Applying for the Job: Tips from an online editor

Published on
October 15, 2010

Peggy Girshman, executive editor for online at Kaiser Health News (KHN), is hiring. This week, she pulls back the curtain for Career GPS readers and explains what she is looking for in a job applicant and shares her personal do's and don'ts for journalism résumés.

You can find more jobs, award and fellowship opportunities at the end of this post. If you have ideas for future posts or listings you'd like to see here, log in and let me know. Keep up with Career GPS by signing up for weekly newsletters or via RSS.

KHN is a hybrid non-profit news operation. Its content is distributed by partner organizations (in print with the Washington Post and on the radio with National Public Radio, for example), the KHN website, and ultimately by anyone who wants to reprint their stories. For Girshman, this means her job is full of incredible variety. "Every single day I am -- as a matter of fact, I'm doing it right now -- looking for visuals for the website, working with the web producers to try to figure out what we're posting, and when and how and why," she says in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C. "Working online is incredible satisfying. You can change things quickly, you can react to the news faster. It combines all the media."

Every boss looks for different qualities in job applicants -- read a post at Folio about what three top editors from specialized magazines say about new hires -- and Girshman's preferences have been informed by her experience working with a variety of stalwart news organizations. She is formerly the managing editor of National Public Radio and Executive Editor at the Congressional Quarterly, where she worked largely on the website and sometimes on features for the weekly. She's been a producer at Dateline NBC and on several PBS series

Right now, she is looking for a web editor who will be involved with web production, graphics, page layout, and dealing with outside vendors. But she is looking for a journalist first: "I don't want to hire anybody who isn't a journalist," she says.

It's a common conundrum for employers and applicants alike: What skills are important in a new media environment? Journalism schools are adjusting their curricula and job descriptions come with new kinds of qualifications every day. POLITICO is seeking a web editor and focuses its job description on speed: "This is not a good job for editors accustomed to spending many hours or days recrafting stories. It is an ideal job for an editor who thrives in a dynamic environment and quarterbacking breaking news." The Center for Investigative Reporting is looking for a web producer and lists the technical requirements: "The ideal candidate should be well-versed in HTML, Javascript, XML, CSS and Photoshop. Beginning to intermediate skills in Final Cut Pro and Flash. Prior experience with Drupal a plus."

KHN's job listing requires both journalism and technical skills. While the web editor will not be writing stories from start to finish, Girshman emphasizes journalism skills because KHN has a small team. Only two or three people spend most of their time on the web, making it important that they all bring a journalistic sensibility to their work. "Everyone is involved here because we're a pretty small shop. We want ideas from everyone," Girshman says.

She recognizes that no one person can be an expert in everything, but says that it is important to be good at more than one thing. "For the most part now -- it's not just here, it's other places -- people are looking for multiple skills," Girshman explains. "You have to tailor your skills, or your résumé, to the job. You know that you're not going to be good at everything. Try to be good at more than one thing and apply for jobs that are looking for several things, at least one or two that you're good at."

Girshman has a personal list of résumé dos and don'ts, which she culled for herself over years of hiring. "I just made it up because I got so frustrated from reading résumés." Here are some of her big takeaways:

  • Clips are the most important part of an application. "Show me what you've done," Girshman says.

  • "Tailor what you've done to the job," she advises. If you are applying for a job as the KHN web editor, for example, don't just send PDFs of print clips without examples of what you've built or done online.

  • Cover letters are not that important. "Your cover letter is only important because sometimes it tells me what kind of writer you are. But if I don't see clips, it doesn't matter anyway."

  • "Make sure you tell me what you've done, and not what you believe in," she says. If a hiring editor is reading several hundred résumés, they want to know what you can do for them, not how excited how you are about the job.

  • For healthcare journalism jobs, Girshman says that understanding how medical studies are done is the single most important specialized skill. While the web editor need not have specific experience in health, correspondents need to show that they can hit the ground running as reporters.

As always, here are some health media opportunities that might interest you.

