Starting out in journalism


“Get out while you can,” the reporter said. He looked worn, with tousled hair and a tatty leather jacket. If you asked me to draw a picture of a bitter old hack for you, it would look just like him. I was twenty five, keen, and on work experience at the local paper – just starting out in journalism. Needless to say I didn’t take his advice, even though it took over a year after that to land my first job.

Everyone will tell you that journalism is a difficult profession to break into and it’s true. There are thousands of people enrolled in journalism courses around the country and only a few hundred jobs. Not all of them can be journalists, the numbers just don’t add up.

I’ve only been a working journalist for two years, so I can’t claim to be an experienced, cynical journalist, but I can tell you what worked for me. So here are a few of my top tips:

1. Be persistent

I landed my first work experience placement by pestering a journalist with emails and calls until I eventually got through to her. She told me that only people who phoned up were offered placements.

2. Lose the phone phobia

Don’t rely on emails as your sole method of communication. Emails are very easily forgotten and ignored, they find their way into the junk email folder, and sometimes they never arrive (this is more common than you’d think). It’s much harder to ignore someone on the other end of the phone and you’re more likely to get a response faster. If you’ve sent a CV or a speculative email, follow it up with a call to check that they’ve received it. What’s the worst they can say?

3. Keep studying

Your education shouldn’t end when your course does – showing that you can develop your skills will really boost your CV and give you an edge over the other applicants. Online and proofing skills are particularly useful.

4. Sort out your CV

If you’re at university, take full advantage of your university careers service by getting them to look over your CV before you send it out. Some local colleges offer useful CV and employability courses (they’re often free if you’re unemployed). Make sure you put any important skills or achievements near the top of your CV – contact details and your holiday dog-walking job can go further down.

5. Get some bylines

If you’ve had some success with getting bylines while on work experience, why not try pitching them some articles as a freelance? If you’ve got strong opinions on something in the news and a thick skin, try pitching a blog idea to The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section. You’ll get paid and it’ll help raise your online profile. Which brings me to…

6. Build your brand

These days, building your profile online is as much about promoting yourself as being a writer and a little marketing mojo will really help you stand out. Have a smart-looking blog with a portfolio that you update regularly, use Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to network and promote your posts, and follow and interact with other journalists. It might seem a weird, egotistical thing to do at first, but these days it’s part of the job. Showing that you can promote yourself will convince future employers that you’ll be able to promote their brand. Take your lead from the likes of Joseph Stashko and Fleet Street Fox, both skilled marketeers.

7. Stay in touch

Keep in touch with former classmates and work experience contacts, you never know when and where a job will come up. If you’ve made a good impression, they’ll think of you. Ask the editor for a reference, it’ll strengthen your CV if they say yes.

Photograph by Mukerji used under Creative Commons licence 2.0.

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