When I graduated from high school and moved on to college I had little idea what I wanted to do in my life. I knew I was a creative person, but had no idea how I could transfer that into a career. My first year of college was spent taking a variety of classes that at the very least would count towards a general arts and science diploma. Those classes also served, however, to narrow my focus on what I wanted to do. During two semesters I took two English classes and a creative writing class, and it was through these things that I decided journalism was the path for me.
I applied to S.A.I.T and was accepted for the fall semester. At the time S.A.I.T offered a two year program. In the first year everyone took the same classes, then in the second year you could decide to branch off to photo journalism or print journalism. I should also mention that they have a broadcast journalism program, however, that was completely separate from what I did.
I loved the program at S.A.I.T. I’m a hands-on learner and that’s the exact thing this program offered. I was able to go out into the city and interview real people for real stories and in my second year we ran the local newspaper for the S.A.I.T campus. In addition to getting a great education, I made friends for life through that program.
After S.A.I.T I moved on to work for the Lloydminster Meridian Booster. It was through this newspaper that I learned the terrible truth of the industry.
You don’t make a lot of money.
After slogging it out for six months I made the decision to ‘go corporate,’ and move back to Calgary. I’ll save that story for another time.
My advice if you want to be a journalist? Work hard, and don’t limit yourself to just one publication if you can help it. I know a lot of freelancers that are doing better than people who have stuck it out at one publication.
And maybe most importantly – write often. Blog, or find websites or companies that will pay you to write for them. Blogging on your own is a great way to hone your skills. If you’re going to blog for someone else, don’t do it for free. There are a lot of people that will offer you ‘great exposure,’ and to ‘build your portfolio,’ a good portfolio is great, but working for free is not. It devalues what we all do.
How to become a Journalist
You should already have a good foundation in writing English from high school. You will be tested for admission, so if you’re not feeling the strongest in your skills maybe take a course to sharpen them.
Journalism programs are offered at S.A.I.T as a two year diploma, at Mount Royal University as a Bachelor of Communications - Journalism and at the University of Calgary as a Bachelor of Communication and Media studies.
For more information
For more information, you can contact your local college or university, or even better reach out to a local writer. I can tell you from personal experience that writers are generous people and won’t hesitate to offer you advice or meet up for a coffee. LinkedIn is a great place to find people that can offer you the benefit of their experience.