Tips on careers in journalism from NPR correspondent David Folkenflik

David Folkenflik

David has been NPR’s media correspondent since 2004, and before that spent over a decade at the Baltimore Sun. He has won numerous awards for journalism, and is the author of Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

I had the chance to meet him at the 4th annual Nexus Global Youth Summit, where we chatted about careers in journalism for people who want to make a difference. Here’s the notes I made on the key takeaways, which I ran past David before publishing for edits (and are entirely his own views).

  • If you want to get a job in journalism, apply to any news organization that interests you, including all the major media organisations. Set some priorities – pay, location, size of organization, type of work, etc and select among them based on your top several priorities once you’ve got offers. “I applied to over 70 organisations. I got two offers, only one of which paid more than $10,000, so I went with that!”
  • Previously the route into the industry was to get a job at a local news station or paper. But the local news industry has shrunk significantly in recent years, so it’s a lot harder to advance from these positions today.
  • Build a personal library of content on Tumblr or some platform where it’s relatively easy to build a site. “There needs to be something out there you can link to.”
  • If you’re still in college, what should you do next? Start writing and reporting on the side to test yourself out, and to start building your portfolio.
  • How competitive is journalism? “You need to really want it; that’s the major filter.” It’s not a career you should drift into, but if you’re motivated, you’ve got a decent chance.
  • Although the industry is changing rapidly, it’s not high risk if you’re young and don’t have a mortgage or other family obligations. And if you do, it can still be rewarding.
  • Journalism is a good path if you want to effect social change, but that change may be defined quite differently than it would be at a philanthropy or advocacy organization. Providing good information and analysis is a public good in itself. You’ve also got a public platform to promote neglected concerns. And there’s been a renaissance of new news outlets that openly embrace advocacy and point of view journalism.