Great expectations: Getting a media job downtown

Joshua Berggren, MSUM Documentary/Photojournalism Major

FARGO, N.D. — Perhaps this comes a bit premeditated, but I have a lot of reasons to look forward to spring: warm weather, more daylight, camping and photography, my birthday and a potential trip backpacking through Europe. But also, for me and many other mass communication majors, spring marks our college graduation – perhaps the most influential time of our lives.

As that day steadily bears down upon us, our stress about beginning a “real-world” career builds just as much as our positive feelings of long anticipation and anxious excitement. Between classes, down hallways, over meals: Questions arise with increasing frequency. What will I do? Where will I go? Has college prepared me? What is expected of me?

So I set out to learn what journalism jobs are “out there” in downtown Fargo, and what it takes to take those jobs off the market.

Establishing a breadth-of-field

Communication is diverse. Each student creates a unique skill set. Many of my peers write with an innate journalistic ease that I’ve been slow to adopt; some speak more eloquently, some create visually attractive layouts, some design advertisements I would never imagine. Our creativity and desires direct us down different paths, so having perspectives from different media platform professionals is essential to understanding what will help, hinder or downright destroy our prospects of being hired.

In this endeavor, I talked with representatives of a newspaper, publishing and advertising organizations, and businesses that consolidate multiple media platforms. Here are the dos, don’ts and the insider advice from time-tested media pros that will help young professional communicators land jobs in Fargo-Moorhead.

 

Dave Hanson, H2M president.

David Hanson, a Fargo native, is the president of H2M, a full-service advertising agency located at 320 Fifth St. N.

First things first: You need to know what you’re going for when you approach an agency for a job, Hanson says. Advertising agencies often have several divisions that house different skills sets, so come knowing where you want to fit in.

What’s desired:

“Honestly, the basic thing I look for in people is a really good, deep sense of curiosity, and which I don’t find a lot. If you’re not curious about how things work you won’t be very good in this business. You’ve gotta ask a lot of questions, you really gotta have a deep interest — a passion — to really know how a company works.”

What’s expired:

“I hate it — I literally just throw the letter away when I get a (cover) letter in the mail saying, ‘To whom it may concern.’ (I) don’t even open it. It goes in the trash. Don’t care who it’s from. If you want a job you need to know a little about the business.”

Hanson’s advice:

“Just focus on something to get good at it, to make an impression, then you can broaden out. But you’ve got to start somewhere that people can say, ‘I know what this person does and they do it well.’”

 

Kirsten Stromsodt, deputy editor of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Towering over the corner of 101 Fifth St. N., is the one of the most recognized buildings in all of downtown — the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, a daily newspaper with a circulation of more than 50,000 and commonly referred to as just “The Forum.”

Second-in-command of The Forum newsroom is deputy editor Kirsten Stromsodt, a University of North Dakota graduate who has more than 14 years of experience in the news business, and worked in several positions at the Grand Forks Herald before accepting the position of deputy editor at The Forum in April. She has more than four years of hiring experience in the news business and insightful expectations of people who want to work for a newspaper.

What’s desired:

“I want to see someone who comes out of college who’s had some experience in a newsroom. We’re of course going to hire the people who can hit the ground running and make a contribution right away. We want to see that people want the job – like really want the job! And it’s those details: Showing up on time for appointments, making sure that everything’s spelled right — those things do go a long way. We expect people to go right into the community and represent us. So if we’ve got a reporter who’s got an appointment with Dennis Walaker, the mayor, we want to know and trust that this person will be on time, act professionally and represent us well in the community.”

What’s expired:

“If you’re late for an interview without calling. I’ve had people who’ve called and things have happened and they were half an hour late, that’s fine, but if they just don’t come or don’t give us the courtesy of telling us whether they’re late, those things I don’t like. I have thrown away applications where people have spelled my name wrong. I don’t want to question whether or not they’re spelling things right or they’re giving the right information. I want that to be factual from the get-go, and if you’re not careful on your application, then you’re not really that serious about it.”

Stromsodt’s advice:

“First impressions are really important. I think it’s important to come to an interview looking like you want the job; looking like you put effort into what they’re wearing. I don’t expect suits and ties, but if I see somebody with a nice, crisp, button-up shirt and a tie on, that goes a long way right away.”

