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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
A&M System’s Title IX director suspended after supporting Biden's Title IX changes
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Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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Beekeeper Shelby Dittman scoops bees back into their hive during a visit on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)
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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The Battalion May 4, 2024

Getting the job done

Even though becoming an author, columnist or spokesman of NASA might seem impossible, the basic standards remain the same. The professionals break it down to competence, experience and passion.
The columnist: What does it take?
“Competence, that is the main thing,” said John Kelly, a columnist at the Washington Post. “You have to be good at this, especially in journalism”
Kelly said many young people have a tendency to be shy, and in the journalism world, there is no room for shyness. He said forwardness and directness are qualities that employers look for in journalists, along with a strong enthusiasm for the business.
Ethics are another aspect of the business that cannot be forgotten when pursuing a career in journalism.
“There have been lots of [ethical] missteps lately: Jayson Blair and plagiarism, but even in this freewheeling culture it is a bedrock thing – you can’t make stuff up,” he said.
As of right now, nobody knows what direction journalism is going to take, and even though it is harder for a young person to break into the business because of the lack of small newspaper businesses, people have the tools, Kelly said. They just have to use them.
Web sites like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and blogs, whether they are here to stay or just fads, are ways aspiring journalists can get their name out in the field.
“Will these Web sites really amount to something? Nobody knows,” Kelly said. “We hope journalism will survive and thrive, but who is going to do it? That is what we have to figure out.”
Kelly emphasized self-motivation in journalism.
“Don’t wait for suggestions on what to do. If you have the enthusiasm, do it. If you have an idea, do it,” he said.
The author: What do you need to succeed?
Larry Heinemann is the visiting writer-in-residence at Texas A&M. He is a novelist and winner of the National Book Award for fiction in 1987. He said being an author is equal parts creative process and business.
“It is not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said. “The best money to be made as an author is in screen script writing, which is devilishly hard and has a tight market.”
But if the passion is there, he said, no one should be talked out of it.
The first thing about being a writer is having a broad background in literature. The second is a story idea. He said it doesn’t matter if a student has had a life long ambition to be a writer or if they wait until they’re in their 20s or 40s, it all comes down to the reading, the ideas and the learning.
Getting a literary agent is the first step on the road to becoming a published novelist. Agents are listed in an index called the Literary Market Place. When a writer finds an agent that looks like they might represent their interests, they write a query letter asking if they would read what they have written.
Be wary of scams, Heinemann said. No respectable literary agent will ask for money before they have earned money for the writer.
If a literary agent takes on the manuscript, they know they can sell it, and will send it to editors who are in the market to publish that type of book.
Don’t get discouraged if a manuscript is rejected, he said. The example he gave was of Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who was rejected by 19 publishers before getting a short story published.
“When you send your manuscript you may get a million no’s, but somewhere someone is walking down the street waiting for your manuscript,” Heinemann said. “Don’t give up – you’re never going to get revenge so don’t wallpaper your bathroom wall with rejection slips. Life is too short.”
He also added that the quality of writing usually has little to do with the reasons why manuscripts are rejected. It is usually the subject matter, the point of view or the genre and the way those things fit into the publishing company and what they are currently marketing.
In the meantime, before finishing the novel or finding a literary agent, good practice for aspiring authors is to get things published in newspapers and literary magazines even if the pay is not enough to make a living.
“Literary magazines have no money; you’ll get a handshake, not even a dinner,” he said. “You’ll get what poets refer to it as ‘career satisfaction.’ It is an undeniable tickle to get something published, but you also begin to build a career. Like any other profession, it takes a little patience and perseverance.”
It is also important for success to have the moral support from family and friends.
“You have to be around people who are supportive and understand what you want to do,” he said. “My wife supported me [fully]. She typed my manuscripts and became a superb editor for me.”
For people with an undeniable passion to break into the industry, Heinemann said keep at it.
“Keep reading, developing story ideas,” he said. “Having a passion for this [job] doesn’t hurt, it helps you through the hard times.”
The NASA spokesman: How do I get there?
Josh Byerly, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1990 with a bachelor of science in journalism started out working as a reporter and producer at KBTX in Bryan.
He now is the public affairs officer and spokesman for NASA, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Byerly said the biggest piece of advice he could give is to get as much experience as possible while still in school.
“With the job market as competitive and limited as it is right now, you need to do everything in your power to get real-world experience in whatever field you want to go into,” he said. “This could be an internship, but it could also be getting involved in whatever student organization you are in.”
He said it is a good idea to find any opportunity to gain experience, even if it is something small. It is helpful to have experience in the real world before going back to graduate school.
“If you can hone those skills and then talk to a potential employer about how that experience can help them, you’ll have an advantage,” he said. “I’ve also noticed that graduate degrees are becoming more common, but from my own experience, I can tell you that if you want to get an MBA, it helps to have lived and breathed in the corporate world for a little bit.”

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