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What a Journalist Isn't

I'm sick and tired of the abuse journalists are getting at the moment. They don't deserve it, at least real journalists don't - ...

17 September 2018

Your First Day in Training

It's start of term today for dozens if not hundreds of wannabe journos as they arrive at universities across the UK to embark on a course.

It feels odd, because it's the first time in a quarter of a century I've not had to give a speech to an incoming class of trainees.

For most of that time, for very good reasons, my class started in late January or early February.

My priority was always unashamedly employment, job outcomes and placement opportunities. Going on placement in October and November opened many, many more doors to my candidates than is possible in April or May, a time of year which suits the mindset of traditional University types.

But whether class starts in January or September, the gist of my opening remarks was much the same. So I'll take the opportunity to make them anyway, just this time to a virtual audience. I hope you find at least some of them to be of value.

1) Today is the first day of your professional life as a journalist. Keep your eye on the exit. Three years will pass very quickly, if you wait until finals to think about your first job you've missed the opportunity.

2) Noone in the real world cares about your marks, so long as you pass everything. It's nice to get a First, and with the right attitude it's more than possible, but given the choice between brilliant grades and work experience, take the placement. Every. Time.

3) Get present requests in early to Santa, and put driving lessons top of the list. Only this week I recommended a brilliant ex-trainee (graduated in July) for a job with an immediate start; but they couldn't drive so missed out on the opportunity.

4) No-one made you pick Journalism. You chose it, and with that comes an obligation to absorb the news like your mother's milk. Not as a passive consumer, but as a critical practitioner. Where did that story come from? How can it develop? What's the tomorrow line on it?

5) That means reading, watching and listening to a wide range of outlets to compare and contrast styles and treatments. Uni will teach you to write fluent Guardian, which is great, but you also need to have the voice to write fluent Sun. And conversationally for broadcast.

6) You can learn all you need to know of the technology in a few weeks, and although some tutors and institutions tend to obsess about the latest tech that knowledge dates very quickly. Originality of approach, telling an old tale in a new way is much more important.

7) You will hear the phrase "think of a story ..." a dozen times a day, as your tutors progress through introducing the devices used in text, audio and video ... ths is where you can really stand out if you come to class with ideas of stories that matter to real audiences, NOT STUDENTS. So don't propose stories on binge drinking, student housing, loan problems or the latest STD testing campaign.

8) If there's a chance for work experience, grab it with both hands. Cancel the trip to Ibiza. Forget the birthday party. When you're in your first job interview and an editor asks what you've got apart from a degree, you can point to election or match day coverage.

9) That said, make time for yourself on the other days. Do a workmanlike job, but no story, package or treatment will ever be perfect. Because the carousel never stops. Do the best job you can and move on.

10) Enjoy your time with your coursemates. It's a small industry. If they're any good and you're any good your paths will keep crossing for life. You'll be competing with each other for jobs, sure. But you can maintain friendships on all the other days.

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