Jobs, Fellowships, Awards and Workshops

Assistant Editor, Senior Editor, Mens Health & Womens Health Books
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Books

Associate Editor, Women's Health Magazine
Location: Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine

Senior Associate Editor, Men's Health Magazine
Location: New York, New York or Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine

Senior Editor,
Location: Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Associate Web Editor, Medical Content, WebMD
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Medical Education

Managing Editor, WebMD the Magazine
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine, Online

Channel Manager Health and Wellness, Online Community Manager, Senior Editor of Health Checks, Senior Producer, WebMD
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Communications Officer, California Healthcare Foundation
Location: Oakland, California
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Grant Writer, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center
Location: San Francisco, California
Status: Full Time
Medium: Non-Profit

Reporter, Medical Technology, Gray Street (EBI)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Status: Full Time
Medium: Trade Magazine

Senior Public Information Representative, UC San Francisco
Location: San Francisco, California
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Senior Media Relations Associate, University of Chicago
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Status: Full Time
Medium: Marketing

Staff Writer, Social Policy (particularly health policy), CQ-Roll Call Group
Location: Washington, D.C.
Status: Full Time
Medium: Daily, online and weekly publications

Nieman Fellowships in Global Health Reporting
Eligibility: Full-time journalists with at least five years experience
Included: One academic year of of study at Harvard's School of Public Health, access to faculty and courses across the university, three to four months of fieldwork in a developing country
Deadline: January 31, 2011
From the Website: "Nieman Fellows represent the changing face of journalism. They come to Harvard from locations as different as Bangor, Maine, and Younde, Cameroon. They work for national and local print publications, broadcast news outlets, news Web sites, and documentary film ventures. Some are making their mark as freelance journalists. Some have practiced their craft under repressive governments or on far-flung fields of conflict. Together, each year they form a Nieman class that is rich in diversity, experience and aspirations for the years ahead."

REMINDER: U.S. Young Journalist Program, Fulbright Kommission
Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen, with academic achievement and a good proposal and good to very good German language skills
Award: 10 month stay in Germany with stipends and expenses, as well as language training
Deadline: Oct. 18, 2010
From the Website: "The approximately 10-month stay begins in September and typically consists of an initial research phase, during which the grantee becomes familiar with his/her project in a German setting, followed by one or more internships with German institutions of print or broadcast media."

REMINDER: Science Writing Internship, Nature Medicine
Eligibility: One year in a graduate program in journalism or have equivalent work experience in journalism
Position: Six-month internship in New York City with $1,600 monthly support
Deadline: Oct. 22, 2010
From the Website: "The intern will be closely involved in the editorial process and write news articles and briefs, as well as blog entries. This is not a paper-pushing internship! The person selected for the position will be reporting stories and working on editorial content full-time."

REMINDER: Association of Health Care Journalists - Centers for Disease Control Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Professional journalists working in the United States
Award: Week of study of public health topics at CDC campuses, membership, travel, lodging and meals
Deadline: Oct. 22
From the Website: "The AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows will: Attend sessions on epidemiology, global disease prevention efforts, pandemic flu preparedness, climate change, vaccine safety, obesity, autism and more; tour the CDC director's National Emergency Operations Center; meet new sources on policy and research; learn how to tap the agency's abundant resources to produce better stories."

REMINDER: Philip Meyer Journalism Award
Eligibility: Work published between Oct. 1, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010 reported using social science research methods, entry fee $25-$115
Award: Cash prizes of $200-$500
Deadline: Nov. 1, 2010
From the Website: "The awards are in honor of Philip Meyer, professor emeritus and former Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer is the author of Precision Journalism, the seminal 1972 book (and subsequent editions) that focused growing numbers of journalists on the idea of using social science methods to do better journalism. He pioneered in using survey research as a reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers to explore the causes of race riots in the 1960s."

REMINDER: Interactive Census Workshop (Dec 12-17, 2010)
Eligibility: Journalists with interest in multimedia
Included: Lodging and meals at UC Berkeley, but not travel
Deadline: Nov. 6, 2010
From the Website: "The KDMC at UC Berkeley is offering a customized visual storytelling workshop to train journalists on new ways to process data from the 2010 Census. Fellows will illustrate the information using visualization and mapping tools to create a clearer, more meaningful picture of the complex statistics gathered in the national survey."