Hi there! My name is Kate, I’m a Blogger, and I’m back with a second guest post on Lydia’s blog. (You can read my first here.) (You can read Kate’s interview here.)
Getting a journalism job is a complex thing. The great thing is that no particular qualifications are necessary for obtaining a journalism role — although newspapers often ask for an NCTJ qualification whilst recruiting. However, journalism is a fiercely-competitive industry. Being able to land even an entry-level journalist position requires dedication, determination and a lot of hard work.
Having said that, the rewards for landing a job in media are incredible. The opportunity to put your interests to use in a career, the chance to see new places, the privilege of being able to tell people’s stories — the list goes on. If the sector is right for you, it’s something that you will get so much out of.
Dump the myths about jobs.
The first thing to do is dump the myths. Although you have to have some resilience and some thickness of skin, you don’t have to act like some hardened hack to be able to progress in journalism. A lot of people have the misconception that journalists are like some sort of ruthless type of superhuman with no heart, who will stop at nothing to get ahead and get a story and will do nothing to support and nurture industry rookies, but that really isn’t the case. I haven’t got much media experience comparatively, but the dealings I’ve had with journalism thus far have left me with the conviction that journalists are just people who love to be creative and who want to make a career out of their interest by telling others about the world.
Start early. Literally.
I was lucky that I was bitten by the journalism bug early, but the preparation for my first paid journalism role started years before I actually got it. I got my first published articles, in one of my local newspapers at the time, at the age of 15. I don’t say that to be precocious: I say that to indicate how much slog is required to be able to get a paid journalism role. Six years later, at the age of 21, I got said role — after gaining a number of different forms of journalistic work experience to add to my CV.
To be able to get to the stage where I got articles published at 15 (by getting a week’s unpaid work experience placement at the newspaper) I had to know how to write. I had been crafting this skill for quite a long time: I grew up reading fiction as a child, and at secondary school, I started reading sources of news and magazines (plus non-fiction books) a lot more. Through reading, I learnt how to write journalistically.
Reading is key.
If you want to be a journalist, you need to read, read, read. Read fiction and non-fiction books. Read magazine features. Read articles in everything from national newspapers to local newsletters. Read signs. Read websites. Read food packaging. Read TV programme synopses. Read the small print on adverts. By reading more, you learn how to write for different styles. And by reading more articles, writing them will come a lot more naturally to you — and you’ll likely improve your proofreading skills, something that really contributes to having that full journalistic package that I think makes it a lot easier to get a journalism job. For me, writing articles is like an innate process — and that has to come from having read a lot of different articles previously.
So you’ve got the ability to write. Now you need to combine that with hard work. No matter what your long-term journalism goals may be, a great place to start is work experience at a local newspaper, as it gives you a well-rounded insight into journalism and the process of bringing out a newspaper. Email your local paper(s) asking if they offer work experience — though better still, ring them, as it shows confidence and interest. Be sure to use great spelling and grammar if you use written communication.
Building up the work experience placements is a good thing to do. It indicates your dedication to a career in journalism, and just having two weeks’ worth of experience at a publication will probably not be enough when applying for journalism roles. I did another week of work experience at another publication when I was 17, before going on to do seven weeks of unpaid work experience at a slightly larger setup in the summer after my first year of university.
Take opportunities that come your way.
This leads me nicely on to another important thing when it comes to getting a journalism role. Sometimes, a lucky break or opportunity makes all the difference when applying for a journalism role. However, fear not! I am a big believer that you can make your own luck. You can make it more likely for good things to happen to you career-wise if you seize opportunities. I was only supposed to be doing work experience at that local publication after my first university year for a single week. However, the weekend before I was due to start at the title, the editor of the publication had an accident at home, rendering him out of action at work for several weeks.
Now, I want to make it clear that of course, I don’t wish pain or suffering at all on anyone. What I have to admit, however, is that if it hadn’t been for that accident, I might be in a very different position today than the one I am in now, with my first journalism role. Though the publication was a bigger setup in that it was linked to two other titles for my county, the specific title I had applied for work experience on only had one other person working full-time on its editorial. I think this person probably saw early on that I was capable of stringing the sentences together, as I was offered the opportunity to continue doing work experience if I wished. Though unpaid, I took it, and thus ended up being there for the amount of weeks noted above.
Throughout my long work experience placement, I got published in both the other titles and got to do some work experience at one of them, and also got a networking opportunity. I also gained a much bigger insight into journalism and article-writing than I would have done if I’d only been at the publication a week. What’s more, being at the publication for the amount of time I was there meant that the editor, having returned to work during the placement and having got to know me, subsequently gave me a reference for my first paid journalism job — result! The morals of the story? Seize opportunities to prove yourself, and try and do longer work experience placements it’s viable and you don’t feel you’re being taken advantage of.
There are other fantastic opportunities out there to cut your teeth in journalism. One is entering article-writing competitions, which indicate a flair for journalistic writing if you even just get shortlisted. Trust me: doing well in them is possible. In my second year at university, I was shortlisted for The Clothes Show’s Young Journalist of the Year Award for 2015. Try going for niche competitions that may not attract such a large amount of participants — any journalism award recognition is good journalism award recognition! Don’t get knocked back by rejections, as your next competition entry might catch the judges’ eyes.
Another great opportunity to gain journalistic experience is on voluntary publications or media setups. If you go to university, get involved in the student newspaper, magazines or radio station — student journalism is quite a big thing and there are a number of opportunities available to those who do stuff with student media. It can be competitive — I was knocked back three times before I got a section editor role on my university’s paper — but any student media experience really is great for the CV and, especially in this Internet age, there’s lots of ways to make your mark in some form. If you’re not at university, volunteering on a community newsletter or radio station is another great way of gaining experience. Alternatively, perhaps you could make your own blog, newsletter, podcast or YouTube channel? These forms of media are great places to showcase what you can do journalistically as well.
Networking is also a great way of making it more likely to get your foot in the journalism door. Add people in the journalism industry on LinkedIn and follow them on social media. Also, try to attend networking events if the opportunity arises, as you never know what a chance meeting might bring.
With all this experience under your belt, your chances of getting shortlisted for journalism jobs will be exponentially increased. When applying for journalism jobs, be confident — but not arrogant — and just be yourself. As I indicated previously, journalism is a place full of creative people who want to use that creativity for a living – and if you fit that bill, that coveted first journalism job will likely be yours one day.