A reporter interviewing a protester outside Calgary's U.S. consulate.
Photo by Robert Thivierge
In the last few weeks a number of female journalists have been attacked on Twitter, apparently for committing the crime of . . . well, being a female journalist. It's a horrible thing to see happening and I hope there are no girls watching what's happening and being put off from entering what I believe is a truly exciting and inspiring industry.
This is a somewhat personal topic for me as I have recently taken a career change into journalism. I quit my job (which was terrifying) and began a fast-track course to gain my journalism qualification. This diploma is given by the National Council of Trained Journalist (NCTJ), which is the leading journalism body in the UK. The course taught us shorthand, media law, public affairs, sub-editing, and design, as well as how to write better. It was intense and at times overwhelming, but definitely one of the best things I've ever done.
You can of course take a degree in journalism, or get some work experience on your local paper: if you're in school or college or university, there may be a school paper you can join–or even start yourself! All of these are great routes into the profession. It's really up to you (and your personal circumstances) how you choose to go about it.
That said, here are five tips on what I think are the best journalist skills to develop–and why being a journalist can be so rewarding!
Be curious–this is so important! A journalist is someone who wants to know what's going on. Nosiness is perhaps a negative way of looking at it, but there can definitely be positives. Good journalism can expose corruption, or highlight a good cause or an amazing story. If you're fascinated by other people and other ways of living, journalism helps you feed that curiosity.
Networking–as an introvert, networking often fills me with dread. But it is so essential in journalism, and really, all it means is getting to know people. If you're curious, this is made so much easier! Just let your natural curiosity loose and try to shrug off any nerves you have and just talk to people. It's that easy. Ask them questions about themselves, and see if there's any way you can help each other.
Social media–so many journalism jobs want "digitally savvy" young people. So, if you're already a proficient Facebooker and Tweeter, you’re well on your way! Journalists are expected to engage their audience on these platforms as well–you may well find yourself being paid to be on Twitter! Living the dream . . . .
Shorthand–this has constantly been hammered into my brain as THE essential skill for journalists. It's a faster writing system than longhand and it definitely impresses people if you know it. Of course, you can use Dictaphones and recorders for interviews, but in some circumstance, tape recorders won't be appropriate. For example, under UK law, no recording devices can be used in a court room, or, horror of horrors, your recorder might run out of power. Having shorthand as a backup at least can be very useful.
However, it is hard to learn. It requires constant daily practice, to the point where you can't hear people speaking without imagining the shorthand outline in your head. It's like learning a secret journalist code–nobody else will be able to read what you've written as even if you know shorthand, it can be hard to read other people's versions of it. If you're serious about going into journalism, shorthand is definitely worth starting ASAP.
Write, write, write–even if it's just your diary, writing a little something everyday has helped me hugely. I find that sometimes blank pages are a little overwhelming; it's hard to know where to begin. The best advice I can give when that happens is just to start writing, even if it's nonsense that you’ll want to go back and delete. Writing about anything helps. You could be writing about what you had for breakfast or writing a blog on politics–trust me, anything will help you.
Journalism is an exciting and important career–you can literally be the voice of the people. I hope more girls will take up this profession and add their voices to public debates.
Girl Museum Inc.