TOP TIPS: Becoming a professional journalist…
Everyone knows you must like writing to be a journalist, but which attributes make a top journalist? Here’s my top twenty attributes to bear in mind if in this competitive industry you are going to do well…
1. Love news. I’m always amazed at the number of people who say they want to be a journalist but rarely read a newspaper. Whether you yearn to work in fashion on a glossy mag, write about politics for a broadsheet or specialise in real life stories for weekly mags, you must be an avid news reader. If you don’t adore news – if you have little interest in what is making the headlines (whether it is war, celebrity scandal or a court case) – you won’t know what is trending and therefore which stories editors are looking for.
2. Are happy to go it alone. While you might still work within a team to pull in a good story, exclusives are not found where other journalists are. To find those, you need to go off the beaten track on your own.
3. Enjoy talking on the phone. In an ideal world, face-to-face interviews would always be the norm. But with tight deadlines most journalists find themselves talking a lot on the phone. You must be happy to pick up the phone and ring anyone.
4. Have an innate sense of justice. Good journalists want to investigate and uncover the truth or find a different angle to a story – it is the premise of every good journalist.
5. Don’t give up easily. If one door (literally) closes in your face, you need to think of a way to follow up a story a different way.
6. Know when to back off. At the same time, you must accept if someone doesn’t want to speak to you and leave them alone…
7. Don’t follow the crowd. If you are to stand out as a freelancer or in a busy office you need to get creative – whether it’s finding a niche for your website, finding your own stories or coming up with your own ideas.
8. Can put people at ease. You must enjoy talking to people from all walks of life. If you’re not sociable, don’t find people interesting and enjoy a chat, this won’t be a job you’ll enjoy.
9. Develop a good news sense. You learn what people want to read. Incidentally the best way to develop this is to read as many different publications as possible.
10. Will be open to new ideas. Editors want a ‘can do’ journalist not a ‘can’t do’.
11. Are sticklers for accuracy. Never take a chance. Check and double check all details are correct.
12. Are able to take criticism. There is no point in being precious over your writing if your article is cut short. And if you are asked for more copy then it will hopefully only go to make your piece even better…
13. Are honest. Never embellish a story or hide a problem – always be honest with editors and interviewees.
14. Understand the importance of research. Always research everything, If you don’t understand something, neither will the editor or your reader.
15. Are not afraid to ASK – ring the interviewee back if you have forgotten one question and check with an editor how many words, what angle, third or first person before you write. Never assume – you will doubtless be wrong!
16. Don’t clock watch. Journalism isn’t a nine to five job. News happens 24 hours a day, interviewees often want to chat when they’re home from work.
17. Will go that extra mile. It’s the call you don’t make that will end up being that vital story!
18. Can switch off at the end of the day. Journalism can be all-consuming. It helps if you are not a nervous sort of person and you realise you can’t sort the world’s problems.
19. Can write fast. If you suffer from chronic writer’s block, the deadlines in journalism will be too stressful.
20. Take rejection and disappointment in their stride. Interviewees change their minds, stories don’t always make the final cut. You must be able to pick yourself up and forge ahead getting on with the next job…
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Are you a trainee journalist, an intern on a publication or looking for your first job? What other attributes do you think journalists should have? Let me know here: Top tips for a journalist