Do you want to be a journalist? (part II)

Everyone has a dream – something they want to do that they’re excited about and afraid of at the same time. Becoming a journalist used to be one of my dreams, and now it’s come true. Looking back there were some important things that happened to make this dream come true…

The challenge came a few years ago at one of our favorite strolling spots in Gorky Park near the Moscow River.

We were talking about our future and some of our dreams and economist husband (who was then still economist boyfriend) said,

“You’ve mentioned this journalism thing a few times before. It sounds like you really want to do this. So why don’t you? Why don’t you become a journalist?”

And he was right! Why didn’t I just do something about it? 

SO, this is what happened next:

1) We talked about it and prayed about it. Through lots of discussion and dragging my feet I realized that a lot of what was holding me back was plain old fear of failure. Economist husband was really supportive and helped me realize that being afraid of messing up was the worst reason to avoid something. After all, if you don’t try, you’re guaranteed to fail! I think an important first step was simply deciding to just try it and not letting fear hold me back.

2) I started talking to other people about it. I had a few friends that had worked as journalists and even though I was really shy about it, I made myself ask them a bunch of questions (some of the questions were pretty naive!) about how they got journalism jobs, what newspapers they read, and if they had any advice for me. They were really nice about it, and even though advice doesn’t translate into a job, just talking about it with someone else made the goal and the desire to do something that much more real.

3) Within a few months I met someone who was interning at The Moscow Times. I’d been reading that newspaper for years, and getting an internship there seemed like a really good first step for me. I really wanted to learn and my teaching job was flexible enough to give me some time off for writing. I got the contact information of the intern and asked her to meet me for coffee and tell me all about interning at that newspaper. I didn’t realize I was doing an informational interview, but I was, and informational interviews are GREAT ways to make contacts and work your way into your profession of choice. Don’t be shy – most people are happy to do informational interviews. Just ask them, and pay for their coffee afterwards!

4) Through the informational interview I got the contact info of The Moscow Times editor, and asked if I could intern there. I was willing to work for free, in exchange for the chance to learn and get published, and this shoestring-budget newspaper in Moscow was willing to take on someone with no experience who was willing to learn. The editor there gave me a few assignments, but not much guidance. I tried writing a few articles and they were published!

5) After I’d published a few articles, my friend at the BBC sent me (and a bunch of other people) an email saying that an international news agency in Moscow was looking for freelancers to do TV journalism work. I sent them my resume and links to some of the articles I’d published, and within a few days they gave me a job! Thanks to the recommendations from The Moscow Times and the BBC, and the few articles I’d published, the news agency was ready to hire me. 

6) I was embarrassingly inexperienced when I started freelancing, but there were three things that really helped me improve:

  • Working at a news agency gave me the opportunity to take stories into my own hands. I got to write, edit pictures, do interviews, suggest story ideas, and learn how to film. I wouldn’t have been given as much responsibility or opportunity had I worked with a broadcaster, I think.
  • My boss was a really great person who not only gave me a chance, and gave me a lot of responsibility, but she also really advocated for me and pushed me to do better
  • Going into television as opposed to print gave me the aspect of working on a team with a lot of people who were more experienced than I was, and were kind enough to teach me what they knew. The cameramen taught me how to do interviews, the engineers taught me how to build sequences in film, and other producers taught me about writing style and story elements.

Throughout this entire process I was shy, and felt dumb a lot of the time and was afraid of messing up. I made a lot of mistakes, and didn’t do nearly as much as I should have and could have. In the end though, (with a lot of encouragement from economist husband!) I just kept at it and finally got to where I wanted to be!

What about you? What are your dreams? What do you think is the best way to pursue them? Is there a time where you had to get over the fear of failure to make something happen?

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2 Responses to Do you want to be a journalist? (part II)

  1. Wow, I’m really impressed by this, because you went for it while living in a foreign country! I think most people would get hung up on wanting to have a journalism degree, or waiting to move back to their native country where it would be easier to learn the ropes.

    I have done this “sink or swim” job training before… it’s SOOO tough in the beginning but it really pays off!

  2. Amy, interestingly enough, I think it was easier for me in some ways to get the job here. With native English, and being able to speak Russian I stood out from the crowd enough to have them give me a chance. I think it IS a lot harder here though, with having to deal with constant bureaucracy in organizing TV shoots, and bizarre politics, and reading/listening/interviewing in a second language. I’ve always thought though – if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere!
    What was your ‘sink or swim’ job training????

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