Top 10 Tips for Aspiring Journalists
Few industries have changed as dramatically in the past decade as journalism. Rest in peace, reporters. Long live interactive media specialists with a range of capabilities across many platforms.
What does today’s journalist need to know? How can students earning a journalism degree prepare themselves for what's to come? It’s a mix of new skills and traditional tools. Here are the top 10 tips.
Master the New Tools
From databases to interactive graphics, video to slide shows, journalists today work in a range of media. There are way too many tools available for one person to become an expert at everything. You’ll at least need a working knowledge of the capabilities.
Master the Fundamentals
Good grammar, punctuation, and style aren’t good enough. A journalist’s skills must be impeccable. If you have any weaknesses, find help and improve.
Be a Sponge
Most people who aspire toward journalism careers are insatiably curious, so taking those observation skills to the next level usually is easy. Once you’ve practiced for a while, noticing details will become second nature.
Develop Research Skills
Journalists never know what unfamiliar topic the day will throw their way. Honing your research skills will help you get up to speed quickly when time is of the essence.
Know Your Way around City Hall
No matter what topic you cover, at some point you’ll wind up dealing with a government agency, the police, or courts. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of the Electoral College, but you will need to know the basics. Take a few political science electives to build your background knowledge.
Just Do It
As with anything, the best way to become a better journalist is to simply do it. Contact your hometown newspaper about freelance or internship opportunities. Small weeklies might not have budget available, but it’s worth doing a few unpaid gigs so you can begin building a portfolio.
Read As Much As You Write
Once you commit yourself to journalism, you will not be able to read a simple paragraph without analyzing its structure. You will never go to a movie without examining key scenes to figure out why they worked. It’s maddening but fantastic, because if you’re doing these things, you’re stretching yourself and your work will improve.
You won’t have to be outstanding at everything, but if you’re a great writer, a decent photographer and know your way around content management systems, you’ll be more valuable and more marketable than someone who can do only one of these things. If you have only one strength, work to develop another skill.
Be Prepared to Start Small
The New York Times or CNN gigs don’t come overnight. Most entry-level journalism jobs are in small towns or at small publications. The advantage about starting small, though, is that you get to try a lot of different things. You might wind up loving some of them so much that it changes the course of your career.
Remember the Story
Regardless of the medium, journalism is always about the great story. At the very least, the story has to be something the audience is interested in. At the very best, the story will evoke a strong response – laughter, outrage, joy. The most brilliantly, creative interactive graphic will fall flat if it doesn’t have great content backing it up.
Journalism today is dramatically different than it was a decade ago. At the same time, the basics haven’t changed. Use these tips as a checklist to make sure you have what it takes to succeed in today’s media.
Written by Ashford University staff