So last week, I was lucky enough to listen to an entire careers day of big shot journalists informing us and advising us, (the innocent little lambs by comparison), on what it really takes to penetrate through into the very competitive industry of journalism. After an exhausting five hours of back-to-back lectures, talks, questions, sweltering condensed lecture theatres, relentless scribblings and a permanent cramped hand, I have managed to summarise the top ten pieces of useful advice that was stressed and repeated by all the panels across the whole media field. From many BBC and ITV employees to many many others, I would recommend their advice with absolute certainty, and to be entirely honest I was a tad star struck and in complete awe in their presence. So if you’re like me, entirely new/barely even born in the industry, a student, or still just a foetus looking for advice, LOOK NO FURTHER because here is my top ten:
- START NOW!
We are lucky enough to be in the age of constant contact, constant communication and constant news, MAKE USE OF IT! Broadcast from your phone, capture your surroundings, blog about it, tweet about it, do anything you can to demonstrate your hunger for the industry. Start something with friends if you’re a bit weary, or keep a private blog and twitter until you build your confidence. Make sure your content is streamlined because employers some day down the line will look at it, but don’t stifle and sacrifice your creativity and individuality by doing so. Try to stand out in any way you can. Build an online presence, or if you’re at university, join creative societies such as the student newspaper, the radio or any creative writing ones, they’re a great place to make friends with like-minded people that you one day may even work with! If you want to make documentaries and films? DO IT. NOW. Youtube and Vimeo are good places to start. Just. Do. It.
- GET CREATIVE AND OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE: WHAT’S IN YOUR LOCAL AREA?
Local events and talks are always useful and inspirational, for content as well as networking. Take advantage of where you live. Go to galleries, go to exhibitions, see live music. Do stuff. Drag your friends to events and take notes. Friends are great critics too! There’s plenty of stuff on the internet or in books that can inspire you with writing prompts or stories if you find your local community to be dreadfully dull, but if you have a good imagination, you can turn anything into a story.
- NETWORK! MEET PEOPLE IN YOUR AREA.
Unfortunately (for people such as me who are on the introverted side), networking is a scary word but nevertheless an essential factor in making it as a journalist. As I said before, university is a great way to meet people – but don’t panic if you haven’t (like me!) because the people you meet and network with don’t have to already be in the business. Just don’t burn your bridges, make friends with everyone (within reason, of course). After all, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and who you know may very well come in handy some day.
- YOU DON’T NEED A DEGREE TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY, BUT IT’S RECOMMENDED
I’m talking broad terms here. You can have a degree in economics and still be a journalist, or you can alternatively build up your CV to get into the field.
Don’t study journalism? Don’t panic. In fact, a lot of journalists didn’t take the direct route but studied other things at university. Don’t get put off by people discrediting your university degree either by saying that you could have started working as a journalist years ago, because those contacts and friends and experience to grow are just as essential. Don’t go to university? Don’t worry either, because there are lots of schemes out there to help you get there, and never underestimate internship work!
Regardless whether you go down the degree route or not, you’re going to need some basic skills in the industry, whether you learn them through university of through unpaid work (the latter you’re going to need to do as well even if you’re a student). You are ultimately building your CV and every little scrap helps. You’re gonna need any experience or educational certificates just to get your foot in the door, so don’t get complacent too if you’re studying media or journalism at uni, because you still need to put some hard graft in on top of that.
- APPLY FOR ALL KINDS OF INTERNSHIPS, UNPAID WORK, LOCAL NEWSPAPERS AND MEDIA OUTLETS
All experience is useful, but not all experience pays the bills. Be financially prepared in advance because the stepping stones in your journalism career will certainly challenge your bank account. Be wise. You can work in a bar in the night shift while serving coffee in the day shift, and yes sometimes you have to serve coffee until someone starts taking you seriously. But it’s within these internships and volunteer work that you A) meet people in the industry and B) have to make yourself noticed. If the reporter is off for the day and there’s no one to fill in, then it’s going to be you. Serving all that tea and spending hours at the printer will pay off, if you stick to it and chase it. Make sure the person in charge of the rota knows who you are, and knows you’re eager to fill in at the drop of a hat. Make a positive influence and impression. Put yourself forward and these internships will be beneficial. No one is going to hand you this career on a plate (unless you’re very very lucky.) A good time to really apply to places is over the summertime and over Christmas, for obvious reasons. You’re going to have to make sacrifices! Take the seven week jobs or even the two week jobs, you never know where this could lead. If you have to sofa surf at a friends house while doing so, then do it. (Again, university helps here having made friends up and down the country!) Quite often the shorter job prospects last longer than you think, with employers keeping you on past the two week line, so keep that in mind and try to make the best impression you can in such a short space of time. But even if they don’t keep you on, it’s all a part of the growth. How much do you want it? Prove it.
- A GOOD PLACE TO START: LOCAL RADIO
A lot of the panel began their career by helping around their local radio stations and learning a lot about the industry from there. Alternatively, try local newspapers or any kind of media outlets you can get your hands on and get involved in. Email them, ring them, put yourself forward. Volunteer, whatever. Do something.
- BE PREPARED FOR INSTABILITY AND FREELANCING.
You have to be flexible to be a journalist. You have to be prepared to relocate all over the place if necessary. But that is (for me anyway) a large appeal to the industry. The constant changing, moving, and renewal is enthralling, but be prepared. If you want to make it, you have to be flexible, otherwise someone who is flexible will push you out, and you’ll stay making coffee.
- BE PREPARED TO TAKE SACRIFICES.
This ties into the above point, but stressed with significant importance.
- EXPECT FAILURE AND SET BACKS.
Like in any industry, expect criticism and set backs. This is crucial in learning and growing though, and as one journalist recommended, if you get rejected politely ask them why? This criticism is constructive and may help you get the job the next time. Be open to criticism, even though it hurts!
- SET PERSONAL DEADLINES AND SELF-MOTIVATE.
Look at the news, look at your surroundings, what is inspiring you? Set yourself deadlines to write something or produce something. Read things. Watch documentaries. Engage with the world. Think small to begin with and grow from there. Your writing will improve, your online presence will grow, but you have to plant the seed first and make sure you’re watering it. Before you know it, you’ll either be sat in your dream job, or not. The time will pass regardless, it’s what you do with it that is going to count. Where do you want to be in five years? What about six months? By the end of the week? My personal goals are to write at least one thing a week on my blog, and I’m being strict with myself about it. What are yours? Stick to it, and the rest will follow and fall naturally into place.
I hope this helps! We’re in this together, and with a little positivity and hard work I’m sure we can get there.