Ten pieces of advice for aspiring journalists from the editor of Press Gazette

This excellent, vocationally focussed advice comes from The Press Gazette’s publication “How to be a journalist 2016/17”. It contains lots of super useful industry advice.

clark kent

1.Practice, practice, practice. I was lucky enough to be able to get high marks in most academic exams through last-minute cramming.

That won’t work in journalism, it is a craft and requires practice to perfect.

Writing a good news story intro is like hitting a good tennis serve, the only way you are going to get it right is by trying and failing a number of times.

Get all the experience you can, particularly on student publications. And be patient. News writing is a precise discipline which is very different from the academic style.

2. Shorthand. It’s the skill that sets the serious journalist apart from the enthusiastic amateur. Like news writing it will only come with a lot of practise so as soon as you have decided to do journalism training buy a shorthand textbook (Teeline) and start learning it. A shorthand speed of 100 words per minute is essential for any general news reporter job because without it you can’t cover court (where tape recorders are banned).

3. Unless you have a bloody good memory you are going to need a voice recorder and a telephone mic. While you are getting your shorthand speed up use an in-ear telephone mic (about £10 on Amazon) to tape phone interviews.

You will also need your smartphone or dictaphone to record face to face interviews. Even when you have 100 words per minute shorthand you will need to record longer interviews as people speak a lot faster than that.

4. Become a geek. There is a debate about whether traditional skills such as shorthand are as important as new skills such as computer coding. It’s not either or, get them all. If you can learn the basics of HTML (the code behind web pages) and other computer languages such as Python you will dramatically improve your employability.

5. Create your own blog and experiment with embedding widgets and other digital whistles and bells. Get on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other social media platform you can think of. Social media is all the rage in journalism nowadays.

6. The same goes for data. Data journalism is another buzz phrase in the industry. It basically involves taking large dull-looking groups of numbers and finding stories in them. Again, if you can learn some data skills you are going to put yourself ahead of much of the competition. At its most basic it could just be getting a list of election results, putting them into a spreadhseet and then using a programme such as Datawrapper to create a pretty graph which you cut and paste into your website. Believe it or not, becoming a whizz with Excel is one of the most useful skills you can have as a journalist.

7. Enjoy yourself. Journalism is not the best paid job in the world. People do it because it is fun and maybe because they also want to make a difference. There is a great tradition in this country of controlled anarchy in newsrooms. Keep it up.

8. Oh, and about the money. Journalism can be low paid considering the high level of skills and training which it requires. Starting salaries are typically around £18,000. Even a senior reporter on a local paper might be on £20-25,000. The sky’s the limit earnings-wise for star journalists and the profession can also be a grounding for a more lucrative career in PR, corporate communications, TV presenting or something else entirely. Money may not matter to you so much now, but it may in ten years time. So it is worth considering that typically even teachers and police officers nowadays earn more that journalists (and they probably have better pensions). That said, they probably don’t have nearly as much fun.

9. When it comes to getting your first job treat your covering letter and CV with as much care as a front page story. If you write a covering letter which grabs the reader’s attention, which shows (but doesn’t tell) how you are the most enthusiastic and best suited person for the job you will get an interview. Most people write dull, formulaic covering letters full of stock phrases such as “I have a passion for yada yada”, “I am honest and hard working”, “I’m a good team player”. These go straight in the bin. Show you can write with flair and originality.

10. Remember with stories, finding a job, getting on a course and many other asects of journalism every no gets you closer to a yes.You have to fail in this game in order to succeed.

Don’t get disheartened because everyone has been there.

If you want to talk about your journalism ideas feel free to come and talk to a Careers Manager.


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