The Three Best Places to Start Your Journalism Career

Stack of Newspapers
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When I was in grad school I had a part-time gopher job at the New York Daily News. But my dream was to be a reporter in a big-city newsroom, so one day I put together my best clips and walked into the office of one of the paper's top editors.

I'd toiled at several student papers and had an internship under my belt. I'd also worked part-time at a local daily paper when I was an undergrad in journalism school.

So I asked her if I had what it took to get a reporting job there. No, she said. Not yet.

"This is the big-time," she told me. "You can't afford to make mistakes here. Go and make your mistakes at a smaller paper, then come back when you're ready."

She was right.

Four years later I did return to the Daily News, where I worked as a reporter, Long Island bureau chief and eventually deputy national news editor. But I did so after getting solid newsroom experience at The Associated Press, experience that prepared me for the big leagues.

Too many journalism school grads today want to start their careers at places like The New York Times, Politico and CNN. It's fine to aspire to work at such lofty news organizations, but at places like that, there won't be much on-the-job-training. You'll be expected to hit the ground running.

That's fine if you're a prodigy, the Mozart of journalism, but most college grads need a training ground where they can be mentored, where they can learn - and make mistakes - before they hit the big time.

So here's my list of the best places to start your career in the news business.

Weekly Community Papers

Probably not a sexy choice, but short-staffed weeklies offer new hires the opportunity to do a little bit of everything - write and edit stories, take pictures, do layout, and so on. This gives young journalists the kind of broad newsroom experience that can be valuable later on.​

Small to Midsized Local Papers

Local papers are great incubators for young reporters. They offer you the chance to cover all the things you'll cover at bigger papers - cops, courts, local politics and the like - but in an environment where you can hone your skills. Also, good local papers will have mentors, older reporters, and editors who can help you learn the tricks of the trade.

There are plenty of very good local papers out there. One example: The Anniston Star. A small-town paper in southwest Alabama may not sound like the most exciting place to start out, but The Star has long been known for solid journalism and a crusading spirit.

Indeed, during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, The Star was one of few southern papers to support school integration. The state's racist governor, George Wallace, nicknamed it "The Red Star" for its liberal stance.

The Associated Press

The AP is the boot camp of journalism. People in the AP will tell you that two years at the wire service is like four or five years anywhere else, and it's true. You'll work harder and write more stories at the AP than in any other job.

That's because while the AP is the world's largest news organization, individual AP bureaus tend to be small.

For instance, when I worked at the Boston AP bureau we had maybe a dozen or so staffers in the newsroom on a typical weekday shift. On the other hand, The Boston Globe, the city's largest newspaper, has dozens if not hundreds of reporters and editors.

Since AP bureaus are so small, AP staffers have to produce a lot of copy. While a newspaper reporter might write a story or two a day, an AP staffer might write four or five articles - or more. The result is that AP staffers are known for being able to produce clean copy on very tight deadlines.

In an age when the 24/7 news cycle of the Internet has forced reporters everywhere to write fast, the kind of experience you get at the AP is highly prized. In fact, my four years at the AP got me the job at the New York Daily News.