From our home office in Norfolk, Va., here are the top ten things students should remember in order to ensure you'll have a long and satisfying career in visual journalism:
10. Learn typography.
Many j-schools don't teach typography. Instead, typography is something you discuss in only the first few weeks of your junior-level design class.
And that's bad.
Typography is one of the most fundamental building blocks that we use in this business. Designs are made or broken on how well they display type -- or how badly they blow it. If your reader can't read your page... well, then you might as well have not printed a paper at all.
You might have to approach the design school. You may have to get your advisor to pull in a chip or two to get you enrolled in basic graphic design and typography classes. And once you're in the class, you'll likely find it one of the more boring classes you've ever had -- worse, even, than trig.
But what you learn in that class, you'll use your entire career.
Go out of your way to meet as many people in the industry as you can. Shake their hands. Introduce yourself to them. Ask them questions -- not silly crap; good questions. And try to learn something from their answers.
Join NewsPageDesigner and post your work there. Post comments on work you see there. Join VisualEditors. Post your thoughts, your questions, your comments. Log into the chatroom every now and then just to absorb some of the vibes from the more experienced folks.
Go to the SND annual workshop. Sure, you'd rather spend the money on a spring break trip to Panama City. But would you rather exercise your fake I.D. or would you rather invest in something that may pay off with a job when you graduate? If you can't afford the big show, then hit those nearby quickcourses and other seminars. You'll find most of them have special rates for students.
When you're passing through another town and you have the time, call ahead and ask the resident design guru if you can tour the newsroom. Or meet the designers. Or take that guru to lunch and pick his brain. Or all of the above.
Get some business cards printed up -- yes, even if you're still in college. Whenever you meet folks, hand them your card. If, from time to time, some folks don't get back to their offices only to realize they already HAVE one of your cards, then you're not doing it right.
When it comes time to apply for a job, you'll find doors will open a heck of a lot faster if the folks with whom you're applying already know you.
8. Be an intern.
Internships are important. When I'm hiring for a full-time position and I'm considering 'entry-level' positions, I always look to see where the applicants interned.
It always surprises me the number of folks who've never interned who seem to feel they have a shot at a job. Especially when one or two other applicants have multiple summer internships on their resumes.
Apply for every internship you can find. Apply before you go home for Christmas break -- don't wait until after Spring Break to worry about where you'll spend your summer.
And while you're working that internship, make sure you bust your ass to produce some nice work. Consider an unlimited number of tearsheets with a professional folio line across the top part of your compensation.
7. 'I see smart people.'
Take every opportunity you can to surround yourself with the smartest people you can possibly find.
Whenever you look around the room and think, "Hmm. I'm the smartest person in this room," then that's not good. Find a club or a clique or a class -- or a newsroom -- in which you'll be able to rub elbows with folks more brilliant and talented than you.
A room full of people, you see, tend to takes on the characteristics of the most brilliant person in the room; the one folks would consider the "natural-born leader" of the group. All the others in the group tend to try to work up to that level.
So which would you rather do? Bask in the glow of being the star? Or would you rather have yet another opportunity to improve your own skills, broaden your own thinking, sharpen your own wit? Your mouth won't be open quite as much, but the quality of input coming through your ears and eyes will be much better.
6. Learn how to 'manage up.'
Watch carefully how your boss does her job. Look for patterns, behaviors, tendencies. Then look for ways you can make her life easier.
Anticipate her needs -- if you know she needs some paperwork or a project completed by a certain time, bust your gut to get it done and on her desk before she asks for it. Don't wait for her to ask you to handle a specific task -- if you know it's coming, go ahead and do it. She'll be delighted that she has one less thing to worry about and impressed with your initiative.
Most of all, don't let your boss be surprised. Keep her informed of what you're doing, why you're doing it and when you'll be done with it. The No. 1 thing your boss HATES is looking like she's uninformed in front of HER boss.
Make sure she stays a step AHEAD of her boss by keeping her informed.
5. Keep it positive.
The positive critique is a lost art these days -- Too damn many folks seem to think that in order to be honest and helpful, one must be brutal.
When you're asked to critique someone's work, find a way to say something nice. Learn terminology that will allow you to make thoughtful, helpful suggestions, yet not give the receiving party the impression they're the world's biggest idiot. Learn how to keep the folks you're critiquing from becoming defensive.
Critiquing is a learning opportunity. And the fact is, human beings can't learn anything when they're feeling defensive.
Critique others the way you'd like to be critiqued. Be honest. Share your insights. But keep it positive.