Is the price of experience worth the cost of free labor? (Looking towards a career in news design)
April 4, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I start designing news...?

As I am about to graduate college, I am struck with what I assume roughly half of soon-to-be graduates... namely, the anxiety-inducing fear that I majored in the wrong thing.

With a degree in Journalism (and minors in Marketing and Philosophy), I've come to realize I love infographic and news design. I've been working towards a career somehow oriented around news design - taking courses that would still allow me to graduate on time, learning relevant software, etc. I'm now searching for a job, but it strikes me that most news design jobs require a portfolio (at least) and years of experience. And this is my question... how do I go about building a professional portfolio with (almost) no certifiable training? I was thinking of offering up myself to smaller, local publications as a freelance news designer - emphasis on the FREE part. If the work is free, even if it sort of sucks in the beginning, papers and magazines will take it and I'll get the practice and portfolio material. Right? RIGHT?

My plan is to work whatever odd jobs (or maybe even a real, salaried job), take graphic design courses at night, and news design in my spare time.

Anyone see any downsides? Or ways I could accomplish what needs to get done but in a better way?
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. to Work & Money (6 answers total)
You may already have thought about this, but one downside is that the print world is predicted to run out of money and mostly die. But so many people are doing so much interesting stuff with info design beyond the terrible, weird news sector.

I'm sure people on Metafilter have some ideas of hip info-presentation stuff that's related, but more on the "infographic" side you mentioned. Maybe working towards getting involved with some Web news design thing like Flipboard?
posted by Victorvacendak at 3:03 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

i am a designer. do not work for free, ever. the client you do free work for will keep coming back and expecting it to be free. people will abuse you, because they now creative people care more about the experience than the paycheck.

find a design agency who specializes in online publishing, explain your sitch to them, and ask for an internship or starting position.
posted by patricking at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Does your college offer a student newspaper? Start volunteering your time there and learn the basics - you'll get a sense of what it's like to work in a newspaper environment as well as build up your portfolio.

Something you should be aware of: there are very few positions in newspapers these days where you will be doing JUST design. Because of the whole print-is-dying thing, a lot of newspapers are combining forces. At the very least, you'll need to have sharp copyediting and headline writing skills. You should also be knowledgeable in HTML and basic web publishing platforms (Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.).

And please remember that the items in your portfolio do not have to be published items - of course, that helps, but you can take initiative yourself and design things. Have you written a story? Lay it out. See an article in (insert magazine here) that you thought you could do better job designing? Do it. Do a bit of research and create your own infographic. Wikipedia is there for the taking!

If you have any questions, you can definitely memail me - I run the design department of a newspaper and can help with any questions.
posted by kerning at 3:48 PM on April 4, 2011

If you're about to graduate, find an internship. Even if the internship is unpaid (and many smaller newspaper internships are), it comes with a definite end and built-in experience and references that can land you a job. It's hard to land a job in journalism period, and it's very very hard to land one without an internship (unless you have really extensive and impressive student media/freelance experience, which doesn't sound like the case here).

It's a little late to look for summer internships — most of those are already taken by kids who started applying last fall (no remany journalism summer internships are filled by winter break, and definitely by spring break). So if that's not an option, just apply for smaller jobs in out-of-the-way cities (where you'll have less competition from more experienced people). You're likely going to need to be willing to move away to get some experience and get paid.

Look at to see if there's anything nearby for recent graduates with skills in the software programs you're familiar with. Also consider looking at marketing jobs, where you might be doing some design and some other stuff. You can also try and land some freelance design jobs, but I agree with the previous poster, you want to get paid. Journalism doesn't pay anyone well, especially not early in the career, and if you undervalue your service, you'll only be taken advantage of.
posted by ilikemethisway at 3:53 PM on April 4, 2011

I know there are many companies that create custom infographics for both private and public publication. Maybe it would be easier to get your foot in the door as a researcher than it would be as somebody on the design side.
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:36 PM on April 4, 2011

" I was thinking of offering up myself to smaller, local publications as a freelance news designer - emphasis on the FREE part. If the work is free, even if it sort of sucks in the beginning, papers and magazines will take it and I'll get the practice and portfolio material. Right? RIGHT?"

No, not really.

The first thing you should do is make sure that you have a good portfolio of work you did in school. You've been keeping your clips there, right?

Second off, it's not too late for a summer internship — it's too late for the Dow Jones internships, but there will likely be a lot of smaller papers and magazines around DC (that's where you are, right?). Trade publications are usually a less-competitive area to search in. Granted, you'll be making infographics for Tool & Die Enthusiast but whatevs. One upside of trade mags is that they tend to not know that you're supposed to pay journos absolute slave wages, and so tend to pay more in line with the trades they cover.

If you still can't find something through that, the next step for building a portfolio isn't to work for someone else — it's to work for yourself. If you know enough design to work for a newspaper doing infographics, you know enough design to set up a website. Do an infographic a day on whatever you want — you'll be doing at least that many if you get a newspaper job, likely far more. That allows you to build up your portfolio (since illustrations don't necessarily need the pedigree of printing like writing does) while avoiding getting into the free rut, which tends to just burn people out.

So take a day job, start a professional portfolio site (maybe do a blog to keep you working each day) and then pass that around.

If you're still looking for a place to put up free work after all that, then contact me (send me an email or memail), there's always the MetaFilter Magazine that a bunch of us have been doing as a lark. That's free work being done because the universe cannot suppress our badassedness, not because we're desperate for work.
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 PM on April 4, 2011

« Older how do I fight an airline service charge?   |   From Mars to Earth?? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.