Advice for the Young Journalist

Even Tina Firesheets, a now successful journalist from the Greensboro News and Record, didn’t get accepted the first time she applied for the newspaper station she really wanted to be at.

“If there’s somewhere you really want to be,” she said, “keep knocking on those doors.”

Even if you don’t get the beat you want or the position you strived for at first, don’t become defeated. Journalism is such a unique profession because everyday is a new experience. No matter what beat, you enter someone else’s life for a moment. Here are some of the things Firesheets mentioned that are important for young journalists to understand:

Journalists have to be naturally curious and have a very large comfort zone. This job is all about talking to other people and getting exposure to many different things. The passion for learning doesn’t stop at college, it continues even into professional journalism.

Say what you gotta say, and say it quick. Newspaper journalists rarely have the luxury of long-form stories. The changing nature of the industry has created a new type of journalism that fits the needs of our society’s audience. Young journalists have to learn how to write fast and report fast, and eventually get it online. Writers have to figure out how to get the information out that is of most interest to readers in the most efficient manner, so knowing your focus going into the writing process makes it a lot easier in the long run.

Look in the ads section of local newspapers. Uncovering interesting stories can be difficult, so broadening your search can have useful effects. “You can find the weirdest things in the ads section of newspapers,” she said, and has used ads as the source for a few of her stories. Ads can be used for finding a beat when your editor asks you to fill a hole for the newspaper.

Sometimes your story lives up to your expectations, sometimes they don’t. Not every story that you write is going to be a Pulitzer Prize winner. A beat that seems interesting may not have the compelling story to follow it up, while a seemingly bland beat about drapes may uncover the corruption of a local textile factory. Journalists can’t judge a beat by the surface. Thorough research is most critical in creating a compelling story.

How to portray your “down to business” attitude. According to Firesheets, the most important strategy to coming across as an important journalist is staying on top of your game. Knowing the right questions to ask during an interview and being prepared for whatever happens shows the interviewee your professional approach. Dress is also a factor in letting people know that you’re serious. For certain types of interviews, especially of people in position, Firesheets recommends wearing professional suits. Although it depends on the situation, it is safe to say that you should never look like you just hopped out of bed for any interview you perform.

It is always good to get someone else’s opinion. Journalists can become so embroiled in their beat and research that they lose the ability to write from an outside perspective. Explaining the story to an editor or friend can help journalists find the focus, or letting a peer read your work will re-establish what parts of the story are pertinent. Journalists can also become bogged down in all of the research details. A peer outside of the story will be able to tell which details fit and which ones do not.

Stay on top of new technology. Nowadays, journalists have to be comfortable with a lot of different mediums and knowing how to report in a lot of different ways. Being able to use the newest and best technology can help journalists and newsrooms become more efficient in their reporting and story-telling.

Most importantly, you need to be flexible. In this profession, you don’t know what you are going to find or what your editor is going to ask. The beats you are given can range from the very obscure to the very broad, so being open to new experiences and methods are key for young journalists. Flexibility is also important with your interviews. People may say that they are able to meet with you, but last minute emergencies arise and then suddenly they cant. Be patient. Be flexible. Be professional.

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2 thoughts on “Advice for the Young Journalist

  1. Chelsey – This is a lengthy post, but a thorough one. You have minor writing issues throughout, but the lead is what might turn off seasoned journalists: “…she applied for the newspaper station she really wanted to be at.” There are television and radio stations, but newspapers are not referred to as such. You end the sentence with the preposition “at,” which violates the rule of good grammar. Keep the blog interactive with links, or at least photos.

  2. Pingback: Reporter Asks What Fellow Journalists Think of the Job « Watching the Watchdog

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