Covering Coronavirus: Tips, best practices and programs

I was a journalism grad in a recession; what I got was a second education

Kat Lonsdorf
Photo credit: Wanyu Zhang, NPR

So you’re graduating into a recession. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be SO scary. 

I graduated from college in 2009. This is a slightly different time — you’ve got a pandemic on top of everything else — but a lot of the feelings are the same. Uncertainty. Wondering if your family and friends are going to be okay. Realizing that there are a lot of more experienced people also looking for work and often applying to the same jobs you are. It’s daunting, I know.

I remember that sinking feeling as graduation approached: I was happy to be done with college, proud of my accomplishments, but didn’t have any plan for afterward. Newspapers were folding. People were being laid off en masse. None of my friends in my graduating class had jobs.

I decided to apply for restaurant jobs, something I realize isn’t even an option for the class of 2020. I applied for dozens of serving and bartending jobs before eventually landing a very low-level job at a winery, and then a brew pub in Los Angeles later. Pretty soon, my resume was full of restaurant work, not journalism work. I remember wondering if I’d ever make it into a newsroom.

But then I decided that for every restaurant job I took, I wanted to also make sure I was also adding a journalism-related activity — something that kept me writing or making videos or learning a new skill. I had to get creative, and I often had to work for free. I wrote copy for a travel website. I volunteered at the local public television station. I took on-camera hosting classes in Hollywood.

And I found that NOT landing my dream job after college actually gave me the freedom and time to explore a bit. I had fun. I was an extra in a music video. I dipped my toe in the fashion world. I traveled the world as the on-camera host of an educational travel series for kids (that was a wild job). 

Throughout all that, I was kept bartending full-time to pay my bills. I did it for eight years before going to graduate school (on a scholarship that I got partially because I had such an unconventional application) and getting a journalism degree. And what I found, now that I look back on it, is that working in restaurants actually taught me so many skills I use in my job today: How to talk to anyone, how to multitask, how to get a lot done under pressure. I understand how the service industry works, and how bars and restaurants function. I used that experience to write my cover letter when I applied to NPR, which helped get me hired. I realized that taking time to grow outside of a newsroom is also really important to being a good journalist. 

As you head into an unknown time, I hope you remember that any life experience you gain will make you a better journalist. It just will. Say yes to the job you never thought you’d want to take. Move somewhere different. Spend time with new people. Learn a new skill. Be curious. If you do it with the right mindset, you can add to your journalism resume, even if you’re not in a newsroom yet.

Kat Lonsdorf is a producer for All Things Considered, and a 2019-2020 Above the Fray Fellow for reporting in Fukushima, Japan. Lonsdorf has also reported from Hamburg, Germany; Lahore, Pakistan; and Zimbabwe. She earned degrees from Occidental College and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute is spotlighting the next generation of journalists, students graduating from college or Master’s programs this spring into a challenging job market, in hopes they’ll meet future bosses and colleagues here, who will reach out and support them in building journalism’s future together. We’re accepting information here for students to feature. If you’re a supporter, you can contribute here to scholarships for journalism students