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Page history last edited by David Wood 11 years, 3 months ago

On Sept 25 I wrote a post on the Online Journalism Blog entitled 'How to be a journalism student'. The response was generous, and many people added their own tips on separate blogs. It occurred to me that a wiki would be an ideal place to both collate those contributions and corrections/clarifications to the original list. Here it is, please add, remove, change and correct as much as you like by clicking 'Edit page' above. The password, by the way, is 'howto'







How to be a journalism student



  1. Read the news. Amazingly, some journalism students don’t read newspapers. I don’t know why they want to write news, but chances are they won’t if they don’t read it. And yes, that means newspapers, in print or online. For the most part newspapers dictate the news agenda that broadcast news and magazines then follow. But yes, watch television news and listen to radio news as well, and read magazines. And do all of this often, and do it critically.
  2. Forget you have an opinion. Do you think anyone cares what you think about the condition of trains? Or GM food? Or bullying? Unless you are writing an opinion column (which is unlikely) or a review, remain objective*. Think of yourself as a marriage counsellor: ask the questions and let your sources do the talking.
  3. Know the difference between news and features. News is new information. It is succinct and to the point - remember the inverted pyramid. Features typically come later, and tend to explore background/history, different angles, case studies/interviews, analysis, trends, and so on of a topical issue. If you’re asked to write a news story, do just that. Don’t write an essay.
  4. Make contacts. Contacts are vital to your work as a journalist -- not only should they be able to tip you off to what’s happening, they will also be a quick and reliable port of call when you need a quote or verification. Contacts are what get you the stories, and flesh them out. From a local vicar to the spokesperson for the Vintage Motorcycle Club, start adding them to a little black book (and spreadsheet), and start making phonecalls now: “Anything happening?” School can also help you make professional contacts who might be able to help you with your career sometime. Or you might be able to help someone else.
  5. Get a life. Journalists generally report about a particular area -- politics, sport, the environment, science, health, education, communities, religion, technology, motoring, finance. If you haven’t picked an area, pick one, and start getting involved - join organizations, attend meetings, go to events, do things and talk to people, and listen to them. Stories don’t come with a convenient label: you need to be able to spot them -- while experiences can make for great material.
  6. Don’t sit around waiting for an e-mail reply. People can ignore e-mail, and they generally do. A phone call is much harder to ignore, and you’ll get more than a one-line reply. Learn to use the phone/mobile/Skype. In other words, be persistent. Get out of the newsroom. That's what "shoe-leather" reporting means. You're harder to ignore when you're physically closer to someone. You can also observe more.
  7. Learn how to spell. Dubber makes this point about students generally, but for a journalist correct spelling and grammar says everything about your professionalism. Whether you intend to write for a textual medium or not a badly spelled CV or poorly constructed script will not get you that job. This is not about the pros and cons of good spelling, but simply that employers a) still think that it matters; and b) will use a range of criteria to filter out applications.
  8. Be open to new experiences. So you’re interested in music. That’s nice, but if you think you’re going to land your first job on NME, you’re deluded. A journalist should be prepared to write about anything, and a good journalist should be able to do it with creativity and curiosity. One former colleague had jobs writing about technology, education, and cars before she landed her Richmond Lawyers dream job on a women’s magazine for lawyers - it’s par for the course. But it’s not a bad thing: it’s one of the best things about journalism! Don’t say you want to see the world but then complain when you have to go to Djibouti.
  9. Read books. Another one from Dubber. Books give you two things: an understanding of the possibilities of language and storytelling; and an expansion of your knowledge of the world. Whether you’re reading an autobiography of Che Guevara or Day of The Triffids; a recent history of Africa or Tale of Two Cities; a popular science book or Hamlet, it makes you more interesting to potential employers; it gives you more ideas to play with Furnaces; and it broadens your horizons.
  10. Know what the rules are so you can break them. There is a laziness about a lot of professional journalism - the he said/she said piece; the ‘expert’ quote; overreliance on official sources; the ‘more research is needed’ exit line. You are a student of journalism, not a trainee for dangers of cell phones. It is hoped you will question the profession, and improve it. Don’t take lists like this lying down, and question everything you read and hear.
