College Clips + Summer Internships = Media Jobs

Remarks by Jay Hartwell, Student Media Adviser, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
2003 Hawaiʻi High School Journalism Awards Luncheon
May 9, 2003 Pagoda Hotel

I never intended to be a journalist. I just wanted to have fun.

I started out as a cartoonist for my elementary school paper. When I got to the newspaper at Kailua High 33 years ago, I discovered that staff reporters could get out of class and go around campus reporting about events that most students didn’t know about. On weekends, we went backstage at concerts and took pictures of Carlos Santana and Elton John and the Rolling Stones.

In college, they gave me equipment, a budget, the keys to the student newspaper office, and told me to hire a staff and create a newspaper. There was no advisor and every other week we had the opportunity to do whatever we wanted to make a 12-page tabloid newspaper for 2,000 students. I loved it so much that it took me a year to make up all my incompletes.

That college experience helped me get an internship at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, where senior writers taught me how to do stakeout reporting in Chinatown and eventually do a series on art fraud in Waikiki. Those stories helped me get into Columbia University and New York City, where I was exposed for two years to the very best and very worst of Western civilization and American media.

That master’s degree in journalism would help me get a job at The Honolulu Advertiser, which paid me to travel all around Oʻahu interviewing people and experiencing events and places that most residents never see. And my stories helped expose fraud in the visitor industry, our growing homeless problem, and racism in our lives.And that experience helped me get a two-year fellowship that allowed me to travel throughout the South Pacific and Hawaiʻi; learning what had happened to native cultures and then write an award-winning book and create a museum exhibit about the modern Hawaiian experience.

That helped me get a job at the Honolulu City Council, where I learned how to handle reporters, and then I got to manage the media for a mayoral campaign.

And all of that helped me become faculty advisor to the University of Hawaiʻi student newspaper and radio station, where journalism still doesn’t seem like work, because I get to learn something different every day, and every day I get to work with students who are creating a fresh story or a photograph or a design; students who aren’t afraid to think or question, because that is what journalists do. And every day these student journalists help make UH a better place. And if someday I should outgrow this job, my media skills will help me get another job editing a newspaper, writing a book, doing public relations or teaching journalism.

So when my wife asked me this morning why I would recommend journalism to high school students, I told her it was because of all the incredible learning and creative experiences I have had and will continue to have and because you can have these experiences too.

I am grateful for the way things have turned out, but I will be honest with you. I was lucky that I was in the right places at the right times, because I had no plans for my future. I just drifted along to the next best thing. I really wish that when I was in high school someone would have told me THE BIG SECRET that virtually guarantees getting a job as a journalist. I really wish I had had an advisor who had made me sit down and then told me what I am going to tell you in a few minutes.

What I Have Done You Can Do Too

Because everything I have done you can do too, and I will tell you why. Last month I was in Portland attending the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention. I met some extraordinarily bright and talented students. But you know who took a Best of Show in the broadcasting division: the students from Waianae High School for their outstanding video work at Searider Productions. The students from Sacred Hearts got an excellent in the convention’s writing competition.

I read every Hawaiʻi high school newspaper that entered into this competition that we are celebrating today, and much of your writing and design and photography are better than what is produced by the student newspaper at the University of Hawaiʻi. Occasionally it is better than what is produced by professionals. That may surprise those in the room who are from the Department of Education, but it doesn’t surprise me. National studies prove that students who work on high school newspapers do better on the Advanced Placement English tests for college than AP students who have not worked on their high school papers.

Each of you has the potential to become a college editor, a summer intern, a reporter, a book writer, and a newspaper advisor. BUT, and this is a big BUT, it just doesn’t happen.

You Need 10 Great Clips to Get an Internship

The only sure way to get a job in journalism after college is to get a summer internship while you are in college. The only way to get a chance at a summer internship is to write ten, great (and I mean great) stories for your college newspaper [or website].

The only way to get stories in your college newspaper is to walk through the door of the newspaper office and ask for a job as a reporter. And if they don’t call you back, you call them. Then you ask for assignments. And if they don’t give you one, you have to go out and get one, and another, and another, and another, until you have written enough stories so that you can pick out your ten best ones with lead paragraphs that are so sharp and bright that they stop the editor who is looking for summer interns.

Because that is the big secret of getting a job in journalism: The secret is CLIPS.

Now, as I said, it can’t be just any clip. You have to have 10 great clips. It can take up to three years to develop those clips. I have had senior journalism majors come to the newspaper in their last semester at the University and say they need clips to get a job. I tell them it may be too late. You have to start in your freshman or sophomore year.

