This is not an exit

Just do it (and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way)

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

What do you want to be better at? Do you have a vision for how you want your career to look one year from today? What about five years? We’ve all got dreams and aspirations. It’s what makes us human. I’d love nothing more than to graduate from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications, work for a mid-sized metropolitan daily newspaper for 8 or 9 years before settling into a career in games reporting. Sorry I’m so vague on details but I’m still young, ya know.

A couple of weeks ago I preached the importance of getting involved in student publications and although I feel I hit good points for aspiring journalists, there’s a piece of advice I intentionally left out because it’s  so universal.  I’m having a hard time summarizing the point of this post without sounding like a Nike ad from the ’90s. Perhaps I won’t even try.

If you want to succeed in any field there are two tips to keep in mind. The first is pretty simple: Just do it. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s be a better writer, learn to play an instrument or figure out how to take a decent photograph, the key to seeing results is to get off your ass and start working toward your goal. I know, I’ve heard this before, too. But it wasn’t until last term that I really took this advice to heart and I’m better off now because of it.

Following this mantra came naturally once I set a list of goals and drafted benchmarks I’d have to reach to meet those goals. I began keeping a log of sorts to record my progress. At the top of the list were two objectives: “Become a games journalist” and “Write for The Oregonian,” the latter publication serving as the ideal organization for which I would work — circulation of between 300,000 and 400,000 in a mid-sized metropolitan area.

I then began listing things I would need to do in order to achieve both of these goals. The first requirement was pretty obvious: “Graduate from the University of Oregon.” And I was already actively working toward that goal, so I rewarded myself with a cookie. You may laugh, but I’m totally serious. How can you sustain any sort of progress if you don’t treat yo’ self every once in awhile? Check out J-School PR instructor Kelli Matthews‘ excellent tips for dead week (or any other stressful week, for that matter) to get an idea of just how important self-rewards are.

Where was I? Oh, right: Outline your plan of attack. So I was already working toward graduating from the SOJC. But what else do potential employers in both straight news and video games reporting seek? Experience. Of course, there are a handful of publications at the university I could join, but how was I supposed to find somewhere I could write about games? It turns out that was easier than I thought it would be.

I started by reading the “about” pages for a ton of gaming sites I frequent. Working for a place like Kotaku or Joystiq would take more experience and certification than I had, so they were out. This left some of the smaller blogs I occasionally perused, one of those being DualShockers. What really hooked me was the job description and its requirements:

  • Knowledge of games and the gaming industry. Check.
  • Self-motivated and a self-starter. Check (and the whole point of this post)
  • Emphasis on English grammar. Super check!
  • Journalism experience a plus. Hello, extra credit!

I applied immediately, emailing the jobs link a detailed description of what I wanted to do and a few writing samples. “What have I got to lose?” I thought. After a few emails and a botched attempt at an interview — damn Skype … — I was offered a stint as a staff writer for the site, which I’m currently enjoying.

Next I had to find a student publication to join. I wrote for The Oregon Daily Emerald during the summer, but things hadn’t exactly worked out there. At the outset of fall term, I decided to dabble in feature and magazine writing. Since I had already written news for The Torch at Lane Community College for two years, I figured I could use some experience doing different kinds of stories. Besides, college is supposed to be a time when you can experiment, right?

This is where Lesson No. 2 comes in.

I asked one of my professors for advice. Bill Ryan teaches Media Professions at the university, a course required as a prerequisite for anyone seeking admittance to the J-School. He had mentioned he was a co-founder of Flux during a class so I visited him during his office hours to learn a bit about it. I brought a portfolio of my past work to show Dr. Ryan and by the end of a five-minute conversation he had convinced me to apply for winter term.

I filled out an application that day and heard back from the magazine’s managing editor within the week. As soon as I was told I had an interview with Flux I told Dr. Ryan. Without my asking, he offered to send the Flux editors a letter (in this case an email) of recommendation on my behalf. The interview went pretty well, but I’m sure the kind words from Dr. Ryan and my two other references helped immensely.

The following week I heard Flux wanted me as copy chief.

You’ve probably heard the old saying that “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step,” right? Well, for me that meant getting in gear and doing what I could to accomplish my long-term goals. Keeping a list of my available resources helped, too. To be honest, I was nervous about asking for references for a longt time. But remember, especially in the case of your professors, they ask that you come by and use them as resources. As long as you give them a heads up before listing them on your resume, everything should be fine. Dragging yourself out of bed at 6 a.m. may not be the most fun, but think of the alternatives. In my case it was counting petty cash in the managers’ office at Old Navy and cashiering for 7-8 hours a day. Trust me: You don’t want to be a lifer.

So, to sum up: Do what you can whenever possible to make progress toward your goals, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice and remember:

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