An Open Letter to Journalism Students Who Want Jobs

February 15, 2016

Dear J-School Students,

We’ve been hearing for a long time that the market is tough for you guys.

Opportunities are few and far between. Salaries are low. Traditional jobs don’t exist like you thought they would.

Times are tough. I get it. And I want to help you.

But you aren’t making it easy.

Over the last few years Global Press Institute and our newer brands Global Press Journal and Global Press News Service have hosted more than a dozen college interns. And we’ve hired about 16 percent of them. As an organization, we are committed to providing high-quality, inspiring employment. I think the team would agree when I say this work is challenging, fun and unique in today’s industry. Our work spans two dozen countries and confronts very real questions about journalism innovation everyday.

So when we posted an entry-level newsroom coordinator position last month, we were all excited to bring in a young, talented go-getter to help coordinate our ever-growing team of international journalists and to participate in reader engagement, fact-checking and other newsroom tasks. Senior members of the team agreed: This is a job we would have killed for when we were just starting out.

Over the last four weeks we’ve received 41 applications via a variety of job posting sites and through our own organic channels.

I’m sad to report that the quality of the applications has been abhorrent.

To be clear, many candidates have good past experience in college newsrooms or other first jobs. Some boast great GPAs and some had interesting clips. But a tiny fraction turned in employable applications.

Cover letters, ostensibly addressed to me, bore the names Kristie Hargraaves and Christy Hernandez.

Hegranes isn’t the easiest name in the book…but seriously? I just had flashbacks to my own J-school classes at NYU when students would automatically fail Professor Blood’s class for misspelling Giuliani. (Note to journalism students: I just re-fact-checked his name even though I’ve written it a thousand times.)

When applying to a news organization that has a reputation for rigid accuracy, I don’t think double checking the founder’s name is too much to ask. Is it?

But it turns out basic nouns brought some candidates trouble too.

One young woman was thrilled to apply to the “Globale Press Institute.” I’m not familiar with that particular spelling of global, but they do update the dictionary with increasing frequency these days.

The reference to “Global PRess Inistiative” became even more baffling to me while writing this blog post, considering that Microsoft Word autocorrected both press and initiative multiple times. This candidate’s commitment to inaccuracy appears to be resolute.

Nailing basic nouns of mild importance, including the name of our organization, turned out to be a tall task. But things got worse when it came to actual sentences and ideas.

“The stories from Africa reveal that country is much more than violence,” wrote one applicant who applied last Friday. While I’m not one to be offended, I’m going to go ahead and take offense on behalf of a continent and geography. (Fun fact: I just looked up the top 10 journalism schools in the U.S. and this recent grad hails from one of them.)

And finally, we have the issue of common sense.

“San Francisco is really expensive so can you let me know how the vacation policy works?” asked one of the first applicants in the pile.

I do love a good non sequitur, but this one doesn’t work for me. Do colleges still have career counselors? Do young applicants understand that making it clear that vacation is your top priority in your cover letter might not be a great move? Also, call me old fashioned, but the logic leap here seems problematic for one looking to build a career in journalism.

Sigh.

On behalf of Kristie Hargraaves and Christy Hernandez, I’d like to say that one of my favorite aspects of a thriving, growing GPI is the opportunity to provide employment for the next generation of journalists and editors all over the world. Our work requires deep commitment to the founding principles of our craft. Accuracy, common sense and attention to detail top that list.

What’s more, this work requires extraordinary commitment.

This morning my whole U.S.-based team was working before 7 a.m. thanks to the Pope’s visit to Chiapas and a political candidate’s arrest in Uganda. Globally, our team battles lack of electricity and Internet, countless safety risks and social obstacles.

To join this team, you need more than a great cover letter. But that wouldn’t be a bad start.

Want to fill this chair?

empty chair and deskThe application deadline for the newsroom coordinator position has been extended to March 1.

Applicants with a deep passion for spelling names correctly and an elementary understanding of world geography are encouraged to apply.