  11. Know what you want to get out of this -- and chase it. A degree alone is not going to get you a job; your ability to write and research, your knowledge, and your ability to market yourself and network will be key. You must be motivated to study hard, and in order to be motivated, you must have a motivation, i.e. you must know what the reward is - exposing corruption? becoming editor of the Guardian? Sitting next to Paris Hilton? Then, you must be motivated to do more than study. Get work experience; start a fanzine, or a website, or a blog. Use Facebook to network. Go to events. Send off work. Pitch ideas to editors.
  12. Watch good video -- It’s not enough now to just be able to tell a story with words. I love words, but words don’t always do the story justice. Look at good video documentaries. See what they do well, and what could be improved.
  13. Listen to nonmusic radio stations -- Video may be where it's at right now for digital journos but don't dismiss radio. Not only is It one of the most responsive breaking news sources it also has a rich range of stories that often go against the news agenda. Listen to a good radio doco to see how stories that may not be immediately obvious get a new lease of life.
  14. Engage in conversation -- I’m not as much a stickler as Paul about forgetting that you have an opinion. Be willing to admit mistakes. Respond to readers. Engage your audience.
  15. See stories from all angles -- It’s not always about the photograph, either. Sometimes, a map can tell a story as well as a graphic in the newspaper, or a timeline. Know which types of online artifacts can help your news story.
  16. Embrace the Web -- Use hyperlinks. Practice blogging. Push for online-first news publishing. Use the online content management system in your workflow. Don’t accept the old standards of turning in .doc’s to the copy editors. Demand that they embrace the future instead of dragging their feet in the past. Follow bloggers on your campus. Let them help you ferret out story ideas. Don’t EVER dismiss the power of the online medium to drive readers to your publication.
  17. Be willing to fail -- Try innovative projects. Throw things at your editors that they would never expect. Look for ways to push the envelope of storytelling on your campus. I guarantee if you do you will be more prepared for the future of journalism than your peers. And while you're a student and early in your career is a good time to make mistakes.
  18. Ask “Why?” -- NEVER be afraid to challenge the conventions of journalism. Some of the things we’ve done for so long have been done because “that’s the way we’ve always done them.” This goes along with the point above about being willing to fail. If we accept the received Boxing Gloves wisdom as wisdom - without critical evaluation - we do a disservice to ourselves and to journalism as a whole.
  19. Think about databases -- How can a story with lots of data be broken down into manageable bits of information that people can parse by their interests?
  20. Train and get skills in the basics of news media economics and management (besides journalism skills) -- In order that journalists get involved in the management and administration of their news firms, and don't let nonjournalists' managers decide on their own about the business model of media firms and consequently the future of news and thus the quality of journalism. The economic conditions of the practice and craft of journalism  are totally part of the job: Without a minimum of steady conditions and independance from political and economic pressure, there won't be quality Family Lawyers Surrey journalism.
  21. Don't be afraid to ask "stupid" questions -- The stupidest question is the one you didn't ask. Rather than assuming you know how to spell someone's surname, what that technical term means, how someone felt about an event, etc., ask them. Getting people to breakdown jargon, explain things in their own words and fact checking will add to your story and build your confidence as a reporter.
  22. Be curious. Observe and explore, even in your everyday life. Look around you. Stretch yourself and do things you wouldn't normally do, just for the experience.
  23. Read. Write. Read. Write. That's the best way to learn to write. Even if your primary field is not writing, it can help you express yourself.
  24. Familiarize yourself with the style guide(s) and dictionaries that your potential employers will be using. Webster's New World? Webster's Collegiate? Merriam-Webster? Chicago? AP? You should have copies of all of the above accessible, and you should ask your assigning editor which combination of style guide and dictionary they prefer and whether there's an in-house style guide you might also be able to have a copy of Media is increasingly moving online—but that doesn't mean spelling and grammar have to go out the window. You will impress your employer if you ask these things as soon as you receive an assignment.
  25. Learn shorthand.  Maybe I am just very old school, but shorthand does two things: firstly it gives you a level of professionalism when interviewing people face-to-face (remember that) that sets you apart, secondly it means you can get notes down far easier and far, far more accurately. I recommend T-Line. Sohbet Oyunlar1

*Note: don’t mistake objectivity for presenting both sides equally - particularly where science is involved. Global warming, the MMR jab, and various other stories have heavy scientific consensus on one side, so don’t fall into the trap of presenting both arguments as if they have equal weight. See this article for more.











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