I asked George Beetham, Jr., to respond to Sarah's post. Here is his reply.
Pat's comments offer a couple of strategies. But I want to address the nature of clip files and, by extension, resumes.
What you really seek to do with both resumes and clip files is to present to prospective employers a digest of why they should hire you.
You need to understand that employers will receive many resumes from many people. What you need to do to attract that employer's attention is stand out from all the rest.
If I am looking over resumes, trying to decide who will be invited in for an interview, I look for a resume and clip file that demonstrate the applicant's interest in and fitness for my publication's mission and philosophy.
I look, therefore, for resumes and clip files that demonstrate a candidate's interest in and commitment to community news reporting.
So clips from non-related publishing ventures are not going to trump clips from newspapers, everything else being equal.
For me, journalism was a second career after the first of writing journalistically styled reports for a government agency. So I not only didn't have a clip file, my work being locked away, but nothing to indicate that I would succeed in journalism.
I wrote freelance stories for little or no monetary remuneration to build a file. I talked to the editor of a local weekly paper to find out what he needed in the way of stories, and what he needed was features. I set out to write them with a vengeance and soon had a file that got me through the door.
As an aside, the editor who eventually hired me said he put little stock in clip files because he thought they represented the work of the copy desk rather than the writer. But other editors value clip files because they do demonstrate not just writing ability, but a reporter's grasp of issues.
It's correct to assume a clip file consisting of poorly edited stories is not going to get the job done. But it's also essential to present a clip file that is germane to the position for which you are applying.
So the course of action I would recommend is to contact the editor of a small, community newspaper and seek out ways to write stories the paper can use, even if it means doing that for free (a price that is always right in an age of limited budgets).
A further benefit for this strategy: I have hired people who have been freelancers or stringers who demonstrated their fitness for journalism in this way.
Another approach might be to seek out an internship, even if it is unpaid (assuming you do not have an overwhelming need to put food on the table and pay the rent). People have interned while holding down night jobs, by the way. I have hired former interns, again for their demonstrated ability.
Editors seek out people who will become good journalists. They want people who are motivated and outgoing. Journalists interact with people from government officials down to the common man/woman. Anybody who demonstrates an outgoing, but not dominating, personality and journalistic credentials makes the hiring process easier. That's your goal, to make that process a slam-dunk.