland who’s studying Spot.Us as a case study in new forms of journalism. For those of you unfamiliar, Spot.Us is a journalism startup pioneering “community-funded reporting” in the Bay Area. Basically, freelance journalists (or the organization) will pitch stories on the Spot.Us website and tap the public as well as news organizations for micro-donations to fund projects and pay reporters. Raising money through donations from the public is also known as “crowd funding,” and Spot.Us is experimenting with the concept as one method to sustain quality journalism in the ever-changing media landscape we are watching unfold before our eyes.
Aitamurto is researching the way crowd funding and crowd sourcing change the journalistic process, and as both an intern and reporter for Spot.Us, I wanted to share my experience. First, I want to make one very important disclaimer: I’m a young reporter with little experience in the “traditional journalism” field. As such, I don’t have much to compare Spot.Us with. I also have a unique set of interests (i.e. getting my piece published in print because for some reason that still seems to matter in the job world) which a more established journalist may not worry about. I think the Spot.Us experience is different for each reporter, but here are the things I discovered along the way:
Spot.Us was built out of founder David Cohn‘s desire to pitch stories to the world and get the public more involved in journalism, rather than have the whole process occur behind closed doors between a reporter and editor. With this goal comes transparency, where every thing from pitching, to fundraising, to investigative research happens in public domain. Cohn often echoes the sentiment of David Weinberger when he says “transparency is the new objectivity,” helping news organizations gain trust and credibility in the “age of links.”
Transparency also leads to another one of Cohn’s motos: “journalism is a process, not a product.” While media outlets have traditionally tried to cram all relevant information into one finished piece, web technology like comments and blogging allow for continuous reporting that exposes facts and perspectives as they come to light, creating a more complete picture of a story than say one article with a limited word count can produce.
Another strength of the Spot.Us model is the potential for collaboration. Spot.Us strives to be a platform to connect reporters, news organizations and the public in a symbiotic relationship, where the community can help source information and fund stories they care about, the reporter can sift through facts and breaks down issues, and the news organization can score a quality investigative article with the help of public funds. While I didn’t witness a whole lot of collaboration with my story in particular, all one needs to do is look at the long list of donors and read the thread of comments on the investigation into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to see Spot.Us’ potential to galvanize the public around an issue of interest.
Personal Benefits for a Young Reporter
Some of you may be thinking that transparency and collaboration are all fine and dandy, but how does Spot.Us help freelancers in today’s tough economy? First, I think it’s easier to get an “in” with Spot.Us than with a traditional media outlet. While Spot.Us still has some editorial control about pitches they accept, the organization tries not to be exclusive and will take chances on good ideas, even if you’re young or your credentials are not entirely in line. Some may argue that this is a weakness, but it definitely helps young, ambitious reporters get a foot in the door, and through transparency, reporters will be held accountable.
The pay’s not bad either. If you can last the time it takes to fundraise, you will be rewarded with competitive freelance rates. I also didn’t have to go through the sometimes grueling pitching process! Cohn pretty much single-handedly promoted my story and used his connections to get it placed in a paper. I question whether I could have been published if I would have pitched the story on my own.
Room for Improvement
In the spirit of transparency, let me also share a few areas I think could use some improvement.
As it stands, fundraising through Spot.Us is usually a pretty slow process only suitable for long-term investigations rather than more “news worthy” issues. There are often many communities and nonprofit organizations interested in the issues at hand, but due to limited staffing, these groups are not always taken advantage of.
News organizations are also hesitant to make partnerships with Spot.Us, possibly out of discomfort with being transparent since they’ve historically been concerned about being “scooped” or beaten to a story by a competing news organization. I think other news outlets see Spot.Us as an unnecessary middle man between the reporter and editor without seeing the added value of transparency and collaboration that Spot.Us can create.
I think one of Spot.Us’ greatest challenges is its nonprofit status and subsequent lack of adequate staffing. While I think Cohn, with the help of Kara Andrade and others, has done an incredible job creating the organization from scratch, things like editorial oversight and fact-checking can be left up to “peer editors” or no one at all if a news organizations does not step in, which could compromise the accuracy of a story and the credibility of the organization.
Lastly, I think more emphasis needs to be placed on creating a more streamlined organizational structure through a defined business-development plan. It seems like stories are often tackled on a case-by-case basis in terms of fundraising, promotion, publication, and distribution rather than undergoing a consistent process from pitch to publication. I was initially wary about Spot.Us’ recent expansion to Los Angeles without all the organization ducks in a row; however, I think working with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism will be a great opportunity to bring more staff and student volunteers into the fold and hopefully help Spot.Us create a more sustainable structure the …