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Five ways to get your foot in the newsroom door

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How do you show you'd make a great journalist when you're still at school? There are ways to demonstrate you have the right stuff.

You've been studying hard for exams. You don't have a large portfolio of cuttings, videos, or news photos. But you can still convince media employers to hire you for your first job or internship, and here's how:

American University student Ford Fischer with "News2Share"

American University student Ford Fischer with "News2Share"

1. USE YOUR PERSONAL QUALITIES

Whatever media you choose - TV, digital, print or radio, (or all four!) you need to show you're a great writer. Writing is at the base of all good journalism. You should be curious about people, organizations, places, and how things work - or don't.  You are personable, comfortable with yourself, determined, an independent thinker, and you like to tell stories. You are not shy with strangers, and you are committed to truth.

2. GET TO WORK

Its easy to write about yourself and your friends, but that's not what media employers are looking for. Join the college paper, start a blog, find local stories which peak your interest and talk to the people behind them. Buy a digital stills or video camera and think about the different ways you can present your story in print, on video, a podcast, and on social media.    Poynter. A successful internship is the key to future employment in media, whether you impress them so much they want you back, or simply to gain priceless on-the-job experience you can take elsewhere. Check out Poynter's job site. 

News2Share is one of several student-run organizations which accepts credible and well-produced video and other reports from journalists and aspiring journalists anywhere in the world.

3. BUILD YOUR CONTACTS

I still have my old weather-beaten contacts book, and I still use it. Buy one - it might seem a bit empty at first, but write down the names, phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles of every new person you talk with. You never know when they might be helpful to you on future stories. Reach out via social media to potential story sources and contacts, and be honest with them about your goals.

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4. GET TO KNOW JOURNALISTS

When I was at college, I wrote a letter introducing myself to a reporter I had heard on the air at a station I admired. The station was Radio City in Liverpool, UK. The young reporter was Carolyn Brown, who has subsequently enjoyed a long career with the BBC. I asked her if she would meet with me to discuss journalism careers, and she was kind enough to agree. She also did me another huge favor, introducing me to other reporters and anchors at the station, who all had useful advice. I had nothing to lose, but thanks to Carolyn's kindness I gained a foot in the door there and, eventually, a job. Sure, some people will tell you they're too busy, or ignore your requests. But many journalists I know are thrilled to help talented young journalists get onto the career ladder, and to help them acquire new skills.

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5. DON'T BE SHY, BE PERSISTENT

We all know these days resume submissions for jobs and internships can get mangled in company algorithm systems or put in trash cans. Sure, keep on applying the traditional way, but don't just send your credentials into outer space. Face to face contact is a much more effective way to impress. So reach out, get to know people in the business, take a chance, then push that foot in the door. Media managers admire chutzpah - after all, its another of those skills they seek in new journalists. And thirty years on - thank you, Carolyn, for helping me fulfill my dream.

What social media and witchcraft might have in common

Trawling aimlessly through my Twitter feed it dawned on me that it sometimes has a lot in common with the Lancashire Witches – a group of hapless, poverty-stricken women who were hanged in 17th century northern England on the misogynistic basis of repeated gossip, allegations, rumors, a vengeful judge and the demands of the baying mob.

The Saxon town of Clitheroe, and the foreboding and mysterious Pendle Hill behind - the scene of some of the 17th century murders

The Saxon town of Clitheroe, and the foreboding and mysterious Pendle Hill behind - the scene of some of the 17th century murders

The more they protested their innocence, the more widespread became the myths and the gossip, and the more fact became confused and merged with the saucier fiction.

We could give it a contemporary buzz-phrase such as “malicious crowd-sourcing” or “judicial trolling” but the message is the same – truth can be as elusive a commodity today as it was then.

My journalism students often wonder what a journalism degree is worth these days, when anyone with an Amazon discount code can buy a digital camera and drive to a riot zone to make a dangerous name for themselves on CNN.

So we came up with a list of attributes which might separate “real” journalists from the mob. I’m sure readers can add to the list.

Real journalists can distinguish their work and bring success to their organizations:-

  • By acquiring ALL the skills necessary to create and contribute to all types of platforms
  • By taking careful notes and recordings and keeping them
  • By being first hand witnesses to events, vigorously questioning any derivative versions
  • By standing for truth, accuracy and diversity before speed
  • By building credibility as tellers of significant stories
  • By having trusted, first-hand sources and extensive contacts
  • By building expertise, knowledge and experience in chosen beats
  • By rising above the “noise” to report fact, not rumor or hearsay
  • By remaining neutral and emotionally detached from their subject

It may seem a quaint notion, but is it time to restore credibility to the profession by having a nationally (or internationally) recognized qualification as a journalist?

A central body could administer the standards for J-Schools and training colleges to meet. Qualifiers would carry a professional card or license to show to law-enforcement officers, at news conferences, and other public events. Card-holders could assert their credentials online, or in print, to emphasize their trustworthiness to users and readers. Cards could be withdrawn for inaccurate or irresponsible reporting, plagiarism, and ethical breaches.

News organizations who only employed card-holders, and genuine freelancers, could increase their credibility and enhance their reputation as trust-worthy custodians of truth and reliability.

Call me old-fashioned? The Lancashire Witches could have done with some independent observers who sought the truth. The first draft of history prevailed then, as it does today. But with all the tools of discovery and dissemination of news now at our disposal, shouldn’t we be doing more to get it right?

Mark McDonald

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