Getting Your Start in Journalism

Earlier this month I received an email from a reader with questions on journalism and how to get published. In part of her letter, Sanam writes: 

Iโ€™m a 19 year old college student and I just recently discovered your blog thanks to the feature on the Aritzia website. I think what youโ€™re doing is really cool and I aspire to do something similar- I really love fashion journalism.

I was wondering if you had any advice for getting more experience, like how you got where you are now?

Hi Sanam! Thank you so much for your kind words. I figured other people may have similar questions, so I wrote a general guide for young journalists who are just starting out. How I got my start is a bit of a long story (at the bottom of the article), but here are some general tips on how to break out an get published:

How I got My Start in Journalism

1. PITCH YOUR IDEAS to magazines and websites you like. Read their content and make sure it fits with whom you are pitching to. My first paid writing gig (my first overall) was as a columnist for Sparknotes. I saw a call for submissions and got an idea and shared it. It turned out the editors loved it too - and boom, I had a column. (Thank you, Sparknotes!)

Putting yourself out there is highly important. If you've got the talent but no one knows, it's  doing no one any good. Don't be afraid. I'll tell you why, I read this quote and it has stuck with me since. It challenges my own self-doubt and helps in times I feel inadequate:

"You can't win if you don't play."

If you don't go for it, the chances of success are 0%. Trying is half the battle. Instill a sense of urgency in yourself, and push yourself to apply for positions and achieve your goals.

2. START A BLOG and stick with it. I first started my blog (the now dead "Fabric Snob") when I started getting published, as a way to showcase my work online. Though my website has grown into more than a portfolio, it's important to have some kind of digital presence. It's also good practice to regularly be writing and creating content, keeping up with deadlines you make for yourself and your blog.

3. WRITE FOR YOUR COLLEGE PAPER - and do it as much as possible. Future employers will likely ask where you've been published before, and your school newspaper is a GREAT place to start. Get to know the editors, attend the meetings, turn in your stories on time. The newsroom is really an exciting place to be. 

I was on the editorial staff at my college newspaper for three semesters, and the training and experience I got is invaluable. I mainly focused on features stories and interviews. Here are just a few things you may learn:

  • Brainstorming and assigning stories to writers, setting and keeping deadlines
  • Editing articles for clarity while keeping the voice of the author present
  • Avoiding wordiness, writing concisely and clearly
  • How to co-author articles
  • How to research, interview, and review
  • How to organize a layout for a print publication

4. READ, READ, READ! Read about writing (but don't take all that stuff so seriously), read about fashion, read about the universe, read shit you don't like. Reading is so important to developing your skills as a writer. Even when you're reading something you don't like - ask yourself why you don't like it. What devices is the author using that are off-putting to you? Don't repeat the same techniques. Reading things you don't like is a way of finding your voice.

How I got My Start in Journalism

Sanam continues:

I noticed that you had some pieces published on Refinery29, and I was just wondering how you made that happen? Did they approach you or did you just cold call them or what?

One day I was reading and saw a posting for submissions. It was a call for columnists to create content for the SparkLife part of their website. The deadline was that night, so I got to work right away. I created three articles with accompanying photos and pitched an idea: "Thrifted Thursday, A Weekly Serial About Thrifted Fashion." Soon I got a response, after which I requested a wardrobe and studio stipend. HOORAH, I had my first paid writing gig. Previous to this, I had never written professionally before.

Next I took my samples from Sparknotes and used them to apply for a Sample Sale Reporting position at Racked NY. The editor noticed my previous work and that's what helped me land the job.

Building your portfolio is what really helps get you started. It's a slow-burn type of build up, you have to keep at it. With Refinery 29, I was approached by an editor after she had read my blog (see why a blog is important?), and that was AWESOME! I almost felt, "Wait - REALLY? You want ME and my little blog?"

I don't know it all, but I'm happy to share what I can. I'm constantly learning every day. That's all I've got for now, best of luck with your endeavors! Should anyone have questions about writing, photography, or pugs (anything, really), feel free to reach out and write an email to to start a discussion. Cheers!