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Prudently, Mom and Dad refused to fund my wish for a journalism degree. They agreed it would doom me to abject poverty for the remainder of my days. However, during my senior year a young lady on whom I had a hopeless crush conscripted me into her paper’s service. She was the editor-in-chief of the college rag.
Following four months of hell-raising and rollicking good times penning unflattering pieces about the administration’s taste for expensive bicycles, hurt feelings on the football team, and college ties to militants in Africa—Blackwater’s infamous founder is an alum—I graduated, ready to go in to the wide world and make my fortune. I felt well-equipped with degrees in both philosophy and religions.
Journalism is far from rocket science. Thanks to gentle instruction from the crush (thanks, Lauren), I was able to obtain the basic tools I needed to be a solid reporter and newswriter in those few months at The Collegian. I still carry those tools and work daily to refine them.
I flew to Alaska for the summer to go fishing. During my leisure time, I secured a freelance spot emphasis on free—at the local rag The Homer Tribune. I obtained the position simply by knocking on the front door of the paper, explaining I was a reporter, displaying one of those oddly elongated reporter notebooks as proof, and indicating I was willing to work for gas money.
One advantage to working for nearly for free at The Homer Tribune was that, once my editors discovered I was not quite a veteran correspondent, they happily invested hours in helping me improve. With their support, it didn’t take long before I was regularly capturing front page, above-the-fold slots.
One perk of being a journalist is that you are a part of a global fraternity. There are few corners of the globe where there does not exist a small English-language newspaper. You can go anywhere. Most will welcome you with open arms. Some will even pay you.
When winter winds drove me from Alaska, I decided to become a political reporter in Washington, D.C. When I arrived, I followed a simple strategy. I searched for opportunities everywhere and doggedly pursued them. I asked for help from everyone.
I began by picking up freelance work at The Washington Times by calling the managing editor five times per day, every day, for two weeks. I funded the D.C. venture with fish money and by picking up a non-journalism related internship at one of the zillions of think tanks in the city.
D.C. is crawling with scribes. I attended every event possible and singled out the journalists by those ubiquitous notebooks, of course. I told them that I, too, was a journalist and that I was looking for work.
After a couple of months of this relentless assault on the D.C. journalism world, Cybercast News Service (CNSNews.com) hired me to cover Congress after I met one of their reporters at the Watergate Bar. Per the usual, I dialed or emailed him at least once a day for a month until he secured an interview for me.
By the time I was I hired, I was just 22 and I thought I knew a lot about journalism. I was only biding my time before The Washington Post or The New York Times tapped me to be their editor-in-chief. I was wrong.
Going in, I was worried that CNSNews.com was partisan, possessing views with which I did not agree and that, in some instances, violated the code most journalists attempt to embrace. That was true, but the opportunity to bolster my basic skills in the daily grind far outweighed any stain I received from my affiliation.
My editor took up the hobby of screaming at me. Honestly, I don’t know he filled his leisure time before I came around.
Thanks to his gentle instruction, I learned to write news copy at a breathtaking pace (thanks, Terry.) Thanks to other screamers, I can now more than quadruple that speed. The editor also taught me how to challenge anyone from senators to celebrities with questions that made us both shake in our shoe leathers. Most importantly, he taught me how to write nearly clean copy.
I find that pressure generally forces me to rise to my best. I have gratitude toward both my enemies and allies at CNSNews.com who transformed me from a cub to bear reporter.
When I departed a couple years later, I was ready to put aside my role in the partisan game and take up a more serious form of the profession. Like many young reporters, I wanted to pursue a dream of becoming a foreign correspondent.
I chose the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a topic and searched for the best English-language paper in that region The Jerusalem Post. As before, I began calling, emailing, and even snail-mailing the editors to ask them if I could come and work—for free. I also deployed contacts I had made while reporting in the Capitol to advocate for me. Since it cost them nothing, The Jerusalem Post agreed to take me on.
On the funding end, I found internship money from organizations such as the Institute for Humane Studies that seek to promote good journalism. I found there are dozens of such resources, and most of them are within reach.
At The Jerusalem Post, I outhustled a lot of the old-school reporters and pursued every opportunity to become indispensable. The dramatic changes in technology that have taken place in the last 10 years give young journalists a big advantage. Within a few months, they had trained and hired me as a video journalist. I was possibly the first reporter in the paper’s 80-year history who did not fluently speak Hebrew.
A couple years down the road, I now cover the Senate for the The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C. Ask my editor-in-chief. He will tell you he gave me the job, in part, because he grew sick of receiving emails and phone calls from me by the bushel. He quickly realized the only way he could stem the tide was to hire me. Tenacity pays. The adventure continues.
Josiah Ryan (email@example.com) is Director of Communications for the Campus Leadership Program at the Leadership Institute.
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