Just a Year Away: Journalism Jobs, Real and Hoped For

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For many would-be grad students, February is the month that brings an end to their long wait for admissions decisions from their most-wanted list of schools.

For me, this week in February brought a long and necessary walk through the woods (where I escape to think and meditate–no phone, no email), which helped me refocus and look to the bigger picture.

Since the graduate journalism program at Columbia is so short, only 3.5 semesters, just a year after getting my acceptance letter, I’m already eyeballing the job market.

Like many student journalists, I’ve heard I should prepare for the worst: a life of cobbling together part-time jobs and freelance positions, hoping to make enough to cover rent, student loans payments, and astronomical health insurance costs. If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, it’s not thrilling to me either.

Part of my personal mission in grad school has been to figure out where I fit in the wide world of journalistic careers. Having the rigorous preparation I’ve had at Columbia so far, I try to remain hopeful that I can find the place where my “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” in the words of theologian Frederick Buechner.

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Out walking with the chilly air in my face and gravel crunching underfoot, I wondered if such career options even exist for us idealistic, dime-a-dozen wordy types. I don’t know. But I think I’ve nailed down some specifics of what my ideal career should do. It needs to:

  • Be meaningful. What I do has to help me leave the world better off than when I entered it. Whether that’s through education, communication, problem solving or directly serving people in need, my job needs to serve the greater good.
  • Be interesting. My job needs to be engaging, with room for me to think critically and creatively, to collaborate with others, and be learning always.
  • Pay me fairly, commensurate with my education and experience. I am gaining experience in my field each day, and I will have two masters degrees when I cross Columbia’s stage next December. I don’t want to be a millionaire, but I’d like to make more than $27,000 a year for the rest of my life.  I’m worth the investment.
  • Allow me to maintain a work/life balance, at least most of the time. With an engaging, meaningful job, I know that there will be times when I’ll need to give far more than the minimum 40 hour week. But you won’t get my best if I’m constantly working 80 hour weeks with no vacations or weekends.
  • Include health insurance. I think it’s stupid that healthcare accessibility is tied to employment in this country. But if that’s the way it is for now, if I’m giving you more than 35 hours of my life each week, I need in on your organizational insurance plan.

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It’s easy to feel optimistic in the woods, surrounded by the chilly, beautiful fortitude of nature in February.  It may take some work, but I’ll find a way to get paid to do something meaningful, wordy, and fun. If you’re not there already, what would your dream job need to be for you?