First Semester Reflections

[flickr id=”8335370877″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

It’s about two weeks into winter break. Christmas and all of its preparations and excitement are over. For the first time since August, I have nothing to think about except my first semester of grad school at Columbia. The thoughts are bouncing around so strongly I feel like they’re ricocheting off the walls of my head, so to avoid getting a headache, I have compiled a list of some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since starting Columbia’s Journalism MA program.

Not So Fast

If you got into this program, you were most likely at the top of your class in undergrad. You are talented, you are awesome, and you’ll feel it when you get your acceptance letter. You might even feel it your first day, but reality will set in about half way through the first week of “boot camp”. I hate to say it, but you have to prove yourself all over again.

So take all of those good feelings—the excitement, the confidence, the joy—and store them up inside of you. Don’t let them go. You will want to revisit them later when you realize the leads you wrote in undergrad won’t cut it and sources won’t talk to you for a story due in two hours. Don’t expect professors to affirm you (even though many will). You have to know for yourself that you can make it on the toughest days.

More Bang For Your Buck

Okay, don’t use clichés like this in your stories, but you get your money’s worth in this program. Sometime in October, I realized that I was getting two degrees in one. You will learn how to report and write a story on deadline, but you will also learn about the political machine of Chicago—tax increment financing, the life of former mayor Harold Washington, and Chicago’s home rule. (Look that last one up now; it’s a doozy.) You won’t be sitting in a classroom all week. You’ll be attending Chicago Board of Education meetings, meetings at city hall, and press conferences with Mayor Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin.

[flickr id=”8336430840″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

You won’t realize it right away, but by the middle of the semester you will be blown away by how much you know about public affairs in the city of Chicago. And don’t get into this program if you aren’t interested in public affairs.

Start Building a Brand

It’s never too early to start building a personal brand. You might already have a Twitter account but likely aren’t using it to network in the journalism field. I met up with freelance reporter and writer Elizabeth Rago when I was finishing undergrad. The first thing she told me was to take “aspiring journalist” out of my vocabulary. “You are already a journalist,” she said. So start thinking of yourself that way. That one tweak in my thinking changed the course of my life. Banish the word “aspiring” from your Twitter bio, LinkedIn profile, and your head. Start connecting with other journalists and news outlets.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Twitter is huge in journalism. I read an article a few weeks ago where the author, Quill Magazine editor Scott Leadingham, admitted to not even looking at a resume if it didn’t include a Twitter handle. You can expect more from me on this subject in later posts. And oh yeah—get business cards. Trust me.

[flickr id=”8335373357″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

Be a News Junkie

Yes, there will be news quizzes in some of your classes, but don’t be a news junkie for A’s—be a news junkie for yourself!

[flickr id=”8335375233″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

This goes back to building a brand and connecting with others in the field. You want to be knowledgeable about your field, your city, national government, and whatever interests you. It’s just smart.