Imagine the training montage from “Rocky IV.” It’s not unlike the task facing some college graduates.
After graduation, jumping into a large market can be a monumental challenge for journalism students. Industry veterans often tell students that it is not possible to begin a career this way.
But Kim Christiansen and Anne Trujillo made it happen. They have worked on-air at Denver stations for more than 25 years, but they had to train hard and climb hard, even before graduation. With Trujillo and Christiansen as role models and coaches, students will be better equipped to tackle that big post-graduation challenge before screaming, “DRAGO!”
At the cabin: Follow Trujillo’s lead, and gain experience before graduation
Like Rocky Balboa, Trujillo, now a leading anchor at 7News, began her “student training montage” in a cabin called KBNO before graduation. While Trujillo was a student at University of Colorado-Boulder, she worked off-campus at KBNO-AM radio. To lay the foundation for a journalism career, getting experience is essential, according to Trujillo.
“I think that’s the smartest thing (MSU Denver) students can do,” Trujillo says. “Any of those things: paid media jobs, paid internships and internships that students can do on their own time. The more, the merrier.”
“If you can do three internships, I think that’s to your benefit. You have experienced a newsroom, and you know what the expectations and pressures are. The more experience, the better,” she says.
Christiansen, an award-winning anchor at 9news, says the same.“It’s the value of understanding every job in this profession,” Christiansen says. “You realize that the person teaching you may not be the same person on camera.” It could be a writer, a photographer, or camera operator.
The anchors also recommend practicing “citizen journalism.” These tools let amateurs take video and pictures of related stories and send them to news stations. Students can produce news packages, and then upload them on websites like SENDIT at 9News. Students can use the tool to share their work with a wider audience.
News directors like 9News’ Patti Dennis look “through stacks of big fat demo tapes she has to put into the machine,” Christiansen says. How can the citizen journalism tool capture her attention? “She still looks for the same things,” Christiansen says. “She still looks for writing, good storytelling, ability to communicate and accuracy. If you meet these requirements, you’re gonna stand out to her; she’s gonna notice.”
Maintain a sharp eye, Trujillo advises. “If you see an accident, event or interesting picture, those are things that we want to see.” When using the citizen journalism tool, it’s all about what makes a student stand out from the rest of the crowd.
A rough climb: Working behind the scenes, making connections
After Christiansen graduated from CU-Boulder in the summer of 1984, she was hired by 9News later that year. This was the station where she interned. She began as a writer and associate producer for the 6 a.m. news. She then wrote for the 10 p.m. news with Mike Landess and his co-anchor, Ed Sardella, who was Christiansen’s professor. For two years, Christiansen worked behind the scenes. She was a volunteer reporter on weekends, and she often paired up with a photographer (at the time), Butch Montoya. After two years, Christiansen was promoted to on-camera reporter in 1986.
Before and after graduation, when getting started behind the scenes, what is Christiansen’s advice to students? “Even behind-the-scenes work, you have to be willing to work any shift. And you have to be willing to work for almost no money,” Christiansen says. “An overnight shift as a writer is an entry-level position, and the salary wasn’t good, but that didn’t matter because it was a foot in the door.”
Screaming DRAGO: Promoted to on-camera reporter then anchor
At the bottom of the mountain (like Trujillo at KBNO Radio before graduation), students should seek off-campus media jobs. At the halfway point, students need to secure internships and gain personal connections, from professors to co-workers. Almost to the summit (like Christiansen post-graduation, ideally at the same station where you intern), gain experience behind the scenes. The destination will hopefully be reached, and the promotion to an on-camera position won’t be far behind. “It’s definitely true,” Christiansen says. “It’s because most people don’t do that. They usually start in small markets, and they work their way up to large markets. It was a backwards approach (for Christiansen), and it just worked.”
Imagine receiving that promotion to on-camera reporter, and then anchor, the way Rocky reached the top of the mountain in “Rocky IV.” That’s the time for recently promoted reporters to raise their fists and scream “DRAGO!”