If you’re one of the many journalism graduates wandering the jobs pages this summer, here’s my Five-Step Plan® to getting a job in journalism
- Get a job, it doesn’t matter what. Nothing makes a person employable like being already employed. Plus you now have an employer’s reference. You’ll be making new contacts and learning new things, giving you more to talk about on the CV/interview. If you can get a job in the area you want to write about, even better: even if it’s something as prosaic as working in Next because you want to be a fashion journo. You’ll be surprised how much knowledge you pick up. Once you have the job, try to shape it so you can gain as much useful experience as possible: suggest an internal newsletter you could write, or contribute to the company website.
- Get a blog – no, don’t stop reading. This is not about online journalism. A blog helps you achieve a number of things regardless of whether you ever want to publish online professionally:
- Practice makes perfect: writing regularly for a blog helps you hone and improve your journalistic style (note: that’s journalistic style, not diary style. Your journalist’s blog should be a series of articles, interviews etc. in your area of interest, not what you did on your summer holidays)
- Ready-made portfolio: writing regularly for a blog gives you a wealth of material to show to potential employers. You should of course also include any material you have had published elsewhere. Include it on your CV so they can browse through it in deciding to give you an interview.
- Proof of commitment: if you’re committed enough to write a blog regularly, to get out there and find out what’s happening in your specialist area, that proves you’re more committed than most job applicants.
- Exposure: at this point, whether or not anyone reads your blog is not the primary goal, but if you do it well, you can build a reputation, and two things can happen: a) when you’re at the interview, the editor says “I’m a reader of your blog”; and b) freelance jobs will come to you. Note: this often takes years, and is often connected with the next step.
- Get involved in the area you want to report on: firstly, know where to get grassroots news in your area, so build up a first class favourites folder/Bloglines account of the best bloggers and news sources. Secondly, comment on those blogs and sites, and engage in the debates. Thirdly, conduct your own interviews for your own blog, online and offline. And finally, get away from your computer and do things: attend events, do courses, arrange a day in a relevant company. All of this proves your commitment, builds your reputation, and gives you a contacts book to die for.
- Get a good mobile phone – that is, one that takes pictures, video and audio. Download some free editing software like Windows Movie Maker and Audacity, and play around with it. Upload some video or audio to to your blog, YouTube or Switchpod. Quality will come with time, but the primary point here is to prove that you have some multimedia experience. Journalists are increasingly expected to know how to produce audio and video as well as text, and this is another way of putting you ahead of the competition. You will also need it for step 5:
- Get an eye for news: don’t wait to join a news organisation to become a journalist. As you do your job, as you walk the streets, as you read the newspapers and browse the messageboards, keep your news sense about you: is something happening that is newsworthy? Record it with your phone and send it to a relevant news organisation. Has someone said something that is newsworthy? Highlight it on your blog. Is there a national story that you could put a specialist or local angle to? Write it up.
This is the most fundamental of skills for a journalist, whether in news or features. It is the one thing employers will be looking for. If you can tell them you filmed the floods on your phone or spotted a good lead on a forum, it proves you’re always ‘on’.