Tammy Swift, weekly blogger for the Kilbourne Group.

Tammy Swift, well known for her journalistic work at the Forum, now caters to a slightly different style as the Kilbourne Group‘s prominent weekly blogger. The Kilbourne Group, currently stationed at 102 Broadway, is an architectural and advertising agency that promotes the restoration of historic buildings downtown as well as the construction of new ones that will inspire the future of downtown.

 

What’s desired:

“I think (the Kilbourne Group) is looking for versatility, someone who isn’t super, super specialized and could only do one thing. For instance, I did not have much of a marketing background, but I think what they were looking for was a willingness to learn marketing and to figure things out on my own. They’re looking for creativity, certainly, because that’s helpful in writing or marketing, and to be honest, just whether you can work with a team — how you fit in with groups of all kinds of personalities.”

What’s expired:

“Sometimes the work’s not glamorous. Sometimes you’re setting up tables and sometimes you’re pitch hitting and there really isn’t room for prima donnas and you have to be able to do a little bit of everything and jump in and work as a team.”

Swift’s advice:

“Don’t be discouraged. I feel like there have been a lot of very pessimistic messages to young people who still want to be in communications. Mainly because a lot of the traditional media has changed so much, but there is still a need for trained content-collectors and writers. It’s just the content that has changed, and the good news is you guys have the skill set to adapt to those new formats.”

 

David Kolpack, regional correspondent for the Associated Press.

David Kolpack joined the Associated Press (AP) in 2001. After a year in Bismarck, N.D., Kolpack moved back to Fargo, becoming the regional correspondent for western Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and northeastern South Dakota. He’s maintained the position for the last 10 years: writing, taking photographs and collecting audio bites.

What’s desired:

“Obviously a strong writing background … the faster the better. But accuracy still trumps all. And the ability to put together a sentence. If you can write and shoot (photographs) you’re guaranteed — I think — in this business. And again, experience is important.”

What’s expired:

“You wouldn’t believe some of the resumes that I’ve had people send me over the years,” Kolpack said, reflecting on a lack of professional writing demonstrated by job applicants.

Kolpack’s advice:

“Get experience. Write for any medium you can; blogs are great. Make sure you pile up a good portfolio, but write, write, write, is what I would say. And obviously, with us we’re talking a little bit about photography — shoot, shoot, shoot, as well. For journalists that want to work for the AP, you’ve got to be well-rounded.”

Andrew Jason, editor of Spotlight Media.

In this story, Andrew Jason, editor of downtown Fargo’s Spotlight Media publishing agency, stands apart. He’s still in college. A 23-year-old mass communications/Spanish major, Jason will graduate this month, and wants to work as a travel journalist.

He began at Spotlight Media as an intern, working several different jobs within the agency before assuming his editor role.

 

“We’re still pretty new and figuring (things) out,” Jason says. Spotlight Media is an umbrella agency that publishes four local magazines: “Design & Living,” “Stride,”  “Bison Illustrated” and “Fargo Monthly.” It’s a young agency, Jason says. and is looking to expand its Web presence and possibly expand operations to publishing books and other materials in the future.

“As far as what we look for — we want someone who’s willing to learn, first of all. You’re not going to know everything out of college first of all. No matter how much experience you think you have, there’s always stuff to learn. And then somebody who’s willing to put in the time; with media it’s not an 8-5 p.m. job, which sucks. So for better or worse, somebody who can stay latter and then come in later — people like that.”

Jason says what has helped him in his journalistic career is a large diversity of classes.

“As much as it sucks, you really kind of gotta know everything in today’s market to market yourself. So I think just knowing a wide variety of fields and subjects has helped me the most.”

His advice for fellow students is simple: “Definitely go to class. I’ve never been in any way, shape or form the smartest person, but I always have gone to class and it just amazes me how many people don’t. Just show up to class and pay attention to what your teachers say.”

Let’s recap

Here’s the collective advice of these insightful men and women:

  • Show invested interest in the job you’re applying for;
  • Research each company and customize your applications accordingly;
  • Look professional, both on paper and in person;
  • Be open to new experiences and have a willingness to learn;
  • Acquire as much field experience as possible.

Each of these media businesses offers internships. They’re waiting to hire talented professionals. If you’re interested in their interest, apply their advice and show them you’re the one they’ve been waiting for.

 

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