Monday, 9 July 2012

Journalism Tips 36. How to get a job as a journalist.

Every year thousands of students graduate from some form of journalism or media course. It makes sense therefore that competition for the few jobs available really must be pretty fierce. Or so you would think.

Actually on the whole it's not particularly competitive because most young trainee reporters cannot be bothered - to rise above the herd really doesn't take very much. These odds are shortened by the growth in traineeships on national newspapers - which Hoover (it's a trademark - hence the cap) up most of the cream of that year's journalism graduates.

That is unfair since I have seen some brilliant - well almost - trainees fail to get one of the coveted places despite having an excellent CV and references...but you see where I am going with this.

Clearly you are the smarter than average trainee/student reporter - how do I know? You are reading this.

So what do you need to do? Well an excellent portfolio helps (more of what I mean by this on a later blog). A devotion to work experience helps also (ditto).

It's often said it is not what you know but who you know that makes a difference. When I started in this industry I didn't know any journalists - but I learned what I needed to know and got to know the people who helped me find work.

Within five years I was talking to former Observer reporter John (There are three rules in journalism. First, find a crocodile. Two, poke it in the eye with a stick. Three, stand back and report what happens next.) Sweeney whose original article on the tabloids - it was written in a fun not pious manner - got me interested in journalism.

A few years on (I was pretty slow) I was working with The Sun's brilliant chief reporter John Kay. It was reading his copy that helped shaped my own (it was never as good).

Each and every opportunity gets developed by experience and your knowledge....unless your parents are execs on a newspaper, in which case forget all I've said.

Some people are naturals most are not...if you're not preparation is the key and this is in part what this blog is all about. Going back to one of the earlier posts you will see that I claim most work experience is a pain in the butt for the majority of news editors. But if a good attitude, decent work ethic and a few stories makes the difference.

It helps also if you can bring new skills to the table but get the old ones first. If you are sent out on a story there's no point getting a first class video if you haven't got the names of the people you're interviewing. You'll note the headline is deliberately geared to SEO - we are all learning new skills, as we shall see in another post that too will prove important as your career progresses.

Given the state of much of the competition you should find a job with two/three months. If you are doing work experience and following this blog (and assuming there is a position available) it shouldn't take even that long. If you are getting lots of stories and the news editor is not rewriting all your copy ask him or her if they know of any jobs around - note not necessarily on their paper. It might even be worth asking for feedback at the end of the week (but be wary news editors put in massively long hours and come the end of the working week are more interested in getting out of the newsroom that sitting talking to the workie).

Again follow up good work experience places with more calls offering stories. Being dynamic and useful are welcome attributes. But make sure you are not the cause of more problems - write the story up so it is ready to go.

Being a pain is more likely to guarantee you won't get an opportunity even if you may have an occasional good idea.

For several months I had one caller who would ask in a vague manner if I'd be interested in certain stories when I asked him to send them over he'd tell me he hadn't written but didn't want to waste his time if I wasn't going to be interested... I took his name and didn't take any more of his calls.

Most of what you do will be a waste of your time. But do enough of it and, not only will you improve as a reporter, it will get you noticed. But, but, but it's got to be to at least to a half-decent standard - again this is something that past and future blogs will cover.

But first and foremost read the'll be surprised how much you can learn.

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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Journalism Tips 35. Why every reporter should know their history.

In order to interview and write intelligently every decent reporter should be able to rely on some residual historical knowledge of their own. While Wikipedia may solve many of the problems while sitting in the office it is very little use while in the middle of an interview.
Similarly if you don't know what to ask Wikipedia for you are never going to find it. For example if there is a dustman's (or as they are know doubt called now a peripatetic disposable environmental logistical transition officer) strike and you know nothing of the Winter of Discontent than you won't be looking for it and more importantly you won't feature it in your story.
Some years ago I spoke to a reader while on a local newspaper and he complained: "The problem is that most local reporters are just thick. The editors are usually alright - but even then sometimes..."
It is not my view. Although given the paper I was working on at the time I could see how he may have reached that conclusion.
As a general rule of thumb I'd say it is worth having a detailed understanding of the recent (five years) events), reasonable background on the past 100 years and a decent amount of knowledge on overall British history.
You see, unlike science - people will expect you to know something about the past. (Scientists are a far more understanding mob than most people and they know the chances are that the day you flunked your GCSE chemistry was the last day you ever looked under a microscope. A little tip when interviewing anyone esp scientists about their work wait for them to finish their explanation before picking up your pen and then asking if they could put it into layman's terms for the understand the concept, of course, but you feel their words would be so much better. (This usually works until the day that someone responds that they WERE using layman's terms and your general ignorance is revealed)).
So why is history important? The chances are if you are working on locals you will have to cover the usual fare of anniversaries these are usually dull and uninspiring reads generally brought about by a complete lack of interest on the behalf of the reporter to the subject matter. By knowing of the events we can better understand the person's role in them and contextualise it within our story.
Again this is not about having a detailed history - we are still writing a story - but a general over view that stops us looking ignorant. It is a surefire way to lose the respect of the interviewee..alternatively a little knowledge can go a long way.

