LISTS :: 25 STEPS TOWARD
SUCCESS STAYING SANE IN JOURNALISM
1. Understand that magazine journalism is not like what you see on Ugly Betty or Sex and the City—nor even The Devil Wears Prada, most of the time. You may need a second job to get by at first.
2. Be versatile. Accept multitasking as a way of life—but donít let it consume you. On any given day, youíll likely be doing a dozen different things. Donít let that get in the way of setting clear goals.
3. Be patient—or at very least have a good game plan. Moving up in the ranks usually comes about through promotion, replacing someone who leaves, or, increasingly, lateral moves to other mags.
4. Accept that the future of your industry is unstable at best right now, and that even the best minds in the biz donít necessarily know whatís next. See No. 2—versatility is more important than ever.
5. Become an expert user of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, RSS readers, etc. Buy a cheap domain/hosting (NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is good) and set up your own WordPress or Movable Type installation.
6. Take a class in HTML/CSS, photography, or audiovisual production—or experiment with these in your spare time. Learn the Adobe suite. Journalists these days increasingly work in multiple mediums.
7. To that end, it helps to have a digital camera, voice recorder, cellphone, laptop, and (possibly) a car.
8. Before going to grad school for journalism, get out in the real world and work.
9. Once youíve been out there for a while, then plan what you want to do. You donít know yet.
10. Two things that magazines pride themselves on: in-depth reporting and accuracy. Learn how to do a rigorous fact-check and youíll blow your editorsí minds. (Hint: It often involves a phone.)
11. Another thing thatíll blow their minds: Ask your editors what style guide and dictionary they use. More than 99 percent of people we hire—even professional writers—never ask.
12. Examine your habits: How do you deal with deadlines? How do you deal with stress and uncertainty? Are you introverted or extroverted? What time of day do you do your best work?
13. Dress the part. Come into a meeting or interview wearing a blazer and people are more likely to listen.
14. Be prepared to work long hours from the get-go. Work hard from day one, even on menial tasks, and youíll get the benefit of the doubt later when you need time off or even (gasp!) make a mistake.
15. Remember the first rule of improv: Always say yes. If youíre afraid of an assignment, figure out why, clarify if need be—then take it on and knock it out of the park. Your confidence will grow.
16. Find an organization system that works for you and use it. One of our editors uses the GTD (Getting Things Done) system; another always makes sure his inbox is clear at the end of the day.
17. My personal system: Clarify all assignments. Get word counts and deadlines, give them a rough priority in a to-do list, then stick to it. Getting one thing in early often means everything else is late.
18. If you let your editors walk all over you, they will. Recognize your limits, set boundaries, and stick to them—and speak up (respectfully) if youíre overloaded. Even editors misjudge sometimes.
19. Next to newspaper deadlines, magazine deadlines are a piece of cake. Work for a newspaper first and you'll be a faster writer and editor than your colleagues.
20. Make time for personal projects. Thereís a reason Google encourages this. And workers who take breaks to surf the Web are often more productive than their nose-to-the-grindstone counterparts.
21. Donít be like Ryan on The Office, though. If you spend the day at your desk texting and taking care of personal business on the phone, people will notice—because youíll probably be in a cubicle.
22. Learn to love the cubicle. At many publications, even senior editors end up working in them. (See No. 1.) But donít be afraid to ask if you can work from home or a coffee shop if youíre distracted.
23. Understand the difference between copy editing and proofreading. Respect your copy editor, ask him or her for guidance when in doubt, and things will go more smoothly, I promise.
24. Sign up for every local e-newsletter or RSS feed and follow every local Twitter account you can. You may end up more plugged in to whatís going on around your community than your editors are.
25. Journalism, above all, is based on trust. Show respect for others by being courteous, speaking sincerely, and treating people well, both at work and in public. Turn off the cellphone (see No. 21) and actually listen to what people around you are saying and theyíll respond favorably. Good luck!