J-school survival tips (from grads who made it)

First-year can be tough, there’s no doubt. So, as j-schoolers across the country step out for Day One of their studies, here at J-Source we decided to put together a survival guide to help address some of the crises that will surely arise as the year progresses.

Recently retired Ryerson professor Don Gibb taught first-year reporting for the last eight years of his twenty on Ryerson’s journalism faculty. He helps out with his“Ten Tips for Surviving the First-Year of J-School” as well as some anecdotes to go along with his advice.

Plus, J-Source asked a whole slew of recent graduates for the single most
important tip they’d give to students entering first-year. We’ve put together a selection of the best responses from successful, working graduates of Canadian j-schools.

“Work on your weaknesses. If you’re a good writer, pour your energies into reporting—make that extra phone call to get that telling detail. If you’re a strong reporter but weak writer, read On Writing Well or some Hemingway novels and spend the extra half hour with each piece to make sure everything is in its right place.”

–Marco Ursi, Ryerson

After graduating from Ryerson in 2006, where he was editor of  the spring issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Marco worked as an intern at the Times-Colonist in Victoria. He is currently editor of Masthead, the publication for Canada’s magazine industry.

“Write to get published. The more class work you can sell the better your portfolio looks…. and the more money you have. There are thousands of publications in Canada looking for articles that class assignments are a perfect fit for.”

–David Hutton, Carleton

David graduated from Carleton’s Master’s program in May 2008. He just finished a summer internship at The Globe and Mail in Toronto and is now working at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He is the former editor of the J-Source Students’ Lounge.

“To be successful in journalism you’re
going to need talent, ambition and luck. Read all the papers and get a
good RSS reader. Make sure you’re on top of the news every day. Learn
who the department editors are when pitching. Pitch in the morning, not
in the afternoon. Don’t lose hope if the pitch is rejected, it happens
to everyone. Invest in a DSLR camera and video camera, even if you’re
going to print. Start a blog but don’t write about what you had for
supper, write topically. Get clippings under your belt when applying
for internships. When you’re an intern, work long days and never say no
– and more importantly, sit with the editor when they are editing your
copy. Learn all you can about moving news to the web. Make it
impossible for your employer to not hire you. And lastly, remember that
being a journalist is the best job in the world – don’t let one day get
you down.”

–David George-Cosh, Ryerson

David is the National Post’s technology and telecom reporter. He has also worked at The Globe and Mail, The Windsor Star and The Record of
Kitchener-Waterloo. He has a bachelor of applied science in engineering
from the University of Waterloo and a journalism degree from Ryerson

“Number stories and police stories can be the least fun to write, but the key is accuracy. Listen for all the small details in a police brief and you may pick up on something another reporter doesn’t. For number stories don’t hesitate to ask for clarification because there are slight differences between terms like “shortfall” and “deficit” and a calculator can be your best friend.”

–Erin Fitzgerald, Kings

Erin graduated from University of King’s College in 2008 with a journalism degree. She is currently a reporter with the Peterborough Examiner

“There is one simple way to survive J-School: Get out of class. Professors give you the skills, but their assignments are like exhibition games. The stakes are nominal (trust me, it’s not about  grades) and there’s nothing like the real thing. So, write for the school paper, volunteer at the local TV station and fetch coffee as an intern if it gives you a chance to report. Learning is more fun this way.”

–John Mather, Ryerson

After graduating from Ryerson, John worked as a desk editor at The Globe and Mail before returning to campus as editor-in-chief of the The Eyeopener. He is now an editor and reporter at The National, a recently-launched english daily based in  the United Arab Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi.