I’m working on my application to the graduate diploma in journalism from Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand. Only 20 students will be admitted for next year’s session starting in February 2013. I really, REALLY want to get in. The thought of becoming a journalist has been germinating in my head for over a year now and this program is my way in. I’m so terrified to mess it up that I have a hard time writing my application essay. In a hope to get out of my rut and find inspiration, I decided to share my first draft here. It’ll also answer all of my family and friend’s question: “Why do you want to become a journalist?” Please let me know what you think in the comments- that’d be of great help!
What are the perfect ingredients to make a good journalist? Start with a love of words as a foundation. Add a solid understanding of the state of the world for credibility. Mix with an adaptable personality and a talent to make people talk to facilitate the job. Sprinkle with a high dose of curiosity and an appetite to learn. Let the preparation simmer in an itching desire to tell stories. I will demonstrate that all these ingredients are ready to be used in my kitchen in six arguments outlining my career to date, the reasons why I want to become a journalist, and the steps I have already taken towards the profession.
1. I have a passion for reading, writing and the English language
As soon as I learned how to read, I started devouring every written word I stumbled upon: I gobbled the ingredients on the cereal box before finishing my bowl and read aloud every road sign and advertisement I saw in the streets. At the library, I disdained books full of pictures- words opened entire new worlds in my imagination.
I’ve carried a notebook with me from as far as I can remember. The only way to make space in a head saturated with thoughts is to write them down. My over-thinking became a cacophony when English words were added to the French ones. I started reading books in English and watching American movies and TV shows as a teenager. When my university offered an exchange program in New York, I had to apply. Being one of the top students from my class, I was selected and also obtained a scholarship that would pay for most of my expenses there. Today, I live in Switzerland but speak English every day- I’m engaged to a New Zealander and surrounded by English-speaking friends. I even dream in English!
That’s why I started blogging in English. Of course, my prose was cluttered with mistakes when I started. But I was lucky enough to find an English teacher friend willing to help me out and correct my grammar. With every new post, I improved my English and my writing.
2. I have a solid background in International Business Law
Despite my passion for reading and writing, studying literature in high school discouraged me from pursuing a career as a writer. I’d rather spend ten hours strapped to the top of Mitt Romney’s car than decipher every word from a poem or find the hidden meaning behind a Molière play again. I chose to study law instead. The philosophical roots, the influence lawyers can have on public policy and a general attraction to justice kept me working hard as a student. My teachers were brilliant orators who taught me to present my ideas with a sharp analytical twist. Studying French and European business law for four years in France, and American and international law for a year in New York allowed me to assess the news with an inquisitive spirit and a deeper understanding of the underlying economic issues and public policies.
3. I’m highly adaptable and know how to talk to people
When I came back to France after my year in New York, I had completed my master’s degree. As much as I had enjoyed studying law, the prospect of working as a lawyer didn’t attract me at all. I needed something more creative, with more contact with people, more flexibility. I moved to Zurich, where my father lived, and started teaching French to earn a living. This job taught me how to make people talk. My day consists of spending an hour to an hour and a half conversing with adults who want to improve their French. I have to find the right questions to make them speak as much as possible. It has taught me to be an attentive listener (not only to correct mistakes, but also to move the conversation forward). It has taught me not to judge people too fast- a boring-looking banker turns out to have exciting adventures at weekends; a sad-looking housewife turns out to have a dark sense of humour…
4. I’m already writing for three different websites and I know how to use social media to promote my work
After a year of blogging with a self-imposed deadline of one post a week, I became confident enough to look for other writing outlets. I still enjoyed teaching but I was writing stories in my head all day long. I became Café Correspondent for an influential local website: my mission was to go to a local café with an interesting person, take photos, and then write a review of the café including a written portrait of the person. Then another website for expats asked my permission to reprint articles from my blog on their French and Swiss page. I learned how to use Facebook, Twitter and WordPress to promote my writing. My blog started to grow and to attract more viewers and comments from all over the world.
5. Journalism is the combination of everything I love to do and the graduate diploma in journalism from UC matches all my expectations
My Swiss journalist friend Beat has been telling me about his job, the articles he writes, the research he’s working on for more than two years now. His weekly accounts over coffee started me thinking about journalism as a potential career.
To find out more about the job, I met other journalists. I asked them how a typical day at work was, what they didn’t like about their job, what was the most difficult for them. They all enjoyed talking about their job, their passion. The more I heard about it, the more it struck me: journalism was the combination of everything I loved to do. Writing, of course, but also learning about different topics every day, the reporting and the research, talking to people, and telling stories. I have all the qualities which seem necessary to be a journalist: I’m passionate about language, reading and writing, deeply curious about people and the world, a learner, and a story teller. Reading books on the topic such as Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide comforted me in my new inclination.
My first thought when my New Zealander boyfriend and I decided to move to New Zealand was to find a journalism school. The graduate diploma from Canterbury University is exactly what I was looking for: a one-year programme providing intense practical training along with challenging theoretical courses. With its new senior lecturer in journalism and her will to re-engage journalism with its community and to train the students in new media as well as traditional techniques, the programme matches all my expectation of a modern curriculum.
6. I am committed to telling stories
I read The New York Times, Le Monde and other international news daily to keep up with what’s going on in the world but I’m not passionate about the news the way I’m passionate about stories. As a student and a beginner in the profession, I will happily report and write hard news as long as necessary to learn the tools of the trade. However, what I really aspire to is narrative journalism: long articles, magazine and feature pieces, reports of every day events that wouldn’t be on the front page by themselves but are nonetheless revealing. I’m interested in turning seemingly ordinary events into a story. I would like to bring a thought-provoking perspective on topics people forget to think about- social and environmental issues, how the world works, how people live, how they find meaning, how they fail, how they succeed.
Did I convince you? Any suggestions on how to introduce myself better to the journalism school?