So you want to be a journalist? In response to Martin King


This isn’t intended as a direct response to Martin’s article in the Independent’s blog section

… but I am using it as a jumping off point.

Photo courtesy of greeblie

Martin’s article ‘So you want to be a journalist?‘ provides pointers on some of the key skills ‘wannabe’ journalists will need to be in a position to get themselves a job. What struck me about his approach was the way he divided up the skills. ‘Writing has got two subsections: ‘Spelling and Grammar’ and ‘Shorthand and Touch Typing’, yet, what Martin referred to as ‘Technical‘ was just one broad paragraph on such a wide range of skills I wonder if people have a true appreciation of what is involved.

Martin wrote:

“Take it as a given that you will be expected to be capable of running advanced searches on Google – and ideally a professional media search like LexisNexis if you pick up some knowledge on work experience spells. Photoshop work is also a frequently requested skill (even if just basic cropping and sizing). Facebook and Twitter are used increasingly as an adjunct to other media, ranging from information-gathering to additional dissemination of news – so study the more formal uses of social media. And an increasing number of editors won’t even look at you unless you can prove experience of blogs – which are a good way of proving some reporting skills, especially if you can develop a blog around a niche topic that interests you. Lastly, try to elevate your Tweeting to something that could support your quest.”

Now, none of it is wrong as such, but it feels to me like the point has been missed. This isn’t to say I don’t think writing ability is fundamentally important, I have said before that good writing is very unlikely to land you a job – everyone should be handing in clean well written copy, yet bad copy will ensure no work. You must be able to write well, to the point and to deadline.

The point has been missed in lumping a wide range of skills together under such a heading – I am going to tackle these one as a time, first the point about blogging.

“And an increasing number of editors won’t even look at you unless you can prove experience of blogs.”

To say I have ‘experience of blogs’ is to fundamentally not get blogging. Blogging is a platform, a delivery method and possibly suggests a certain type of tone (more relaxed/casual), but the idea that you have ‘experience of blogs’ seems absurd – what if you had been writing and contributing to a ‘proper’ website – would you not understand blogs? Many blogs have some very well written content and analysis; someone like David Allen Green springs to mind off the top of my head. He is knowledgeable, a good writer and constructs a brilliant argument.

If it were not for the reverse chronological order form that blogs often take – how would you know it wasn’t a ‘proper’ website if the content was really good? You should blog because you are self publishing, showing an engagement with the industry, practicing skills and building an audience. Not to show you have experience of blogging.

Next on social media

“Facebook and Twitter are used increasingly as an adjunct to other media, ranging from information-gathering to additional dissemination of news – so study the more formal uses of social media.”

Again, nothing here is wrong, but I think to suggest the social media is no longer essential is to miss the point; a journalist needs sources and a network. People that are prepared to take risks on your behalf and to send information your way. Now you have two networks – the one you build up from shoe-leather talking and engaging with people and you will have your online one (of whom many of the people you might know in person as well).

Photo courtesy of respres

Your online network is a way to tap into whole communities and issue groups and if you are genuine and engage properly on these services you will be rewarded. You only have to look at the way Paul Lewis got tip offs and insights for his Ian Tomlinson investigation from Twitter.

You should be investing heavily in both networks. You shouldn’t tweet to get a job, you should tweet doing your job (being a journalist), use the network properly and it will repay you because you will be more informed, more engaged and more aware.

In conclusion

Clearly you can’t write a short blog post that gives decent insight into all the skills needed and the way they should be used as a journalist, but I do think it is important to recognise how important certain skills are. For those of you fed up of hearing about Twitter, Facebook and the rest – get over it. We have aways used new tech to disseminate information – from the Telegraph to the telephone, mobiles (text), the Internet and the mobile Internet.

This won’t change, the mediums will continue to develop, but essentially you need to get on board in some way or not bother.

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About Nick Petrie
Social Media & Campaigns Editor @TheTimes of London. Co-founder @Wannabehacks. Interested in communities, conversations, storytelling. http://ow.ly/5eDia

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