Getting a job in journalism has never been easy.
Competition is always fierce and the number of people wanting to get into the business never seems to diminish.
But there are key actions any aspiring reporter can undertake to make the process a success.
First, know where to look. Check out the websites that advertise jobs – first and foremost,
Hold the Front Page.
Be prepared to move. The smaller the geographical area you are applying within, the fewer the jobs there will be.
While it is true that editors like to take on trainees who come from their own news patch, if your home town has just one small weekly paper, you will be fishing in too small a pond.
It is probably too long. Edit it so that the content is easy to absorb and its style matches the job you are applying for.
Make sure the most relevant information comes first. You might think your 10,000-word dissertation on first century Chinese poetry is a masterpiece, but is that really the best thing to showcase?
The best way to find yourself in the trash bin is to make mistakes in your CV.
Spell the editor’s name incorrectly, misuse the apostrophe or perhaps confuse the company with its rival and you are well on your way to the bin.
Check, double check and then ask someone else to check your CV for you.
Your covering letter should be compelling, short and written afresh for every new vacancy you go for.
Research and persevere – they are what reporters do.
If you get an interview begin by researching thoroughly.
Understanding the nature of the business you hope to join is critical.
Who owns it? What is the readership/audience size? What is that readership’s social profile?
Think about the type of stories and the kinds of platforms the paper or website prefers. Then ask, why?
All good reporters do thorough research, so why wouldn’t you?
Go in with story ideas. Never go to an interview for a reporting job without taking a list of story suggestions.
Be prepared - you may be asked for a practical demonstration of your abilities.
This may involve being given a story to write up, or you might be sent out onto the streets to find stories. If you have done your homework on the area that will help.
All reporting jobs are now multi-media. Your social media presence will be under scrutiny. What kind of social media profile do you have and how many followers?
Which platforms do you use and how often?
The twin requirements are to use social networks to find stories and to publish and promote them.
Undoubtedly one of the key areas you must consider is work experience.
The more work experience you can point to the stronger your case. Don’t worry if it spans a range of media; it illustrates your interest in the business.
But this pre-supposes you can get work experience. Many organisations offer this opportunity but there are often waiting lists.
Be persistent, after all, it is a requirement of being a good reporter. Don’t give up. Be polite, of course, but keep asking. Once you get a placement ask if you can go back or if there are other businesses within the company you might move on to next.
Aim high. The bigger news outfits have more spaces.
Be prepared to be disappointed but don’t be discouraged.
Do you have the skills the employer is looking for?
Most will want you to have the preliminary industry qualifications before they will consider you.
For print, this means having the
National Council for the Training of Journalists Diploma. A handful of news organisations still sponsor their trainees through diploma courses but this is becoming increasingly rare.
Most would-be newspaper reporters sign up for an NCTJ diploma course.
The Press Association training course is widely regarded as the best in the business, but don’t take my word for it – do your research.
Farmers Weekly business editor Charlie Taverner collecting an NCTJ award for public affairs reporting scoring the highest mark in the country for his NCTJ exam.
Ask your questions
The big questions to ask if you decide to take such a course are: who delivers the course - are they journalists? How good a track record does the course have in getting people through the exams? Check the NCTJ’s website, it has league tables.
Finally, and most importantly, how successful is the course at getting people
Ask where its former trainees found jobs and don’t be fobbed off with airy claims that they all found jobs within weeks of finishing the course. Jobs involving the phrase, “Do you want fries with that?” do not count.
The characteristics of a good reporter are persistence, a sense of curiosity, bloody-mindedness and resourcefulness.
And the one thing all editors are looking for is enthusiasm. The reporter whose attitude is about having a go, looking for the chance to do the next thing, a willingness to try anything, that is the reporter editors want.
Trainee reporters are not usually well paid, the hours are long and the work is tough.
Are you sure you want to do this?
If you are, then what are you going to do to make it happen?
Paul Jones, Head of Foundation Course, Newcastle
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