Things My Journalism Tutors Should Have Taught Me

Student classroomEvery now and then I get a call from a student asking for a little advice. Most of them are halfway through a journalism or writing course and have started to ponder about life after assignments. For many it comes down to finding a job – not an easy task by any means.

Chatting about their expectations always brings back memories of my own journalism course. Covering everything from editing and page planning to shorthand and law, it was everything you would expect – comprehensive, educational and intense.

The course also did what it was supposed to, in that it led to a job. But there are also plenty of things that my tutors should have taught me about the industry I was about to enter.

I’m not talking trade secrets here. I’m thinking about tips and advice that would have come in real handy.

One of the first things I discovered on the job was that shorthand wasn’t the be all and end all. At uni this skill was always sold as a prerequisite to any writing job. Hours were spent learning squiggles, dots and dashes.

Enter the tape recorder.

If you’re interviewing anyone at length this is a life saver. Not only can you interact with your subject more, you’ll also end up with a record of your entire conversation.

No Shorthand? Then unless you really want a career as a court reporter there’s no need to sweat it.

Being precious about the structure of my stories and features also went out the window pretty quickly. At uni everyone would spend an age putting together articles that were ‘just so’.

But when pages change shape or space is tight, words will be edited or cut. There’s simply no room left to get all possessive.

Yet contrary to popular belief sub-editors can and do get things wrong. As a student I believed subs helped you to make the most of the written word. A few months later I also realised they could drastically alter the meaning of sentences and cut out essential information.

Editing is great. But when it changes the who, where, what, why and when you need to speak up.

At uni conducting an interview was also pretty straightforward. If there was any blueprint it was: Ask a question, get any answer then move on.

In real life this rarely happens. People avoid questions or the simply give you a different answer. Some decide to go mono-syllabic. Others give you the answer they think you want.

Interviewing really is an art form. Sometimes it’s all about how you ask a question. Even the subtly of what you don’t ask can be just as telling. This is a subject I’ve covered before but if you’re interested in learning more my Top Ten Interview Techniques article would be pretty helpful.

Finally, my tutors should really have stressed the cracking pace with which things move along in journalism. Yes, there are daily stories, deadlines and everything else but as an industry it constantly evolves. To be successful the trick is to not stand still at all.

Got something to add to the list? Then feel free to leave a comment below.

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