Published articles are vital to getting a reporting position. It shows much more to those hiring that you're ambitious about being published, rather than having a resume with a college term paper that never was published attached to it. And I can tell you it's a lot more exciting to see your byline in a publication than the grade that you'll receive for the term paper.
Write for your school newspaper.
Anyone who intends to pursue a career in written communications, whether it be a newspaper, online site or PR, should be writing for their college newspaper. It's odd to me when I receive resumes from intern applicants who don't have their college newspaper listed as work experience. The college newspaper is a great avenue to get bylines while having a great time and meeting lots of people in the process. (For those creative types who are introverts, it also helps overcome your apprehensiveness about approaching and talking to people before working for a publication outside college.)
Attend journalism conferences.
Another strategy that I recommend is finding and applying to conferences, institutes or fellowships that have publications and/or Web sites attached to them. These provide great avenues for you to get a "byline rush" or multiple bylines in a short period of time. They also give you bylines that you can use to apply to other publications and get even more bylines. Many of these also have professional mentors who can give you recommendations and links for the future.
Get your foot in the door now.
Any link that you can muster with a publication, either through an internship, stringing or part-time work, will help you be remembered and eventually considered for a position when one becomes open. Many reporting positions are filled by those who have shown their ability and attitude through these capacities.
Do an internship.
You should come to your summer internship with ideas and enthusiasm. Editors like interns who are willing to work hard to pursue ideas and get them into the newspaper or posted on the online site. You also should remember that you may have to work your ideas between general assignment stories and projects that are the editor's ideas. Work with the editor to establish priorities on the time needed for your assignments, but treat each as important and be as prolific as possible. Remember also that if you place importance on an editor's idea then he or she might place more importance on the ones that you're pitching, so be the first to volunteer for an assignment. Volunteering during a weekend also increases the chances that you'll get a byline and better play, especially if it's a breaking news event.
I think it is important that you find an internship that will allow you to get as much as coaching and mentoring as possible. This will allow you to improve the quality of your stories during the internship and afterward.
Find publications that will allow to write consistently and have a chance to get many bylines. I tell The Oklahoman's interns every year that one of my goals for them is to have as many Page 1 or cover stories as possible, and that they should compete with staff members for them. I'm excited when I see past interns listing the number of stories that they were able to get on Page 1. It shows that they set high goals for themselves and sought to achieve them.
Develop a broad skill set.
Don't just write in one certain area. Write news, features, business and sports. Write profiles, narratives, Q&As, blogs and columns. Write stories using databases. Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone and find stories that are unusual. Having a broad background of story forms will make you more marketable for a variety of reporting positions, thus increasing your chances of being hired.
In today's multimedia world, your chances of being published have multiplied tremendously. Strive to put your best skills into whatever you do, whether it's in print or online, because you're only one Google search away from being discovered or discounted for your work.
Assemble a strong portfolio.
I would advise that young journalists should ask an editor or journalism faculty member to review their clips to determine which ones are best or most pertinent for a reporting position. Toss the ones that have mistakes in them. I tend to look for applicants who display a variety of writing styles in their clips. That's why you should seek ways to write as many different stories as possible so you can be able to pick the best ones that will impress immediately.
Find a mentor.
Find an editor who will coach and work with you to improve your copy. I'm amazed that some young journalists think that their stories shouldn't be edited. The best writers are those who always are learning, are open to ideas and are seeking the best possible editing for their stories. Of course, every writer gets a bad edit now and then, but most stories can be improved tremendously by good editing -- the type of editing that adds that extra shine to your byline.
Joe Hight is managing editor of The Oklahoman, a 220,000 circulation daily newspaper in Oklahoma City. He is also president of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma's Executive Committee. In 1995, he led the team of reporters and editors who covered victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. The Oklahoman's coverage won several national awards, including The Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence.