Back in the day when young writers were pitching magazines to publish their work, there used to be a common complaint by magazine editors: “Some of the writers have never even seen our magazine! Don’t they realize how rude and disrespectful it is to pitch us stories that we would never publish, because they’re just not us!”
I have been working on recruiting a journalism staffer for a major public radio station. And, frankly, after sitting through a bunch of interviews and reading even more applications, I am stunned that almost none of the applicants have taken the time to do basic homework. This would include:
1. Familiarity with the station.
2. Knowledge of the job they’re applying for.
Both of these are absolutely basic. In this time of easy Internet access, they could both be accomplished with a few mouse clicks.
Applicants should go to the station’s web site/s and find out the history of the station, what its major programs are, what its declared mission is. They should look at staff lists to find out who’s who there. They should look on the web for articles (Wikipedia is a great start) about the city and region the station is located in, what the major policy questions, demographics of the population and civic challenges are.
Finally, applicants should thoroughly review the job description. They should articulate clear questions, and most of all — they should imagine themselves in the job and spend a little time thinking what they’d like to do with the job. If the job is journalistic, they should think and even talk to people to get some provocative and timely story ideas.
To not do this fundamental homework is foolish. You’ll be forced to punt, and you won’t fool people into thinking you’ve done your homework. Instead, they’ll just conclude that (a) you don’t respect them enough to know the difference and (b) you don’t really care about the job. Word about performances like this gets around — broadcasting is a small community. You will be the big loser.