I have been a strong champion of journalism diversity for nearly 30 years. It’s rough for journalists of color in an industry that is highly competitive and doesn’t have a good record in promoting diversity.
I serve on the board of the Online News Association and chair the group’s Diversity Committee. In 2014, ONA received a grant from the Knight Foundation to bring four students from historically black colleges and universities to our annual convention. The HBCU Digital Media Fellowship provides students with advanced exposure to and practical knowledge of emerging technologies, tools and approaches to reporting and distributing news online. The five fellows were chosen last week from a pool of nearly 50 applicants.
I was one of the judges on the panel that chose the winners. After reviewing all the applications, I saw some consistent errors that I think need to be addressed. Applications are a part of college and life, and the way they are filled out can be the difference between getting a fellowship — or a job — or not. Below are some tips for students and young journalists who may be seeking new opportunities:
- Do a spelling and grammar check on your application. Do NOT rely solely on your computer’s spell check function. Get another pair of actual human eyes to look over your application and resume. There are many word and grammar errors that won’t get caught because computers don’t understand context. I know, because I saw it in too many of the applications. This article outlines my point perfectly.
- Your resume should reflect your skills. I saw a resume that said the person was a multimedia journalist, but those skills were nowhere to be seen on their form or their resume. If you don’t have the skill, don’t put it on the resume — and vice versa.
- Step away from the fluffy prose. Applicants were asked to write a short biography and a statement on why they wanted the fellowship. Besides the spelling and grammar errors I saw, there was also far too much fluffy prose that did nothing to show why they wanted — or deserved — the fellowship.
- Just say NO to Wix or Weebly portfolio websites. One, these platforms do not teach you how to actually build and maintain a website. It’s simple drop-and-drag — and looks like it. Plus it has that annoying banner on the page proclaiming this is a Wix or Weebly site, which may as well say “I’m not a professional, so don’t take me seriously.” For more reasons, check out this great column from Awesomely Techie.
- Buy your domain name. Nothing says “I’m not really serious about my career” more than having a website that looks like MyName.wordpress.com or YourName.wix.com. You need to have FirstnameLastname.com or some variation of it in case your name is already taken; and don’t use crazy URLs. It costs between $10 and $25 a year for a domain name, depending on the service you use. I split my domain names between Yahoo and Go Daddy.
- Pay for web hosting for your new website. Again, this is the cost of doing business to look like the professional that you are. I pay $8.99 a month to GoDaddy.com to manage four of my domains. But the cost depends on the hosting company you choose.
- If funds are tight, there are alternatives. You’re in school or in that first job, and your cash flow is tight. There are free places including About.me, WordPress.com, Pressfolios and Clippings.me, to put your portfolio. But invest the money if you can; this is your career we’re talking about and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- Have a welcoming home page. Keep it neat, clean and quiet, but one that lets visitors know it’s you. One website I saw had two words — and nothing else — on the front page. Another had a GINORMOUS head shot of the website owner that was just scary. Yet another thought having rap music blaring in the background was a great idea. (It wasn’t.)
- Get a professional headshot. There were too many applicants that had photos that looked like they were shot with an iPhone by their bestie. And some folks felt like casual or club wear was appropriate for their photos. If you’re in a journalism school, there has to be someone on campus who can take a professional photo of you for your website. You can also get great deals on Living Social or Groupon. And make sure you dress for the job you want in that photo. See my photo, below. For DC/Baltimore area people, I highly recommend my photographer, Kelvin Bulluck.
- Facebook is NOT a place to host your clips and resumes. Unless you use Facebook only for professional reasons (and NONE of the students who applied for the fellowship did), this is not the place to show off your work. Use your portfolio website as the home of all of your professional things.
- Get a professional email address. The ideal email would be FirstnameLastname@gmail.com. Don’t use nicknames, inside jokes or anything that makes you look foolish.
- Check your links and file access. I booted several applicants for these reasons. Broken links tell me that you don’t have the attention to detail that is needed to be a journalist. Work samples that require a password to open the document, especially if you decline to share it, says you really aren’t interested in a fellowship or a job.
- Keep your blog/website updated. There were applicants who used their blogs or websites as part of their work samples, but some hadn’t been updated in quite a long time. That’s a red flag for someone trying to get into an industry that values the latest news.
- Don’t make someone download your resume or fill out a contact form. Employers and application readers are busy people. We don’t have the time or inclination to fill out a form or download your resume, so don’t make us. Have your resume on your website and have your email address posted or accessible via a direct link.
Benét J. Wilson is the founder and owner of Aviation Queen LLC, a freelance writing, multimedia and consulting firm. She is a freelance aviation/travel journalist and blogger who has written for publications and blogs including USA Today, AirwaysNews.com, CrankyFlier.com, ACI-NA Centerlines magazine, Aviation International News, Airport World, the Airline Passenger Experience magazine and the Runway Girl Network. She currently serves on the board of the Online News Association, where she chairs the Diversity Committee. She is also vice president-digital of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is the editor-in-chief of AllDigitocracy.org.