Meet the press
May 27, 2006 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I have a telephone interview for a job at a regional metro daily newspaper. What might they ask me? And, er, how should I answer?

Background: I’m finishing up my journalism degree in a month. For the past five months, I’ve been working as a contributor at Newspaper A. That work came about after an internship – there wasn’t an interview. I just worked for free, they liked me, and started to pay me. Woo!

Now A (Very) Kind Person at Paper A has recommended me to the editor of Paper B, who’s looking for full time staff. It’d be an awesome start and I’m super keen.

So far, to prepare, I’ve asked other folk at Paper A what they’ve been asked at interviews (and how they answered); researched the city where Paper B is located; jotted down some issues that are important there at the moment; read through some back issues of Paper B to get a feel for their style; pulled together a list of contacts I have in the town; made notes for a couple of story ideas, and scribbled a few questions to ask the editor as well. My cuttings are ready to go and my resume is polished within an inch of its life.

But… but…. I’m pretty nervous about being thrown a curve-ball in the interview.

So… help me stand on the shoulders of giants. What have you mefi journos been asked at interviews? And how did you respond? Mefi editors – what would you want to hear in an interview? What would you not want to hear?

ps it’s not my first job interview (not by a long shot), so I’m not super worried about general interview stuff, but the specific journalism related questions I might be asked.
posted by t0astie to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Dude, I was exactly where you are now 10+ years ago. You sure you want to stay in the news biz? Okayyy...

Suggestion: Offer to perform a try-out session. You come in, spend two nights working the desk, and they see your skills in a real-world setting. They also get to see how the chemistry works between you and existing staff. Because the news is daily-deadline oriented, it's really the best way to gauge someone's skills.

Watch out for is the "where are you going with your career" question. If you're applying for a desk position, they want to know you'll be happy with that desk position for an appreciable length of time. They don't want to hire a copy editor and discover that what he really wants to do is write a column. They don't want to hire a education reporter and find out that she hates hates hates kids.

I’m finishing up my journalism degree in a month.

Realize that this degree is essentially worth zero. Sorry, bud. Focus your preparations on telling them all the wonderful things you actually did at your paid job.

researched the city where Paper B is located

You'll need to know it backward and forward. Also, you'll need to be able to discuss the paper's recent achievements -- special packages, awards, notable stories, columnists, etc.

Oh, and make sure you wanna move there. Nothing worse than taking that big position you're sure will launch your career and realize later that you hate the fucking city. Been there, done that. ;-)
posted by frogan at 9:26 PM on May 27, 2006

Best answer: Sounds like you're already extremely well prepared, far more than I ever was. Be sure to show your enthusiasm. That'll get you in the newsroom door almost every time.

Mistakes to avoid gleaned from "did you hear about the idiot who was in here last week" stories:

- Don't brag about how many Pulitzers you are going to win for them.

- Don't tell them you don't want to work nights/weekends.

- Don't come on to the interviewer.

My big screw up at my first major metro interview (and how I still got the job, I have *no* idea): They were looking at my clips and I was nervous and the managing editor asked, "what else have you covered?" I went completely and utterly blank. Not temporarily either. Eventually, they took pity and changed the subject. I looked like a dribbling moron.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2006

Best answer: Wait, it's a telephone interview? Oh you'll be fine. No one has a lot of time to talk to you so it shouldn't be too long. Frogan's idea of a tryout is terrific. If they don't already try out reporters, definitely volunteer.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:35 PM on May 27, 2006

Response by poster: Frogan and CunningLinguist - thanks! Have added all tips to my list…

If they don’t offer a tryout, I’ll definitely bring it up.

And, heh, will try hard to restrain myself from coming on to the interviewer.
posted by t0astie at 10:20 PM on May 27, 2006

Come up with some reasons you're interested in the job, other than the fact that you're shortly leaving college and need a job.

It sounds like you done most of the actual legwork already, so the hard part is over. You could say "I've read some of your stories about X; I'm actually experienced with X in this way and here's a new angle I'd like to try."

It isn't so much important that the guy be impressed with your command of 'X' or your thoughts about the direction the paper is going; what's important is that you've communicated an interest in the job that goes beyond your interest in a paycheck.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:16 AM on May 28, 2006

Best answer: Do you know anything about the beat you'd be covering or who you'd be replacing? It seems like having beat specific story ideas and being somewhat familiar with your potential predecessor's work would be a good move.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:10 PM on May 28, 2006

Response by poster: Phew! It all went fine - he seemed really positive. And if it doesn't work out... well I've got loads of pointers for the next paper(s) I contact. Thanks guys!
posted by t0astie at 5:11 PM on May 28, 2006

Best answer: I could tell you'd ace it just from the enthusiasm and homework evident in your question. Plus, honestly, the recommendation probably already has the job in the bag for you. They just want to make sure you don't dribble or something.

No you really should give some thought to what frogan said about being absolutely sure you want to be in the biz. You'll never ever make any money. Sadly, it sounds like you have the classic ink-in-the-veins problem and if that's the case, you're doomed to a career full of interest and fun and no renumeration.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:55 AM on May 29, 2006

No = now
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:55 AM on May 29, 2006

Response by poster: Yep, I think I do have a bit of print fever happening.

Thanks CunningLinguist ;>
posted by t0astie at 9:36 PM on May 29, 2006

Best answer: >> Yep, I think I do have a bit of print fever happening.

Lie down. It'll pass. ;-)

If you happen to read this thread again, think about these anecdotes:

* The fact that you're reading and posting to this site means you're technologically more advanced than 95 percent of the people in the industry.

* One of the most important tools in the newspaper business is ... drumroll, please ... the X-acto knife. Because newspapers aren't very far out of the 70s when it comes to actually putting the paper together.

* Newspaper readership has been declining for decades. But you knew that, right? Now ask yourself -- besides your circle of friends, who do you know that reads the paper? Online doesn't count!

* This season, "The West Wing" threw out a stat that absolutely floored me -- Eschaton ( gets more readers than the Philadelphia Inquirer. I had the full dropjaw going on, so I had to go look it up. And it's true.

* Can you describe a paper as "cutting edge" when it devotes more space to printing Ann Landers, the Family Circle and Ziggy than, say, the aforementioned education reporting? Realize that this is true for every paper in America. Don't believe it? Grab a pica pole...

* Yeah, I said pica pole. They still use them. 12 points to a pica. Six picas to an inch.

Think about it, dude. There's a million ways to be happy. If you really are the second coming of Jim Murray, go for it. But this will be the third time this week that I've recommended that a youngin' go join the Coast Guard and rescue people for a living.
posted by frogan at 1:17 AM on May 30, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks Frogan – it's incredibly kind of you to list the pitfalls.

I'm aware the newsroom isn't exactly a hotbed of tech innovation, that circulation is declining overall and that infotainment trumps hard news.

Things are looking particularly grim here (Australia) after a stack of much publicised layoffs last year.

But if I don't give it a go I'll have serious, miserable, always-wonder-what might-have-been regrets.

And it's not all doom and gloom. Regional circulation is climbing in my part of Oz. The papers -- even the regionals -- are embracing the web after a directive from on high. And there's plenty of good reporting happening between the celeb and lifestyle crap.

Plus, I get horribly, horribly seasick. The Coast Guard's not an option for me!
posted by t0astie at 6:14 PM on May 30, 2006

I had no idea you were in Australia. True, things might be very different there than in the States. Good luck to ya' then, mate. ;-)
posted by frogan at 7:21 PM on May 30, 2006

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