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11 tips for getting your first media job

August 13, 2011

Nurul Izzah Anwar surrounded by reporters during the Malaysian general election, 2008Looking to eject from your current job into the precarious exciting world of journalism? Here are some tips.

1. You don’t need to go to journalism school – You can pick up the skills you need by doing it. Experience is the best teacher, and you’ll be judged by your portfolio and recommendations.

2. Know your niche – You won’t get a job as a general reporter, there’s just too much competition from recent journo graduates. You have to build up specialist knowledge in an area you’re passionate about – preferably one where there’s lots of advertising.  Do this:

  • Know the people – Try to meet as many people as possible, both in person and online. They’ll be the people tipping you off in future. They’ll be the people you can turn to when you need help. So hang out in the forums and the real-world events and network, network, network.
  • Know the field – Understand the field you’re covering as well as you can – both the technical aspects and the major players and issues. You’ll be able to ask better questions, get better stories, make fewer mistakes, and you’ll be more respected by the community you’re covering (people prefer to talk to reporters who know their stuff).
  • Know the publications and the journalists – Who’s good, who sucks, and in what aspects. Which publications in your chosen niche cover what and how their angles differ. You’ll be asking these companies for jobs, and they expect you to be able to talk intelligently about their work, their staff and their competition.

3. Practice, practice, practice – Approach the free community papers and websites and ask them what you can do. You’ll write your fair share of dull-as-dugong articles, but it’s all good practice. If the editor thinks you’re worth keeping their help you hone your craft until you can land a paying gig.

4. Promote, promote, promote – Start a blog talking about your chosen niche and interact with the community. Connect with people in the niche on Twitter and promote the hell out of yourself. Comment on other blogs in your chosen field.

5. Be realistic -You won’t be a columnist or feature writer for the New York Times. And you don’t really want to be anyway, it’s not as good as you think. Your best chance nowadays is in niche online publications. They’re the ones most likely to hire outsiders, because to them knowledge of the community and niche is more important than traditional journalism skills.

6. Get good at online marketing – Use your blog to learn about search engine and social media marketing. Knowing how to drive traffic to your work is extremely important online, and it’s a skill few other journalists have.

7. Get a smartphone (or tablet) – If you want to be a news reporter, within a few years most of your audience will be reading/watching/listening to your content on their iPhone or Android (or Windows phone…?). You need to understand how people consume content on these phones.

It will also likely be how you produce most of your content. Writing, video, audio will all be done in the field on laptops and smartphones in future.

The same applies for tablets if you’re trying to get into feature writing. That’s how a lot of people will be reading your content, so you need to understand how they’ll do it.

8.  Get good at technology – The pace of change in journalism is being wrenched up from newspaper levels (hardly any) to tech sector levels (dizzying). If you can keep ahead of the tech curve  by staying on top of new devices, software, and patterns of news consumption, you’ve got a clear advantage.

9. Get good at video – Learn how to shoot and edit clips on your smartphone or laptop. You’ll be expected to be able to write, shoot video and upload content yourself.

10. Learn shorthand – Just because it’s old fashioned doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. In the age of digital voice recorders shorthand isn’t as useful as it once was, but you’ll be able to turn articles around much more quickly if you can take accurate notes.

11. Keep your day job – Journalists don’t make much money generally, but you’ll make none while you’re starting out. You’ll have to do it in your spare time and use another job to pay the bills. This might include freelancing  for PR firms looking for content – not as boring as you might think. More likely it means working a 40 hour week and using your free time to bone up on the skills, knowledge and contacts you’ll need to make the transition.

What, you thought it was going to be easy?

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