Name: Cathy Higgins
College & Majors/Minors: Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL. I majored in Mass Communications with a double concentration in print journalism and public relations. I also minored in English.
Current Location: Elberta, AL
Current Form of Employment: Newspaper Editor
Where do you work and what is your current position?
Since 2010, I have worked as an editor at Gulf Coast Newspapers. For the first one and a half years, that consisted of editing and writing articles for the front section of The Baldwin Times in Bay Minette, AL. Then in March 2012 I was moved to the same position with The Foley Onlooker in Foley, AL, which is a larger market. To elaborate, my duties include seeking out and covering news in the local area, as well as writing articles and editing both my own work and that of colleagues. This is for both print and online publication. I also help develop ideas for annual publications and manage freelancers.
But this is not the only current position I have. I am also contributing writer for Sports Events Magazine, which is a monthly national magazine for sports business industry. I periodically conduct interviews and write articles on a freelance basis.
I have been working as a journalist since graduating from college in 1998. I freelanced at local newspapers in Murfreesboro, TN, my then home, before getting my first full-time job as a staff writer at a biweekly newspaper in Pulaski, TN, in spring 2000. After working there for two and a half years, I went on to work as either a staff writer or copy editor at newspapers in Alabama and Georgia. Each time, I have written and edited articles for both print and online publication, as well as designed newspaper pages, taken pictures and produced videos.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
I found both my first and current jobs on JournalismJobs.com, the go-to employment website for my industry. This has been the case for all but one position I accepted. For that one, I was contacted by the editor, who said they were given my resume by a colleague.
Applying for every position except my current one was very pleasant. I spoke in person with the people who would be my supervisors and received tours of each workplace. However, interviewing for my current job was conducted completely over the phone— not a practice I recommend. I will say that in each case, the employers were looking for someone who could write and edit articles well and quickly.
I have only had a writing/editing test for one job I accepted. That was for the copy editor/page designer position at The Albany Herald, a daily newspaper in Albany, GA. That test was to show not only my skills in writing and editing, but also my knowledge of current events and legal terms commonly used in daily newspaper reporting.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
When the features writer position at The Albany Herald opened six months after I had been at that paper, I applied and received the position. This turned out to be important to me because it helped me develop my craft as a feature news writer, which has its own style. It also helped me cultivate a different way of looking at things, as well as to think visually when working on my projects.
My duties included developing feature story ideas for the daily paper and to manage the Arts and Entertainment Calendar. Plus, I managed the section’s intern and freelance columnists, which were valuable things to learn. I also learned how to work efficiently and develop sharp organization skills while in this position.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I did quite a lot in college to prepare for my career. That included getting my feet wet in newspapers by becoming a social columnist for my home town’s weekly community newspaper. Plus, I served a year as staff writer for my college newspaper. I also wrote articles for my college alumni magazine and for the newsletter of my college’s Baptist Campus Ministry. These were great real-world experiences, as they helped me develop my interviewing skills. They also helped me develop my ability to write with a quick deadline.
My internship was in public relations at a boutique music-industry firm in Nashville, TN. While this was a fun experience, it really didn’t do much to help my career. I would have benefitted more from an internship with a newspaper or magazine publisher.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
For those with an English degree preparing to enter the workforce, I have several thoughts. One of them is that when you select your chosen field of work, seek out a mentor who will give you useful guidance and advice.
Another thought is to see the value in online networking. I really get a lot out of connecting with professionals on LinkedIn. The groups are a great way to share ideas and cultivate those professional connections.
But with this advice, I strongly suggest keeping your connections list on such sites for professional networking only. Anything else is a distraction from the designated purpose. And I do have to say that I have to quite frequently decline connection invitations from people who just know me and have no professional networking value.
My final thought is on which career path to follow. If you’re interested in journalism, I’d suggest looking for positions at business-to-business publications or magazines. I also advise trying technical writing positions or corporate media.
I do think you might want to steer away from the newspaper industry. With the shift to online media in the last few years, newspapers haven’t figured out how to stay viable. That doesn’t translate to a very stable environment from an employee’s perspective.