I’ve taught a couple of journalism classes recently (more here and here) and having reflected on what I saw and heard from the students and changes I experience through my work and on my publishing start-up LearnPatch, I thought I would share some tips for anyone wanting to become a journalist.
I liked this piece by Richard Branson – Class of 2013: You’ll Never Again Be so Unburdened; Do Something Bold – as I think it sums up the kind of approach which could bring success.
1 Understand the business of journalism
Publishers are grappling with how to make money. The models are evolving. There is opportunity to be an entrepreneurial journalist but only if you follow developments in the business of journalism and publishing and understand where the opportunities lie. Try following sites such as GigaOM, PaidContent, The MediaBriefing and follow the likes of Paul Bradshaw, Adam Tinworth, Clay Shirkey and Jeff Jarvis. There are loads more, just have a hunt around.
I’d also recommend reading Small is beautiful: your guide to becoming a global micro-publishing phenomenon to get a handle on the opportunities for journalists who want to set up their own publishing business.
2 Follow your passion
What do you really want to write about? And what do you want to write about on a continuing basis? Your passion will shine through in what you do. Niches are easier to make money from or get work in, especially if there is a lack of decent, regular content being created.
2 Give yourself permission to create
If you want to do this, then just go ahead and do it. Do not wait for anyone else to give you permission. The barriers are so low to get started (blog, Twitter, RSS) so just go ahead and get started.
3 Make your digital space
Following on from the point above, create the space you need – the blog, the Twitter profile, Google+ profile, whatever you need just make some space for you and your work on the web, it can be where you put your work, share your thinking, show what you can do.
4 Be a good digital citizen
Be generous so start by getting involved in what others are doing and tell them what you are doing. Comment on their articles and blogs, retweet them, get into conversation. Get known. Be open and honest. Participate.
5 Identify your audience
Just wanting to write without having a sense of who for won’t get you far. I’m presuming you want someone to read/watch/listen to your work. Think about who that might be and why. If you want to pitch your work to publishers/commissioning editors then you’ll need to be clear on this too. The same goes if you want to build readership around your own project. There’s a lot of noise on the web (and it is only going to get noisier as billions more come online in the coming years) so you need to figure out how you can become a signal in all of that.
6 Act like you know nothing
If you do you will be forever curious and ask decent questions to find out what’s going on whether that’s in regard to how journalism is changing or when interviewing subjects for a piece.
7 Be sociable with your content
Share your work, narrate it as you create it. As long as you can (ie the work is not too sensitive) then show what you are doing and think about how tech can help you shape your stories, develop your stories, amplify your stories.
8 Be creative
Try out different media and different formats, mash them together. This is a creative job so bring creativity into how you bring stories to life. Work with others if you do not have the skills. Or learn them yourself.
9 Understand what works
Use analytics to understand what works and why and then do more of the things that work. Things won’t work and that’s OK. What you want to do is know what works and why and do more of it.
10 Keep learning
Keep thinking about the skills you need and how you can develop them. There are heaps of free resources out there – the issue here is to take the time to try out new things. For example, data is the new oil on the web so what data skills do you need to be able to source data, turn it into a useable data set and format into something that makes a compelling story? Where does curation fit in for you? How about mashing up graphics and video?
There is no denying the fact that journalism is a tough place to be. However, the web is long on opinion and heaps of poor quality content so there is a place for regular, insightful, balanced content (I won’t go into the role of journalism in democracy in this piece – there’s plenty to read on that including some interesting work at The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, for example). You’ll need to be curious because in many ways the answers to your financial success will be in your hands.