How to get back in the game

Question: I graduated from j-school approximately five years ago and slogged it out as a reporter for over three years before I decided to take a break. My main concern was financial (I found myself obsessing about my student debt, which I let affect my work because of concerns in that area). I also began to feel dissatisfied with my work (not just the assignments I was given, but the quality of work I was putting out, which I was not happy with). I kept a toe in the game however by freelancing here and there (not to make ends meet but to have work in my portfolio).

It has been two years and I find myself missing the excitement, the rush and the challenge of journalism. My finances are much improved, and I know I am ready to start back in a career I know is my passion. I’d like to do an internship but first however, perhaps find a mentor in a newsroom to help me build up any missing confidence. I have done some digging and have found that most internships are for recent graduates. Should I look into going back to school then (I have a two-year print journalism diploma), or perhaps begin contacting publications with my portfolio directly? What are some good tips for getting started again?

Answer by Wendy McCann of The Canadian Press:

Securing an internship really is the way to go. You will gain valuable hands-on work experience and be mentored by some of the best in the business. On top of this, organizations look very seriously at the pool of interns when making full-time hires. However, it’s true that organizations generally offer these coveted positions to recent grads. At The Canadian Press, we sometimes make exceptions because, sadly, some very bright j-school grads still haven’t been able to secure full-time jobs and are still seeking internships even two years after they finish school. You have kept your portfolio fresh by freelancing while you paid down your debt. And that will be helpful. Media organizations would find a portfolio with content no more recent than three years stale. However, you will be competing with journalists coming out of journalism programs targeted to the new multi-media environment. I worry that your print-only background will hold you back. The Canadian Press, for example, requires interns to have at least a scholastic background in print, broadcast and online. Even better is when they have work experience in each of those fields. My recommendation is that you return to school, even for a one-year course, to round out your resume in the interests of standing out among your competition and securing an internship. The combination of your previous experience and an education in multi-media journalism will give you a competitive portfolio and a serious shot at getting your foot in the door. A final tip: start looking for your internship early. The major organizations in Canada, including The Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and CBC, make the hiring decisions for summer internships in December.

Wendy McCann is a graduate of Ryerson’s journalism program. She is now the Ontario Bureau Chief for The Canadian Press, where her responsibilities include hiring and training interns.