For a readable overview of British history it's worth reading This Sceptred Isle which romps through the 20th Century...there are also CDs and, no doubt, downloads.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Journalism Tips 34. Reporters out on the road: The essential kit.

On a previous tip I said you only need two things to do this job a pen and a piece of paper. Strictly speaking that is true but in order to make life a little easier you will need a few more I've remembered having been put back on the road, albeit temporarily.

You see the problem is it is all a bit more complicated - and expensive. So let's take as a given the basics, pen and a piece of paper (nearly enough for most local newspapers but not entirely). What else then? A mobile phone - and don't expect the paper to pay for it. You will need one even on the most backwater of locals. Newsdesks will expect to get in touch with you at any time and the mobile phone is your electronic tag....but they are unlikely to provide it.
I worked at one paper where one of the reporters refused to give their mobiles to the newsdesk because they didn't want to be bothered. I believe they are now doing PR for a cats' home or something equally important. Don't even think it.
The fact is that despite the fact they expect you to have one most newspaper groups will refuse to cover your contract. They will - and should - cover your work calls but don't be entirely surprised if they don't.
The big change came in around the early 1990s, when mobiles then the preserve of national newspaper reporters started to be used more and more by the more ambitious local journos. By 2000 every reporter had one.
I also advise you get a smart phone...failing that you will need a lot of other stuff to lug around.


A Sat Nav. In ye olden days when the A to Z was king I used to turn up to jobs hot, sweaty and late because of appalling sense of direction. But the advent of the Sat Nav changed all that. Today I turn up hot and sweaty but, crucially, on time. It's saved a lot of leg work. Of course even the Sat Nav has had its day and you will find maps on most decent mobiles.

A camera. I've spoken too about the need for a camera, photographers being short on the ground thesedays. The importance of photographs has risen dramatically as we slowly migrate to online. An Internet story without a photo is pretty much a dead story. Being able to send pix from the scene - and the faster the better - is a hugely useful for the online team. Many phones also do video...even better. Of course the quality doesn't have to be tip top - this is about supplementing photographers not replacing them.

A lap top - WITH Internet access. Filing from the scene, especially if you work on a daily is essential. You simply can't rely on being able to get back to the office. And if it's a big on-going story then you shouldn't do. But it will probably need a dongle (or whatever they call them in the US) and that will cost. However a smart phone should be adequate to file, although certainly not perfect. 

A dictaphone.  Pretty useful it is too, especially when you discover that your shorthand isn't 100wpm after standing outside in -10ยบ for five hours or when you are in the middle of a riot, it's actually less obtrusive, more or less hidden in the palm of your hand. But also when door knocking it's useful. Writing things down in front of people can make them nervous, they will become more aware of what they are saying and you will lose eye contact every few seconds to jot down what they are saying. Again most phones have them built in thesedays so it's all rather surprising that court security staff don't take them off you when you go in...unlike the dictaphone because you are not allowed to tape court proceedings.

Now if you are relying on all this stuff you will also need a spare battery...unless you have an Apple in which case you will need FIVE spare batteries. Actually you won't because Apple don't have replaceable batteries. So in that case you will need - and believe me you WILL need - an external charger. Speaking of chargers if you are driving it may be worth investing in a dual cigarette lighter socket so that you can charge two devices at the same time.

When on the nationals I used to take two mobiles and spare sim cards just to be on the safe side. The loss of a mobile is a major headache and is not appreciated by the what if you were mugged, no one cares. 

Indeed on the nationals you need a whole heap of extra stuff you probably won't need on locals or regionals. An overnight bag with at least a week's worth of clothes, although even that may not be enough. One reporter - whose I fortunately cannot remember - once complained: "I've been turning my underpants inside out so many times they look like a humbug..."
You also need your passport on you at all times. I carried mine for two years without ever going abroad until I was sent to Dubai and only just made the would have been a fairly major downer to have missed it.

But all reporters need to have enough cash - as in real notes - to get the teas in. A cashpoint isn't always available but (again on nationals you will probably need a working credit card). Also a small sack of change (unless you are in London or Cornwall) in which case a large sack of change for parking. Never underestimate just how much you will will never ever be enough.

A radio is useful too. Oh and a book...for the really long jobs (mine was usually the Good Pub Guide but McNae's Essential Law is probably a much more useful item).

Other assorted items that are handy to have around. A stout pair of boots, wellingtons, a large coat, sun tan lotion, expenses forms and an umbrella.

And naturally I have forgotten something. We always do...

I did: It's also worth having an electrical extension lead and additional sockets (trust me you will need them one day).

Anything else?