If you're interested in getting an editorial job -- particularly at a magazine or newspaper -- you'll need writing samples or editorial clips. Editorial clips are, in many ways, a kind of calling card for professional journalists and magazine writers.
Hiring managers and editors will often require you to present your writing samples during the interview or send them, with your resume and cover letter, via email. Because strong writing samples are essential for getting writing-based jobs, you may need to think about trying to freelance to beef up (or start on) your collection of writing samples.
What Kind of Writing Samples You Should Have
Your clips should demonstrate your strongest work. Ideally, they will be from an actual publication -- it’s NOT a good idea to rely on unpublished pieces from college or your personal life -- and speak to the kind of job you’re applying for. In other words, if you’re applying for sportswriter positions, it would be a little odd to have a clip file full of, say, articles on fashion. That said, your clips don’t have to be too focused on a topic. Since sportswriter positions call for reporting, a clip collection of straight-up news stories will demonstrate you’re a strong reporter.
Stories From Your College Paper
If you have strong clips you published in your college newspaper they might be impressive enough to help you land a job. But, in this day and age, lots of college students interested in print media jobs do internships and, many of them, publish things here and there for other publications.
Although editors always say the important thing is the strength of the piece of writing, not where it’s from, having clips from recognizable publications helps. Editors are often impressed with undergrads who have shown the initiative, or have the experience, to have been published outside their college paper.
If you’re not applying to a job straight out of college though, you shouldn’t be using clips from your days on the undergrad newspaper. If you have a few (or many) years of experience in the workforce -- even if you’re a career-changer -- you need to have non-collegiate work.
How Clips Should Be Presented
Many job listings will require that applicants email a resume, cover letter, and clips. Some people will accept clips as pdf files -- you should not send something that’s been published as a Word doc -- but most employers will prefer URLs to your work.
Then, when you go for your face-to-face interview, you should be prepared to present your clips in person. Most writers maintain a clipbook -- just as people in other creative fields hold on to books displaying their work in a visual and presentable way.
If you don’t already have a clipbook, look into getting a nice binder and filling it with clear 8.5x11 sleeves. You will probably need to cut and paste your work onto a piece of paper -- I recommend using black construction paper -- presenting the piece in as logical a manner as possible.
Make sure to include the publication title, the run date, your byline and the entire piece. (If you notice the way restaurants and stores often present positive press mentions -- often framed on the wall -- you get a sense of how awkwardly laid out pieces, which may have appeared in a column or a long newspaper edition, can be tailored to fit on the traditional 8.5x11 page.)
A word of caution: If you only have one copy of a clip, don’t go chopping it up hastily. If you cut something up before you know how to lay it out, you may not get a second chance, as Tim Gunn might say, to "make it work." And, while making a clipbook can be a bit of an arts and crafts project, you don’t want the book to look sloppy as that will reflect poorly on you.
If You Don’t Have Any Clips
If you don’t have any clips, and you want a writing job, you need to get some. It’s nearly impossible to get an editorial job in magazines or newspapers without clips. To get clips, you’ll have to start pounding the pavement and trying to get assignments from newspapers or magazines.