Monday, 19 March 2012

28. Look for stories while at college, write it and tell the local paper. You never know if there's a job coming up there.

As a student journalist you should be writing news or taking photographs for the college newspaper/website/radio (obviously not taking photos for the radio station - that would be pointless).

Please note that I said news. Not reviews, not musings, not comment, not a column, not analysis, not poetry, not critiques, not op eds — just news. Let me be more specific local news.

Hard though you may find this to take no one is interested in your views on the unfolding crisis on Syria as you saw it two weeks ago but finally got round to writing it between lectures.

Neither are they going to read your 2,000 word piece on the plight of women in the Gobi Desert - even the friends who say they have, haven't.

(Press Gang: It's sort of relevant)

It's all very well wanting to be a Guardian journalist — but all you will learn by writing such articles is why the Guardian isn't very well read and how to haemorrhage readers...just like the Guardian.

(By the way unless you are reading this from Oxbridge they probably aren't going to be too interested in having you anyway - it's all rather patrician is our Guardian.)

You will learn nothing about journalism or being a journalist and will bore the pants off of any editor when they try to read your oh-so-worthy cuttings. Actually they won't even look at them and anyway the point of this blog is to steer you towards a job without much need for an interview.

And trust me it works. I know.

Like countless journalists my career began in the student newspaper. If anything it was a wheeze thought up by a friend to get us out of any real work experience (odd since three of us went and remain in the media - probably a far higher ratio than any who did it properly).

Since none of us had a clue about newspapers we went charging into it. Our first big story was that sabbatical officers had all been taking huge loans from the Student Union off the back of their wages - so large in fact that they wouldn't have been able to pay them back out of their remaining pay.

Thus fulfilling the first rule of student journalism (the paper was paid for by a Union grant)  - bite the hand that feeds you.

The fact it I had a source, we dug through files, we asked questions - if only we'd known it we had stumbled across investigative journalism.

The story made the front page of the local paper - and yup, I was hooked. Journalism was simple, fun and I enjoyed it. I've spent the next 20 years trying to maintain hasn't always been easy.

But what does this all mean? The first step is that your student newspaper/website/radio is your first step to understanding journalism - you can make all your mistakes (hopefully not too many legal ones) and not too many people will care. More importantly you can learn the tricks of the trade.

Want to be a political reporter? Attend student council meetings. Get to know the student union, find out what's happening with the block grant.

Want to do investigations do general news and make contacts - they will soon start telling you things you can devote more time too.

And as for those worthy pieces?

I can assure you an article about Student Union bar price increases for next year will be read a 1,000 times more than a piece on the West's Imperialistic ambitions in a post-dictatorship Middle East. Honestly if I wanted to read that I'd pick up the Economist and read it by someone who has been there and interviewed the leading players not some spotty oik with pretensions of being an armchair John Snow.

This is not to stamp on people's ambitions. But to give a good grounding in the basics.

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