Every now and then someone asks me how to break into journalism, either for themselves, or for a younger relative.
Even though I have long been on record about my passion for journalism, my heart always sinks a little when this comes up. The media is in the process of cataclysmic change, and I hesitate to recommend it as a career path for that reason.
But of course, I understand the pull of the craft. So this is the best advice I can give.
The starting point is to broaden your skills as much as you can – be able to do everything needed in modern journalism, whether you work on a newspaper, a website, a radio station, or as a freelancer. Those skills could include any and all of the following:
- Taking your own photographs
- Taking and editing video
- Taking and editing audio
The starting point for learning these three: take a free online course.
MOOC List has a comprehensive list of courses that you can take without spending money.
You can also look at Poynter’s training offerings here. Some are free, and some need to be paid for.
Learn basic HTML coding: – do as many Codecademy lessons as you can bear.
Learn as much as you can about data journalism. Look at Open Up for an introduction to the field.
And there’s a basic course here that’s good, and free at the time of writing.
JOURNALISM IS NOT JUST WRITING
Many of the big news websites have their own sources of content and don’t commission writers. What they want is good, fast editing. This might be a place to start to find some online training.
Otherwise, the path to being an editor (and writer) lies in being a reader in the language in which you will be doing your journalism – read everything you can lay your hands on, join the library, read, read, read. If you are going to be writing in English, note that it’s okay to start with what is snobbishly seen as slightly tabloid – You magazine is great source of articles written in clear, colloquial English.
Gone are the days when being talented at writing and being a nosy hard-ass were the only requirements to get you into a newsroom. All journalists need to be able to think about and contribute to the debates around the profession’s revenue model. The newsletters of the World Association of News Publishers are a good place to start.
MARKETING AND NETWORKING
Market yourself on social media – for these purposes, concentrate on Twitter because journalists think Twitter is important.
Make your own tweets about things you are interested in.
Follow big name journalists.
Learn how to make Twitter lists.
And get yourself a blog (try WordPress or Tumblr) or make yourself a Facebook page (as distinct from your personal profile, if you have one). Pick a theme – even if it is your hobby – but show yourself to be engaged and interesting and literate. If you have taken photos or made videos or podcasts (see above), showcase them here.
LinkedIn – make yourself as detailed a LinkedIn profile as you can. Put the link to that profile in all the other places where you have an online presence. This establishes you as professional and credible and solid.
Make a proper scan of all the media in your area/region/country – understand who does what, what kind of publications they have, what jobs they might offer (tip: scour the “about” and “contact us” pages of their websites!). Go to their offices, ask to see the editor. They probably won’t let you in. Keep going back. If you get to see anyone senior, ask to be an unpaid intern for two weeks (no longer, or you are being exploited). Make the coffee, offer to fetch their lunch, find the TV remote, help them figure out how to use the printer. Hang around till someone asks you to write something. (I’m deeply aware of the issues around unpaid internships and internships generally, and how there are many insurmountable barriers for those whose access to transport and food and data and many other things is insecure. It is for this reason that my heart sinks when talking about journalism as a career. The hard truth is that there are precious few jobs, and the internship route is often the only way in.)
I know this sounds frivolous but it’s worth a try: Find out where the journalists in your town drink – go meet them, introduce yourself as an aspiring journalist. Don’t ask for advice – just listen (journalists have big egos and like to talk about themselves). You don’t have to drink alcohol to do this or buy people drinks (though if you are going to drink, you must pay for your round). Just stand around and make friends. Even if you don’t get a job, you will still have an entertaining evening!
Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media).
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* This is an updated version of a post I first wrote in 2017.