Some advice for a wannabe reporter.
Not too long ago, I got an e-mail from a person thinking of making a career change into journalism. Here's what I suggested -- perhaps it will be helpful to you, too:
- Keep your day job and go to a weekly or small daily newspaper near where you live
- Introduce yourself to the managing editor and tell him (or her) you would like help engineering a career change
- Offer to work as a freelancer as a way to get experience. You’re basically suggesting an apprenticeship that could eventually turn into a full-time, part-time, or freelance job. You would work, initially, for free. All they would need to invest is time to teach you. But agree upon a time in the future when your status is reconsidered so that you can transition to something that begins to pay off. Since you still have a day job, you would need to agree on a schedule that works…. Maybe you could cover some night meetings, or shadow a reporter.
- During this time, get regular feedback and critiques on your stories and reporting skills.
- After a mutually agreed upon amount of time, arrange another meeting to see if you can either be hired full time, part time, or as a freelancer.
My point is, ANYone can be a journalist, even without going to school. The BEST training is on-the-job.
(But if you can get some formal training -- college, online, the AP Stylebook -- take advantage of the opportunity.)
Here are the skills you need:
- Curiosity – LOTS of it – and the courage to ask questions. Lots of them.
- Skepticism (which is not the same as cynicism) – it just means the willingness to check things out and not just take someone’s word for it. The journalist's credo is, "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out."
- The ability to write clearly and succinctly
- Objectivity. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have opinions; you just have to be able to set them aside and give people you disagree with the opportunity to present their case. You need to be fair-minded. Your purpose as a journalist is to inform NOT persuade.
Now go out there and get a job!
CNN Senior Copy Editor ("The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer)
Author, FAST TRACK (a mystery which deals with journalistic integrity, anonymous sources, and mentoring relationships)