Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Help me, I want to be a journalist.

Some bloggers write as a side project, some make a reasonable living from it, and a lot of us do it because we want to be some sort of writer or a journalist. Those of us who do that are used to the struggling life of a writer, we know what it's like to suffer in order to perfect our craft. It involves spreading ourselves far too thin, and staring at a blank white page on Word in the ugly hours of the night. Then we go to our normal jobs looking like a homeless version of one of the witches from Hocus Pocus. It is a delightful experience of everybody.

Who even gets to be a journalist now? Is it anybody who can afford to do a Masters at a prestigious journalism school? Is it someone with the right connections? Or can we chalk it up to dumb luck? Journalism is one of the least secure career paths you can choose, stability is not on the cards and financially you're not in for a pot of gold unless you're secretly Piers Morgan. If you want to go into this field, you need a thick skin and an arrogant edge that tells you you're the best. You'll get no where without self belief.

These are the things I know about the path to getting your job as a writer or journalist. If you need me, I'll be sat in a corner chewing on my hair, because this job path has driven me to insane and unbelievable actions. Read all about it, Goldilocks ruined her hair! Suffered for art!

Image source - Pinterest
1. Your writing

This is obviously the most crucial ingredient to perfecting your skills. You need to know the basics of writing, and your spelling and grammar need to be impeccable. You know what else? You need an angle. You can't report topics or events head on, especially if you blog. If it doesn't affect your reader, they won't read it. Human interest is pivotal in gaining your audience, and you need to find an aspect of humanity in whatever you choose to write.

Whatever you write needs to be clear, concise and accurate. Credibility and authenticity are two things that if you don't have, you need to get it. You need to be able to gather information, sources, and you have to be used to fact checking. This means anything like names, dates, facts and figures need to be accurate. You're publishing information on the internet for a mass audience (you hope) and there is responsibility attached to that. When it comes to what you write, write about whatever you want. I have read on so many different websites that you should only blog about one thing, but as a writer you need to be versatile and adaptable. If you put all your eggs in one basket then you don't show anyone what you're truly capable of. Say for example, if I only blogged about lipsticks - well that's great, but I happen to love Barack Obama, and if someone stumbles upon my blog, do they know that I actually know a great deal about the presidency? Yes, because I make sure of it. The bottom line is, produce a variety of content unless you're adamant about what field of journalism you want to go into: if you want to be Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada then don't write a blog about doughnuts. That's all.

Examples of different work:

2. Education

No one is fooling us anymore, we're told on job applications that we have to have a million different qualifications. While it is unarguable that journalists need to be more skilled than ever, we know that most of the writers who have been employed for a long time didn't go to university, or do a short course in journalism. So, we'll reluctantly swallow this information and go and do our degree, and we'll do some relevant work while we're at it and become academically disciplined. As for shorthand, we can teach that to ourselves (it's okay, I looked). I still don't believe that if you did a relevant degree that you need to progress to post graduate study, but I'll start thinking about it. It's getting more competitive, so we might have to go back to studying to get somewhere. Time to start looking under the sofa for some spare change, then.

Image source: Tumblr
3. Work experience

Anyone who thinks you can get a job as a journalist without this, needs to be locked in a dark room to think about it. We do have to think of where we draw the line though, work experience looks great on your CV - but it doesn't pay the bills. What you will get out of work experience, is a possible by line in the publication. I know, we have our names on our blogs and our portfolios are huge because of it, but when someone else publishes your work it holds a certain weight. Also consider doing some freelance writing work, I'm a contributing writer at online magazine GenTwenty, and I previously blogged for You'll need to free up some time, but it's worth doing.

4. Who you know

I hate this so much. I can't even tell you how much. It's something that is very true - it is all about who you know and I hate to break that to you. I don't have any fancy contacts and I don't have a way in, and there is some sort of media elite in which you know the password to unlock the gilded gates and get given your chance. This is when networking becomes crucial in your job search, and this also goes hand in hand with work experience. Wherever you choose to do work experience, or whatever website or publication you write for, make contacts with fellow writers. Even your friends from university make good contacts, and you need to be able to help each other out. The same goes for bloggers, you need to participate in blogger chats on Twitter and know the social media etiquette of blogging; always follow those who follow you, and respond to comments.

Image source: Tumblr
5. Privilege

See above. If you have unlimited funds for education, and an address book better than my entire university class put together, then you are more likely to get somewhere. I mean, I love rich people - I find them charming. But help a sister out? No? You just drink your champagne then, I'll be over here with my Tetley teabags and a digestive biscuit. The plain kind, because I can't afford the chocolate ones.

6. Your brand

When it comes to your blog, you need to build a brand. This will be your audience's way of identification. You need to know your target audience, and your message. Most importantly, you need a voice and this needs to fit within your brand identity. I've seen some wonderful blogs that have really understood the meaning of branding. One of my favourites is the relatively new The Undercover Princess, which is primarily a fashion blog written by the enigmatic Eva Victoria, an 18 year old writer and student. Her blog astounds me, at 18 she has her own voice, a finely crafted skill of writing, and a brand that makes her our own version of Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf. Before I forget, she also has over 3,000 Twitter followers. Slow clap.

The most important thing, it's all chance. Write all about it, explore it, then let them read about it. You'll be somebody's voice one day- saying the things that need to be said, and you will be their teacher, their informer, and their storyteller.