Don’t expect to be an expert in a new job

Edited Obama

An edited Obama speech - he certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert at his job

You’re experienced right? You’ve got an internship (or two or three), some work experience under your belt and a little bit of student media (or a lot) so you know what you’re doing. Right?

Or not…

Now, while I might be one to honk my horn from time to time, I like to think such honking is backed up by lots of very hard work, a careful, thoughtful approach to all I do and a tendency to throw myself into things without always checking someone put the safety mat out. (Disclaimer: recommended, but not my fault if you get hurt)

What I have been reminded of during my first full month at the Guardian is that you are always learning. Not a massive revelation I know, but one worth reflecting on so you can make the best of it.

It’s been a while since my copy was properly edited and challenged, since my decision making has come into focus and it has been utterly refreshing and a bit of a shock at the same time.

Let me ask you: How carefully do you consider the wording, meaning and tone of each sentence? How often do you waste words and therefore your reader’s time with your copy?

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Too proud to write for “The Daily Fail”?

When you’re looking for something, you’d be amazed how quickly your standards lower. We’re talking about jobs here as opposed to that desperate 4am scanning of the dance floor…

On Sunday Giles Coren wrote a column much like those he publishes in varying parts of The Times of a weekend: witty, touching, cleverly structured and a delight to read. Except it appeared in Femail: The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s girl-friendly colour supplement. The flocks of @gilescoren fans (myself included) sycophantically tweeted their appreciation hours after ‘Oh my God, I’m turning into my father’ appeared on Mail Online.

Daily Mail

A 'typical' Daily Mail front page

However, it was clear that many of these compliments were more than a little backwards. @henweb tweeted: “Nice. @GilesCoren’s article in the Daily #FAIL is literally the first good article I’ve read in the DM for… well, ever! http://goo.gl/hWJCh”. I was alerted to the piece by @samparkercouk, advising that “If you only ever visit the Daily Hate once in your life, make it for this article by @gilescoren.” Even if he wasn’t such a candid tweeter, it’s obvious why Coren took the controversial commission: it’s his job.

Daft as it sounds, it’s all too easy as a young and/or wannabe hack to imagine ourselves taking the Guardian offices by storm, rather than realising that writing for a living is as much about paying rent as it is ‘changing the world’. When I was job-hunting a fellow intern scoffed, “Gas and Power Magazine? Seriously?” It’s easily done, until you see what journo job listing sites really look like and your specifications broaden considerably.

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Specialising is dead; long live specialism

Today I begin my ‘specialism’ module at City University. Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that when given the chance to specialise in something I would choose a subject close to my heart or something I am particularly interested in. Anyone who has read my bio or knows anything about me will be thinking, ‘Ah, he’ll have gone for sport’. Not even close. Sport was an option, as was music journalism, investigative journalism and UK politics but I didn’t go for any off those subjects, all of which interest me. No, today I begin what will be a steep learning curve in specialising in ‘Finance and Business’. Yeah, exactly.

Financial Times

Could my 'specialism' get me a job here?

Now, when I first set out on my travels towards journo land I wanted to be a sports hack and my journalism related work over the past few years has reflected this desire. However, at City I, along with the other students, were advised to pick a specialism a little out of our comfort zone and so – always striving to be a little unusual – I picked three preferences which I knew next to nothing about. And so here I am about to learn how to speak business and money.

But far more revealing and interesting than the fact that I am undertaking a module that the 18-year-old version of myself would have avoided like a plague of drunken cockney wide boys, is that fact that I am really quite positive about it. Rather, I am positive about it because of the pragmatic approach which clearly needs to be taken to getting a job in journalism today.

Long gone are the days when I could put all my eggs in the sport journo basket and hope for the best. I was forever being told at my various work experience placements last summer, ‘just take a job, you won’t get what you want, you might not get sport until you’re 50’ and to be honest, whilst slightly depressing, it seems like sound advice. It is no longer enough to have an in-depth knowledge of one subject area, we have to be the jack-of-all-trades journalists.

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