Securing a journalism internship or a first job in the industry is hard, but getting your foot in the door of a media organisation is only the beginning. Making yourself noticed and standing out for all the right reasons can also be challenging.
Filing on time, sticking to word count, and just being in the room can help “things open up”, according to Archie Bland, senior writer at The Independent, who chaired one of the panels at the Frontline Club’s “Forget the Future: What's Happening in Journalism Now?” event yesterday evening.
Journalists and editors with hiring powers or first hand experience in turning internships into jobs shared their tips on how to stay on the radar during and after work experience. Here are seven key piece of advice:
Be more than just "computer literate”
Alex Hern, technology reporter at The Guardian said he would advise young people just getting started in journalism to learn to code, at any level “beyond the sort of thing that gets you marked out as computer literate at a big office”.
Emma Tucker, deputy editor of The Times, said being digitally savvy is taken for granted, and applicants are not particularly quizzed about their digital skills in interviews.
"What we're not looking for is somebody who comes in and is just a complete whiz," she said. "That needs to be part of what they do, but it's absolutely not the only thing we're looking for."Do exactly what you’re asked to do and do it on time.Archie Bland, The Independent
A commitment to journalism and being prepared to "get your hands dirty and find the stories" could get your application for a graduate scheme further, according to Tucker.
Offer to transcribe on work experience
Hern said “there is always one task which no one wants to do and it's really useful, which is transcribing”. He said offering to transcribe tapes for other journalists in the newsroom will ensure they know your name, and are grateful for your work.
Zing Tsjeng, digital news editor at Dazed Magazine, said being able to touch type helped her make an impression, and said people were “singularly amazed at this ability”.
She said once journalists ran out of transcriptions to give interns, they were more likely to give different assignments like writing a short story or calling a source.
“Do the one thing they always want you to do, and do it really well, so much so that it makes an impression,” said Tsjeng. “And you’d be surprised at how bad people can be at transcribing.”
Don't worry about bylines
Being obsessed with bylines is a mistake, according to Bland, and “the moment you have more than four bylines, their interest and significance wanes enormously”.If you can tell a joke well, you can probably tell a story well...Alex Miller, Vice
Once you do get an assignment, being able to write to specification – keeping in mind the word count and tone of the copy requested by an editor, and not getting over excited by a first assignment – is key to appearing professional.
“Do exactly what you’re asked to do and do it on time,” said Bland, “and then people will trust you and ask you to do other stuff.”
Bring ideas and a sense of humour
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop said the people he hires are those who "immediately come with something". He said he was looking for an ability to write, to analyse, and to spot what's interesting.
"I want you to make my life very, very easy," he said. "I want you to appear with a brilliant story or, you know, four pages of fabulous written copy, so I can go home early."
Editor in chief of Vice UK Alex Miller said some people who come to him asking for jobs fall short of a sense of humour, despite otherwise being very thorough journalists. "I think that if you can tell a joke well, you can probably tell a story well somewhere down the line."
Stay in touch after an internship
Hern said some interns he had liked, who had written good copy during their time at the publication, had fallen off the map and he “heard nothing from [them] ever again”.
At the time, he ran a blog and took submissions that could have been an opportunity for the young journalists to get more of their work out there. “They just kind of fell between the cracks after they thought the internship was over, and that was it.”
Make the most of Twitter
Stephen Bush, assistant comment editor at The Telegraph, said Twitter is not just a platform for building up a personal profile, but also a place to network with journalists and editors, and find new leads.
“Would I hang around more in a bar if I knew people who might one day hire me were there, and people who might give me stories were there? Yes, of course, and Twitter is like that basically.”
Twitter can help freelancers and journalists looking for new opportunities, according to Tsjeng, who said some editors tweet asking if anyone is available for particular assignments.
“Because Twitter is on people’s phones, they’re much more likely to look at a notification,” she said, ”than at an email you sent because it’s one of the hundreds of emails they get every day.”
Don't be afraid to pitch
Young journalists who worry their pitches would be ignored if they have not had their work published in a well known title can rest assured. If an idea is good enough, it will be considered.
Hislop said he would pay attention to pitches from freelances as "it may be terrifically good, it may be beautifully written", so would deserve "as much thought as anyone else".
Over at Vice, Miller said it is the outlet's responsibility to give young people "an opportunity, good feedback, good editing, an experience, a voice".
Having an interest in subcultures and areas not normally covered can be as simple as young journalists writing about where they came from, he said, and organisations like Vice are always looking to find a new voice, angle or story beyond established tropes.