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Nine tips for journalism newbies

January 22, 2011

I remember my first day of journalism school. I thought I knew bloody everything. By the second day I realised I knew bloody nothing, and was honestly a bit frightened by the gulf that separated me from a real-life professional journo.

If you’re in journo school now, or heading that way, you probably know how I felt.

There’s just so much uncertainty.  How do you get a job when you graduate? Will they even be jobs for journalists by then? What kind of work is a dead-end, and what’s the next-big thing in journalism? How many Santa parades can you actually cover before you go mental?

These are important questions, and I can’t help with all of them, but here are some tips that might help folks starting out in journalism.

Weird image of striped dog thing

I don't know what this is either, but Wikicommons say it has something to do with being lazy. Credit: Patti Haskins.

1. Get a job

Journalism school is just practice for the real world. If you work hard you’ll pick up basics pretty quickly, and then it’s just a matter of repetition until the skills become instinct.

Now is not the time to put your feet up. Write articles on whatever you can. Then flog them wherever you can to get your name out there, build up your portfolio and get more experience. The editor who rejects all your articles will still know your name, and respect you for trying.

If you can’t find a job in a paper, volunteer at one. Most news orgs are understaffed and underfunded and will give you a go, especially if they’re small companies.

2. Learn how to talk to strangers

If you can’t start up a conversation with someone you don’t know, you’re going to miss out on a lot of top stories. Learn to be interesting and engaging. And don’t be afraid to just walk up to someone and ask what’s going on.

3. It’s not a job for nice people

You’ll have to knock on the doors of people who have just lost a family member. You’ll get yelled at. You’ll be called scum. You’ll be called a pain in the ass. That just means you’re doing the job properly.

twitter logo

Credit: GageSkidmore. Modified by Cpro.

4. Get on Twitter

If you don’t have a Twitter account already, get one. Use it both to promote yourself and find stories and interviews. Twitter is an essential part of a modern newsroom. Showing you get how to use it will help you land a job.

5. Hit the streets

Can’t think of a good story? Go walking around your neighbourhood. Talk to people who look like they’re doing interesting stuff. There are stories everywhere.

6. Get published

The internet means everything you create can have a home. And everything you create should. If you can’t get your articles/photos/videos into a real news org, put them on your own blog or website.  Send the links to the people you interviewed too.

7. Data is your friend

Data journalism is only in its infancy, and there’s a lot of public data that’s still untouched. Learn where to get it from, how to analyse it and how to find the interesting trends. This will be an invaluable skill.


See? Isn't maths fun? Credit: Galaksiafervojo

8. Maths is also your friend

A basic grasp of maths (eg how to get percentage increases) will help you cut through the BS that PR and communications staff will dish out. I’m still shocked how many experienced journos can’t work out a percent increase.

9. Learn to shoot and edit video

Even if it’s just on your phone. Download some free software and have a play. You’ll be expected to at least be able to work a video camera/smartphone, but being able to do basic editing will be a huge bonus.

One Comment leave one →
  1. guy permalink
    January 23, 2011 11:12 am

    Good advice. I’d add that nice people can work in journalism, they just have to fight some of their instincts.

    Another reality students need to get their head around is that journalism is everything that goes between the identification of a story to its delivery to the public in whatever form it takes – which you touch on with the video editing advice.

    There are a lot of jobs in news production and very few jobs sleuthing around in a tweed jacket exposing the abuses of the powerful against the powerless.

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