How to work in journalism

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There are many different forms of media now, which means that there are many ways to get into the industry. It also means that the media is open to many more people than it traditionally would have been. Which is great.

In this post I’m going to share a bit about how I got into the industry, what it takes to get up the ladder and my tips and advice if you are serious about a career in journalism.

The first thing to say is – it’s not easy. Social media might make it look like lots of free meals and fancy events, but there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that get put in behind the scenes. But if you really want it, it’s not out if reach. Trust me. I knew absolutely no one in the industry. I didn’t come from a family that had any connections, or money.

When I first started doing work experience, and even in my first role, I would never have dreamed that I’d one day be a group editor, or have won awards for my work, or met royals, or have become the first female editor in the history of one of the most prestigious weekly papers there is #humblebrag

If I can do it, so can you.

Work experience

Why should I work for nothing? I know, I know. It sucks. But work experience is vital if you want to get into the industry.

ONE, you can see if it’s actually for you. TWO, it equips you with vital work skills. THREE, it shows potential employers that you know what the role is about. I’m much more likely to employ someone with work experience than without. The fourth reason is that if you are taking and NCTJ course (see below), you’ll have to show that you’ve done at least two weeks’ work experience to get a place on the course.

Work experience can come in different forms. Having your own blog is a great way to practice your writing skills, for example. But really, if you want to work in a newsroom, you need to get into one.

How to get work experience? And how to make the most of your placement and make a positive impression? Here are some tips.

Qualifications

A degree ISN’T necessary for a career in journalism. Shock horror. I went to university and did a BA in English. It was good to get a degree, and I learnt a lot at university (mostly, regrets) but I feel that perhaps it was a case of ‘everyone has a degree. You HAVE to get one just to start at an entry-level position.’

Of course, things have changed a lot since then. It’s over ten years since I started at university. In those days Facebook wasn’t even really on anybody’s radar.

The most important qualification you want to get if you’re serious about news journalism is the NCTJ. You can do your NCTJ as part of an accredited degree, or you can do as a stand-alone fast-track course, either after or instead of university. Newsquest is now also offering an apprenticeship scheme, which means you can ‘earn while you learn’ and work in a newsroom four days a week with one day of study.

I did the fast-track diploma. The course wasn’t cheap and I had to balance studies with work. But that’s normal for lots of people.

If you want to get into broadcast or magazine journalism or sports journalism, there are courses for you too.

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Know your product

How many news stories do you read a day? How many magazines do you buy? Which websites do you regularly check?

It sounds so obvious…

and yet you’d be surprised at how many kids come in for interview and don’t know the product. Or even current affairs.

To become an expert in something, you have to know it. If you’re serious about journalism then you have an insatiable appetite for the type of journalism you want to go into.

Reading also helps develop your news sense and your grammar and spelling.

Grammar and spelling are absolutely vital in journalism. And yet you’d be surprised and the number of simple grammatical errors I see on a daily basis. It’s a harsh reality that you can’t edit if you can’t spell.

If your vision is to get onto a newsdesk, make sure your spelling is up to scratch. Otherwise you just won’t be considered for those roles.

Getting your first job

Real talk. If you’re expecting big bucks, go into a different profession. I’ve had people come into interview who are straight out of college and think journalism is writing your very own column and going on press trips. It’s not. It’s hard bloody work.

When I first got a job in the industry, things were a bit different to now. Competition was brutal and there were not so many avenues to explore.

So how did I get my first journalism job? I wrote to every single paper I could find and asked for a job. One editor got back to me and said he was just about to post a job ad for a trainee, come in for an interview.

The job was in Dorset. I was living in Portsmouth. I knew not a sole in Dorset and the job paid £13,000 a year.

I had two interviews and I was asked to submit five stories. The boss told me he wanted to hire me but he had his reservations as I was ‘so into fashion’. When people tell me they doubt me, it just adds fuel to the fire. Two years later I was chief reporter and a year after that I was deputy editor.

Be prepared to WORK

Working in news is the type of job where you go to work in the morning and don’t know what time you’ll be finishing that night. You’ll have to work shifts, weekends and even Christmas. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. One minute you might be interviewing an angry resident about parking, the next you’re at a murder scene. One morning you could be interviewing a celeb, that afternoon you’re at an inquest and then you’ve got an evening council meeting. If that sounds terrible, news journalism probably isn’t for you. But if that sounds exciting, you’ve got the basic drive of a news journalist.

Magazines are slightly different because you’re working to a different timeline. But there are still very long days; shoots, meetings, interviews, press launches, deadline days.

The skills a reporter needs

Tenacity – If you give up after the first job rejection, or the first door in your face, or the first time someone tells you to p*ss off, you won’t get anywhere. Sure, it’s not nice when you’re young and green and someone shouts at you – but if you’ve done your best and what you’ve written is accurate, legally sound and fair, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

You’ve got to be personable – If people don’t warm to you, how are you going to get the story? You’ll have to deal with all sorts of people in all sorts of situations on any given day. You’ve got to be able to gauge what type of person the situation requires you to be. You’ve got to have empathy and manners and professionalism.

Good listener – A vital part of journalism is accuracy. Listen to what’s being said. Make sure you understand it – how are you going to explain something to a reader, if you have no clue about the topic yourself?

Shorthand – There’s a bit of a debate as to whether shorthand is necessary any more. In my opinion, it’s absolutely vital. Sure, you can record (but not at court or an inquest), but shorthand is a skill for life and you just can’t carry out interviews and get down all the details at the normal rate of speaking if you don’t know shorthand

Recommended reading

McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists – when you’re doing your exams, this will become your bible!

How to be a Journalist – Simply written, a gentle introduction for anyone studying at school/ college who wants to understand a bit more about what it takes

The Universal Journalist – Pretty solid introduction to the skills you’ll need

Essential Public Affairs for Journalists – Will explain the theirs of councils, committees, government etc

Any questions?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Chloe says:

    This is so useful! I’m currently doing an NCTJ diploma and found that it’s vital to have this qualification for gaining a job in journalism. The English degree I gained just didn’t quite cut it…should have done my research!

    Liked by 2 people

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