Beyond the high school newspaper: 5 next steps

So you write for your high school newspaper and want to take the next step as you ponder a possible career as a journalist. What to do?

Here are five next steps:

Attend a student journalism conference.

Meeting your peers is a great way to gain both inspiration and ideas. And finding your way to one of the conferences designed especially for high school students is a great way to find them.

The largest are the two sponsored jointly by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association. The fall conference alone attracts almost 4000 students and journalism teachers. Each features skills workshops, keynote speakers and plenty of time to hang with new friends.

Can’t travel far? Find a regional conference you can attend within driving distance. For example, the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and Ohio Scholastic Media Association sponsor spring conferences.

Attend a summer journalism program.

For a deeper experience, consider a summer residential program for high school journalists. Such programs range from one to five weeks in duration, and typically are hosted by colleges with a notable journalism program. They offer an opportunity to learn from professional journalists, experience campus life and explore a new city.

Some of the better known programs include the Boston University Summer Journalism Institute (disclosure: my organization is the sponsor), the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute and the USC Annenberg Summer Program.

Join a student journalism organization.

Signing up as a member of one of any number of journalism associations is an easy way to access a network of peers and possibly future employers. They offer magazines with topical articles, invitations to events and discounts for conferences and resources – plus a nice addition to your résumé.

A good place to start: Society of Professional Journalists offers student member rates, and the Quill and Scroll Society is designed especially for high school journalists. Also, several associations serve journalists from specific communities and interests: National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Asian American Journalists Association.

Work as a stringer for your local newspaper.

Think a teenager can’t write for a professional news outlet? Think again. Local newspapers, often published weekly or only online with small staffs stretched thin, are in need of energetic reporters willing to fill the gaps. Approach the editor in a professional manner with a letter, and include links or PDFs of stories you’ve written in school.

Be prepared to cover a school board meeting or cover a school sporting event on a trial basis until the editor knows you can deliver. Don’t be discouraged if your first assignment requires a significant re-write or is rejected altogether; the editor will admire your drive and you’ll learn a lot in the process.

Keep reporting.

Journalism is the kind of thing you do, more than study. Continue writing and reporting for your high school newspaper or news site. To mix things up, tackle topics new to you. If you haven’t covered the football game on Friday night, ask for the assignment. If you haven’t tried a feature on a first-year teacher, give that a go.

Your next step, whatever you choose, is a good one as long as you take it.