The first cut is the deepest: A perspective on starting a journalism career


By Grant B. Gannon | Associate Editor, Golfdom

The end of November marked my first anniversary as a full-time journalist. I have been told by veteran reporters that I will not learn more than I did during that first year. To summarize all that I gained during this year into one blog post would be impossible. So I’ll stick to some of the highlights.

Finding a job

My journey as a professional journalist didn’t start with my employment at North Coast Media but when I sent my first applications and cover letters for jobs back in the spring of 2013.

Journalism jobs are not easy to get, and I had to start with jobs that I didn’t see myself doing forever but were great experience, including working as the stats guy for a newspaper sports department and taking temp jobs. Nothing will make you appreciate your degree more than when you can leave behind temp agency work for the comfort of a full-time career with your own desk.

It was more than 18 months after I graduated before I started my current position. That time forced me to learn the value of patience.

You have to really love the work to stay in journalism, and one of the biggest tests was finding my current job.

Fieldwork and travel

I have been very lucky this year to travel eight times to cover events and meet our readers. Those opportunities to get away from my desk have been the best learning experiences as a journalist — and where I’ve learned the most about the industry.

The biggest thing I have taken away from the events is that you need to have a camera or phone ready at all times. You don’t know when the perfect person or situation will come along for a linchpin interview or great photo.

When it comes to traveling, if you are going to fly more than four times a year (for personal or business) you should invest in TSA Precheck. It costs $85 dollars and lasts for five years – but the amount of time and stress it saves cannot be assigned a value. TSA Precheck members don’t have to take off shoes, belts or light jackets or remove laptops from bags to pass through security.

I am the type of person who gets anxious while waiting in the security line, and TSA Precheck solves that issue for me. I recently traveled to Orlando, Florida, and before my return flight I passed through security in less than five minutes. That’s what I call fast.

What they didn’t tell you in school…

Free stuff is a gray area. During journalism school you probably had an ethics class that taught you it wasn’t OK to accept meals and gifts. I remember applying that lesson while still in school when I received two T-shirts, which retailed for less than $50, while covering an event. I was applauded by one of my teachers in class for returning the shirts.

Fast forward to an event I attended this year where journalists were provided meals, drinks and a “swag” bag that included, conservatively, $100 worth of merchandise and electronics. I did not register soon enough to receive that bag, but other media members readily accepted. In the professional world, turning a blind eye to free stuff is the norm. Whether you agree with that or not, there is no journalism jail for taking free swag bags; you have to make that call for yourself and it may not be so black-and-white as it was in ethics class.

AP Style changes. If you follow AP Style religiously you know major changes have been made recently. That doesn’t mean you will be following them in a new job.

Individual publications have rules that you will have to memorize. For example, Golfdom has not adjusted to the new rule that all U.S. states should be spelled out.

Mistakes happen. Finally, first-year journalists are going to make mistakes, maybe even a big mistake. This fact has been hard for me to come to terms with.

Throughout school you may have been able to avoid running a dreaded correction, but it will probably happen in your first year as a professional journalist.

The best advice I can give is to move on and learn from the mistake. It’s not the mistakes that will define your success, it’s how you handle and rebound from the mistakes.
Although I may not learn as much in my second year as I did in my first, I will be constantly evolving as I continue my career. The skill I want to improve on the most is time management, so I’m better able to juggle everything that comes with this crazy career that is journalism. That, I suppose, is a blog for next year.