So you want to be a journalist?

Do you dream of becoming the next A.A. Gill or Yasmin Alibhai-Brown? Annique Simpson speaks to three experienced reporters to find out the best way to kick-start a successful journalistic career.

Meet the experts:

The Freelancer

Lindsay Johns is a writer and broadcaster and has had comment and opinion pieces published in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail.

The Staff Writer

Tom Parmenter is a news correspondent with Sky News covering national and international events. He also has extensive regional newspaper, news broadcasting and radio experience.

The Editor

Marc Wadsworth is the editor of The-Latest.Com, the UK's first dedicated citizen journalism website. He is also an experienced journalist, broadcaster, author and a lecturer in journalism at City University.

1. Don’t give up.

Journalism is a tough and highly competitive industry to break into. According to UCAS, the number of applicants for journalism courses in the UK has risen by 30 per cent since 2009, while there was a 33 per cent drop in the amount of mainstream media jobs between 2001 and 2010, according to a recent report by the University of Central Lancashire.

But that does not mean you should give up on your dream. “Don’t assume you will be unsuccessful,” says Parmenter. “If you do get knocked back or don’t hear back from people then persist with your questions.” Journalistic success is a gradual and, at times, arduous process, but it is achievable. “Keep persevering and be resilient, as they say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success,” says Johns.

2. Practice writing everyday

“It is crucial that you constantly hone your craft and develop your own voice; the style that makes you distinctive, and thus hopefully more attractive,” says Johns. Set yourself the challenge of writing between 300 and 600 words every day in whichever genre you prefer, be it freehand, creative or journalistic writing.

However, you should aim to produce publishable work, as editors are most impressed by examples of commissioned work. “No commissioning editor in the world will be interested in class assignments alone,” warns Wadsworth. “They want to see published articles, blogs and video; anything that demonstrates your ability and credibility as a professional writer.”

3. Be proactive

“Don’t wait for the job to come to you; it won’t be that easy,” warns Parmenter. “Finding stories and telling them in your own way – pitching them to organisations or publishing yourself on a blog – is a great way to start getting feedback on your work and developing journalistic skill.” The more original and interesting the story, the better, as Johns points out: “Editors will always want good ideas for their newspapers. Imitative ideas are never as good as bold, fresh ones.”

Be sure to apply a similar proactive attitude to your knowledge of the news. “Make sure that you swot up on all sorts of subjects not just the things you are interested in,” advises Parmenter, “as if you do get an interview with a news organisation you may be tested on your current affairs knowledge.”

4. Network with people in the industry

The old adage "it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know", is highly applicable to journalism. Industry contacts are extremely valuable to novice journalists; they can be great sources of advice and are likely to have a wider range of useful contacts that could potentially help secure you work experience or even your first job.

Attending media networking events and making contact with your local paper are two good ways of forming relationships with experienced journalists. “Tell them who you are and what you want to do”, advises Parmenter. “If you don’t then someone else will and it could be the head-start they need to beat you to a job.”

5. Get work experience

Not only can internships and placements provide you with the skills and knowledge needed to become a successful journalist, they can also serve as a showcase for your talent.

Unfortunately, many of the work experience opportunities available are unpaid; but don’t let that put you off. “Sometimes you may be asked to work for free to prove that you have the skills and commitment to do the job,” says Parmenter. “Be prepared to go the extra mile and expect the unexpected.”

Wadsworth agrees: “It’s worth it, because you can have the best qualification, but without the experience you just won’t get the job.”

6. Be professional at all times.

As a journalist, you will be constantly interacting with different people in order to get your story, such as colleagues, dignitaries and members of the general public. “Knowing how to approach and how to talk to people is a valuable skill as a journalist,” says Parmenter.

However, not everyone you talk to will be friendly or helpful. “Always be polite and professional, no matter how many rejections or impolite responses you receive,” says Johns. Remember, they may have the information that you need, so try to be as positive and pleasant as possible.

7. Perfect your CV

Your résumé is often the first contact an editor will have with you, so it is imperative that it is accurate, concise and error-free. “Make sure you have a presentable CV of no more than two pages long with your most recent and impressive work experience at the top,” recommends Wadsworth. “Editors are more interested in the work you have done so far rather than your primary or secondary school education, so prioritise the work experience section.”

It is worthwhile researching your intended employer and tailoring your CV to their requirements before submitting it to them. “Find out what they want, what their style is and make your CV a perfect fit. That way the company knows that you are serious about working for them,” adds Wadsworth.

8. Be technology savvy

As increasingly more areas of journalism move online, the demand for journalists who can create video and audio-based stories is greater than ever. “Journalists need to be multi-skilled and be able to operate across multiple media platforms,” explains Wadsworth. “Being able to produce and edit still and moving digital images to complement written stories will set you apart from your peers.”

Up-and-coming journalists may have the edge as a result of these technological changes. “The explosion of online journalism has added to the opportunities suited to younger journalists,” claims Parmenter. “So get stuck in, get some training and prove to someone that you want the job.”

9. Beware of the legal and moral responsibilities of journalists

“Journalists have to report on very serious matters sometimes and we are bound by the law and have a duty to report responsibly,” states Parmenter.

Increasing your knowledge of media law now will impress potential employers, particularly in light of the current Leveson inquiry, which is investigation British media ethics. “The industry is going through an unprecedented period of soul-searching and scrutiny following the hacking scandal,” adds Parmenter. “Getting the law tight means you are a credible and trusted journalist.”

Being able to write honourably is also an important part of becoming a respected journalist. “There may be ramifications from things you write and you may not make friends by expressing your opinions,” states Johns, “so always write with integrity and believe in what you say.”

10.  Write for the love of writing

If you want to earn lots of money, journalism may not be for you. “Journalism is not paid as well as many people think”, claims Parmenter. “At entry level it can be particularly mean. Wages can start just above the minimum wage in some local newspapers and radio stations.”

However, there are many other perks associated with journalism which make it an ideal career choice for the right person.  “Over the course of a career you should experience things and meet people that most people would never even dream of,” says Parmenter. “It can be rewarding, depressing, exhilarating and, although it sounds naff, you can change people’s lives.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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