Karen Ho Profile / by Carl Bindman

For Journalism 202 class: digital tools. I got an A+, cool. Thanks, Karen.

Journalism is dying.

At least, that’s what they say. Editors, writers, managers, columnists—journalists everywhere are talking and writing about The Fall. Studies show declining readership. Funding is drying up. Papers across the country are folding, or being subsumed by the Postmedia hivemind. Even guest speakers at J-Schools talk about how hard it is, eking out a living. Why would anybody want to be a journalist here and now? How would anybody even try? For students, it’s important to know.

“It's getting much harder to make a full-time living at it, especially straight out of school,” says Karen Ho, a freelancer and editor based out of Toronto.

Ho, whose speciality is business reporting, has had a career progression useful for a young journalist to study—she isn’t starving to death, after all. Plus, she has written for a panoply of outlets, in various forms, for various firms, at various points and places in time and space. Her first steps, like many a journalist, she took as an intern. It wasn’t easy. It won’t be for you, either.

“I struggled a lot, for years, in many internships and entry-level jobs,” Ho says.

She started with internships at Xtra, Snowboard Canada, and The Agenda. Afterwards, she did what so many students fear: a communications job—hers at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. But take heart, young idealists—communications jobs are not for life. Ho quit hers for a stint at the Financial Post.

When it ended, she joined the inception of YourMississaugaBiz.com. There, she also experienced what so many students fear—the project died, and she was out of work. But Ho got a position with Business News Network, which she left to work on a feature for Toronto Life. Then, she was hired by Northern News Services in Yellowknife as their business and labour editor. Now she’s back in Toronto.

Ho recognizes that it’s even harder now. “It's pretty bad,” she says. “People are overworked, underpaid, and constantly wondering [whether] the hammer will hit them. There are fewer and fewer full-time positions, fewer interns being hired after their summer placements, and fewer stories being told.”

But! Ho doesn’t think it’s hopeless. “There's more opportunities online, especially for women and people of colour,” she says.

In light of that, and in light of her obviously extensive experience, Ho has tips for students trying to make it. These are those, so that you too can be eating food to sustain life as a working journalist.

 1. “Hoard as much money as you can. Drink less at the campus pub, pack all your meals, buy used textbooks, live at home if possible, don't go on any expensive vacations while in school. Having less debt and a financial safety net will help you do so much more after graduation.” 

2. “Network. Go to every relevant event you can to meet other people in the industry. Don't ask for things right away; build connections and relationships first.”

3. “Join industry associations. There's something for business journalism, minority groups, computer-assisted and data reporting, online journalism, you name it. The connections there will help you immensely and many offer great student programs, scholarships and national conferences.”

4. “Find a mentor. It can be someone in fourth year of your program, a professor or a working journalist. Someone who you connect to that will take you under their wing and help you figure things out or avoid mistakes they made.”

5. “Don't trash your GPA or class attendance to work on the student paper. I did this. I really regret it.”

6. “Learn about business. It will be helpful in whatever beat you cover, be it sports, arts, news, or economics. Money stories are everywhere.”

That, perhaps answers the how of How To Make It In Journalism. But the why? “At this point,” Ho says, “it seems like the thing I am really supposed to do.”

If that sounds familiar, you’ll be alright.