How will you know when you have finally written 10 great stories? You have to ask your college newspaper’s advisor. Most college newspaper advisors are former journalists who were hired by the university to help develop new talent. They want to work with you, to help you get better. But they won’t help unless you ask for help. And your skills won’t develop unless you get that help.

Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.

If you can, try to cross train yourself when you are on the college paper. Learn about layout. Learn about editing. Learn about digital cameras and Photoshop, Dreamweaver and web design, InDesign and Quark. Right now, newspapers are looking for people who can design and edit. If you can do both, you can go out and get a job. And while you are in college experiment, experiment, experiment. Grab a digital move camera. Shoot a food fight at the cafeteria. Edit the piece on a laptop, put music in the background and upload the video file on the newspaper’s website. And if you have a good advisor, he or she will open the doors to help make your dreams happen.

Also don’t hesitate to try something different, make mistakes and learn from them because your mistakes may end up becoming an important development for the media business. Think about this: if you had to attract more teenage readers to The Honolulu Advertiser or the Honolulu Star-Bulletin or The Maui News, what would you do? And while you are figuring that out, make sure you learn about working with people you may not like.

Because the more know you know, the more likely you will get hired after your internship. And if you end up at a college where the newspaper’s stories and designs are censored or edited by the administration or the advisor, then transfer.

Don’t Study Journalism, Practice It

Some of you may think: Hey I can be journalism major and learn these skills. That’s true, but you will only learn to apply those skills by working for the college newspaper, college radio station, or college TV studio. In college, you get four or five years to study whatever you want. You may never get that opportunity again. Do you want to study how to write a story or do you want to learn about the world that you are going to write about?

Three years ago I was at the national convention for college journalists in Atlanta, and Tom Johnson, then head of Cable News Network, CNN, gave the keynote speech. Before that Tom Johnson had been publisher of the Los Angeles Times, one of the world’s greatest newspapers. And you know what Tom Johnson told 2,000 college journalists, many of whom were journalism majors: DON’T STUDY JOURNALISM. Johnson urged the students to study what they were passionate about.

If you are passionate about clothes, study fashion. If you are passionate about diplomacy, study international relations. If you love maps, take geography. If you are passionate about cars, get into auto mechanics and design. This same journalist said if you can, go to graduate school and learn even more about your passion. Study a second language and make sure that you take every opportunity you can to travel. Because you can learn the basics of journalism by doing it for your college newspaper or on the job.

When I first started working on the elementary school newspaper, I used a typewriter that didn’t come with a plug. We mimeographed the paper and distributed it by hand. Now people use email and [cell] phones to send stories composed on a laptop.

Journalism Always Will Need Journalists

Technology has changed in the past 30 years and it will change even more, but the profession is always going to need people who can go out and get information and come back and file a story on deadline that engages and informs readers. They will always need copy editors to make those stories better. They always will need designers to package those stories so people will want to read or see or hear them. And the better you are, the more likely you will survive the budget cuts and consolidations and buyouts and economic downtowns that will inevitably take place.

To stay at the top, to make sure your clips are the best, you should strive to be the best because nobody else is going to push you. And by the best, I also mean ethical, factual. Don’t succumb to the temptations to plagiarize or publicize.

When in college, get your advisor to evaluate your work. Make sure that your editor or advisor enters your work in competitions. When you get your first internship, seek help from the newspaper’s writing coach or ask your editors to evaluate your work. When you feel you have outgrown your newspaper, move onto a better paper. Apply for mid-career internships and fellowships at Stanford, Harvard, Columbia. Read the very best newspapers and magazines and watch the very best documentaries so you are constantly learning how to improve your craft.

Because one thing is certain in journalism: it never remains the same. The Honolulu Advertiser and Star Bulletin are not the same newspapers today that they were when I worked there in the 1980s and late 1970s. And they are much different from what I read as a high school student in the mid-1970s.

Before we go, I have two favors to ask. First, if there are any advisors at your table, I would like the students to take this moment and say thank you, even if the advisor is not your advisor. Because if it wasn’t for these people, you wouldn’t be here today, your school wouldn’t have a newspaper, and the future of our profession and the future of our democracy would be in doubt.

The second thing I’d like to ask is that you never forget your experience working on your student newspaper, because there may come a time when you will be asked to support high school journalism; when you will be asked to support the First Amendment right to an independent press in the face of a government or administrators who wish to curtail our freedom; when you will be asked to support real student learning and growth that only comes from practicing uncensored journalism in high school and college.

At this moment, I’d like to acknowledge the editors of the Kapaʻa High Tradewind, who had to deal with censorship at their newspaper this year. Thank you for your efforts.

If you remember the freedom you had in high school and college. If you remember what you learned and how you learned it, then you may be able to help others have the same experience.

Good luck and best wishes.