5 golden rules for aspiring journalists

Whether it’s at a careers conference, or via online mentoring services, I’m often asked for tips on how to get into the business that is journalism and writing.

It’s a bit of a loaded question because, unlike many more vocational careers, writing for a living doesn’t really come with an easily-defined path.

What’s more, different people will tell you different things, depending on their own experience.

So what are the guaranteed rules that everyone should follow, regardless of their intended route?

1. Start writing
Probably the most obvious one to start with, but actually putting pen to paper (or rather key to screen) and forming coherent sentences is something that many people overlook. Getting used to writing and discovering your own style and voice is crucial early on.

And with the advent of the internet, blogs offer a ready-made place to getting your own work out there and read.

2. Read, read and read a bit more
While writing is the crucial bit, experiencing the way other people write also comes in pretty handy. Whether it’s other blogs, newspapers, magazines, books, it doesn’t matter. Reading how other people construct their sentences and turn their phrases is a vital ingredient in forming your own writing.

It’s also a great way to discover how not to write in some cases, because not everyone’s writing style will be to your taste.

3. Get some on-the-job experience
If you think you want to become a journalist, it will pay immensely to find out what it’s like. Get in touch with anyone you know who has connections and beg them for some time in the office as an intern.

Yes, you may end up making the tea or be asked to a job lot of photocopying, but you’ll also start to get a feel for what it’s like to be a journalist. You’ll learn some new skills, make some contacts and also possibly learn where you do, or more likely, don’t want to work.

Moreover, any prospective employer worth his or her salt won’t look twice at anyone who claims they want to be a journalist without racking up any work experience.

4. Don’t expect to get paid much
You may have noticed that the world and his wife think they can write at the moment. That makes your job even more difficult than ever before.

Of course, if you want to give up now, that makes it easier for everyone else, but you have to accept that writing isn’t generally a well-paid profession. After all, anyone can do words, can’t they?

Well, no, obviously they can’t, but sadly the ability to turn out a well-crafted piece isn’t given the kudos it deserves.

So, if you want to earn big bucks, now’s the time to forget being a writer and retrain as a barrister or a dentist. If you can cope with your friends looking at you pityingly, when you can’t afford to stump up your tenner for a night out at Pizza Hut, then read on.

5. Be lucky
In a fair and just world, the best, most coruscating writers would be the ones that win all the plaudits, are feted the world over and get all the best gigs.

Sadly, we don’t live in a world like that. Plenty of fantastic writers are left slaving away for a pittance, while the most well-known are not always as brilliant as they think they are.

So if an opportunity comes your way, grab it with both hands. You can’t plan for luck, but you can be aware of it and make sure you seize on any glimmer. It’s then what you do with that slice of piece of fortune that counts.

Of course, there are more than those 5 and I’d love to hear any thoughts from others to add to the list.

6 thoughts on “5 golden rules for aspiring journalists

  1. And don’t forget, when you’re on work experience, don’t expect to write the cover story/splash/big interview. I’ve had too many workies who expect too much and don’t seem to want to learn anything…

    • Ha ha. Good one. I’ve forgotten how many times work experience people came in at Emap and looked aghast when they were asked to make a cup of tea. ‘…but I wanted to interview Blue…’

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