'What can you do for me?': Application tips from digital journalism pros

By on November 28, 2012

This series is brought to you by the AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship Program, fostering digital journalism skills in undergraduate and graduate students who are developing projects at the intersection of journalism and technology. Six students will receive scholarship awards of $20,000 each for the 2013-14 academic year.

Whether you’re applying for a scholarship, internship or first job, you need an application that stands out. Check out this advice from digital leaders and innovators on how to do just that:

“It’s not all about you. It’s about what you can do for me. Show knowledge of the company you’re interviewing for. Show interest in the people. Study up. Compliment or give (constructive) feedback on a project or story. Lots of people have the skills these days — the ones that so often rise to the top are the ones who prove they are listening, watching and reading what you are doing. They’ve done their homework and brought questions and thoughts.”

— Meredith Artley, Vice President & Managing Editor, CNN Digital

“Be sure that your application package – no matter what type of position you’re applying for – demonstrates your command of the subject area you’re interested in covering. Weed out extraneous information. If it doesn’t speak to why you’re the best fit for a job, internship or scholarship, cut it out. Individuals who screen these applications receive thousands of resumes and cover letters. Make their job easier. And above all else, be honest. The experts in your fields can read between the lines and see what you know and what you don’t.”

Juana Summers, National Political Reporter, POLITICO

“Support your pitch with very specific examples of why you should be a recipient, which includes successes as well as things that didn’t turn out quite right. The more focused the application is, the more the reader will get to know you, be in tune with you and your aspirations. Solution-oriented pitches are compelling.”

— Shazna Nessa, Deputy Managing Editor, Editorial Products and Innovations, Associated Press

“Competition is very stiff. Do all of the small things well, such as spelling, grammar and a proper first-reference salutation. Then, have an interesting story to tell while you pitch yourself as someone the company can bring in.”

— Doug Mitchell, Project Manager, NPR, and Consultant, UNITY

“If your talents are relevant to the scholarship or internship, don’t wait until you get the position to show them off! If you’re an aspiring broadcast journalist, make a video and put it on YouTube. Graphic design? Pitch yourself in an infographic. If they’re asking for HTML skills, send in your skills in website or blog form. Among dozens of similar cover letters, a differently formatted application will really pop.”

— Lauren Orsini, Reporter, The Daily Dot

“Tell a compelling story. When all other factors are equal, the best case you can make for yourself is with your writing. If you want recruiters, managers, or scholarship committees to take notice, give them a memorable story that gives a sense of who you are and what you can achieve with their help.”

— Justin Ellis, Assistant Editor, Nieman Journalism Lab

“Own a piece of the Web. Have a place online that becomes the epicenter of your work. From about.me to flavors.me to weebly.com to wordpress.com to your own domain name/site, there are a variety of ways you – on any budget – can have a portfolio online that collects and showcases your work. This is the place that shapes the narrative of what type of journalist you aim to be, told through your diverse examples of work. This is a must.”

— Robert Hernandez, Web journalist / Professor, USC Annenberg

“I believe a strong strategy is (for students) to create a professional website and post their resume and examples of their work. If the website is not an option, then create a LinkedIn Profile and position your Facebook page as an asset and not a liability. In this age, you have to brand yourself on social media.”

— Virgil L. Smith, Vice President, Talent Acquisition and Diversity, Gannett Co., Inc.


Irving Washington

Irving Washington is the Executive Director/CEO for the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists. As a media diversity advocate, Irving has led programming and fundraising initiatives for journalists, media professionals, and students worldwide.