Guest Post From Rachael Stray: 10 Tips For New Journalists

Hi blog readers!

I’m so excited about introducing this second guest post from my call-out for them to my blog! If you’ve been on this little website before, you’ll know that I often post about the media industry (I work as an editorial assistant myself if you don’t know!). Therefore, I’m delighted that Rachael, who I’ve enjoyed reading a piece about journalism from before, offered to write a guest post about the industry! You can read her blog at https://rachaelstray.blog/ and I highly recommend it – it offers lifestyle posts as well as posts about working in the PR industry, in which Rachael currently works. This is a great read – apart from offering some top tips that are particularly relevant to news journalists, Rachael also includes personal experiences encountered while working in news journalism. Here it is!

 

 

1. Keep up to date
Keep up to date with news and changes. Read newspapers, get alerts on your phone from national and international news outlets and watch the news.

Follow newspapers and broadcasters on social media. Follow other journalists on social media too.

Keep up to date with new policy and changes to the law.

2. There is a story to be found everywhere
Journalists are often called ambulance chasers – not that I’m saying you should do this – but there is an element of truth in it. You could be out doing your shopping or catching up with friends and there’s a story unfolding right before you, so it’s best to be prepared.

Keep your eyes and ears open when you’re out and about but also on social media too. Become a chatty Cathy in the supermarket, in the pub, to your taxi driver, to your neighbours – you never know when someone might have a story.

A fellow trainee journalist found a hell of a story from an advert in a newsagent’s window simply asking for toys for a little girl. He rang the lady up and after a short conversation found out this girl was allergic to the sun. He arranged to visit them at home, did the interview, got pictures and video and sold this story to women’s magazines and national papers.

Just remember that there are always two sides to everything and you should never assume you know what is happening.

3. Always be prepared

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can let you down. I always make sure I’ve got a pen and even a small, pocket-sized notebook on me.

When you’re going out on a job you need to remember sod’s law. Your pen will run out or leak everywhere, it will probably rain despite it not being forecast and your mobile will run out of battery when you need to grab a quick video interview or picture.

So be prepared – carry more than one pen, and remember biros don’t work in the rain, so carry pencils with you as well.

Make sure your mobile is charged and have a battery pack too. It is a lifesaver if a breaking story happens and you need to take your own pictures, shoot video, live tweet, do Facebook Live etc – which seriously drains your battery.

Beyond having the right tools you’ll also need to be dressed suitably for any occasion; as a trainee reporter you’re likely to be sent on some of the jobs no one else wants to do. Think warm coat, fingerless gloves, scarf, sensible shoes and umbrella.

For men, get to grips with how to iron your shirt and how to fold your trousers so they don’t get creased, and wear a tie (even if it’s in your pocket until you’re actually out on a job or interviewing someone).

Ladies, I know wearing heels makes your legs longer and you feel more confident, but you can’t walk up and down from court several times a day in stilettoes (I’ve done it and it hurts a lot) so if you must, have a pair of flats in your bag. Your feet will thank you.

4. Contacts and networking

Without sources and contacts, it’s hard to get the stories you need to do your job. So overcome any shyness, don’t be timid and if you have business cards, don’t leave home without them. Keep a stash in your wallet or purse. You want people to be able to reach you.

Be friendly and approachable. Strike up conversations with people in real life and online. Exchange business cards with people.

Create lists on Twitter – they are so valuable. Join Facebook groups for the patch you’re covering.

Buy a paper contacts book and fill it with people you interview. You never know when you might want a quick quote for a story and you can call someone you’ve previously spoken with.

5. Writing the story

If you understand the structure of your story, it will all but write itself. Remember who, what, why, when and how for every single story.

A senior reporter who often covered inquests and court told me that during the breaks, he’d start highlighting important quotes or facts within his notebook to make it easier when it came to actually writing up the story. I do this and it works.

My first news editors always said to write the story as if you’re telling a friend down the pub. Another said that if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.

Remember: you are simply telling the story, not trying to “write” the story. Ultimately, journalists are storytellers – don’t forget that.

Reporter's Notebook

6. Check everything

Spellings, names, dates, times, quotes, figures, addresses, telephone numbers, grammar, double spaces, punctuation. Check it and check it again.

Don’t presume you know how to spell a person’s name. My name is Rachael. To me it’s the usual spelling, but it isn’t for everyone –  if I had a pound for every time someone misspelt my name, I’d be rolling in money!

Getting some of these wrong could get you in serious – even legal – trouble, and getting them right will put you in good stead with the subs.

Ultimately, the sub-editors are your friends and can stop you looking like an idiot if you mess up. If you’re writing straight for the web, with no one to proofread through your work, and there’s someone else who can give it a quick glance before it goes live, get them to do it.

7. Practice makes perfect

Shorthand was my nemesis during my training days. I got stuck at 80 words for ages but finally I got over the wall and nailed the 100wpm. I only did this by perseverance and lots of practice. I chose one character in my favourite TV show and wrote down everything they said. I watched the evening news and wrote down everything the newsreader said. I listen to the official transcripts and practiced whenever I could.

Shorthand may seem an archaic practice in the age of mobile reporting but there will always be a time when technology fails and you will have to rely on what’s in your notepad. No shorthand? No quotes, no story.

When you’re covering court, for example, you can’t record what’s happening so you have to rely on accurate and contemporaneous notes. Your dated shorthand notes could be used in a court of law and your news editor can defend you if you’ve got it in your notepad in shorthand and someone questions you.

I was covering a court case when the defendant kicked off and threats were made during proceedings. I was actually called to the witness box to give evidence for contempt of court and my shorthand notes were used as evidence.

8. Be multi-skilled

Be fearless and don’t be afraid to try new things. Modern journalism involves more than just the avenues of traditional reporting, so if you are able to turn your hand to a variety of positions in the newsroom, you will become a valuable member of the team.

Learn about SEO, how to write headlines for print and digital, get to grips with how to record video both live and pre-recorded. Learn how to edit video. Infographics are great too, so look at making these as they work fantastically for online stories and for sharing on social media.

9. McNae’s is your friend

McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists should be your most thumbed-through book; it should be your friend. Keep a copy at your desk and tab it up so you can find information quickly.

If you’re not sure if something could be contentious, breaking the law or going against the Editors’ Code of Practice, look it up in McNae’s. It’s better to check something than land yourself, your editor and your colleagues in hot water.

10. Develop a thick skin

There will be times, both in the newsroom and out on patch, where tempers will run high and life will be made difficult. The importance of persistence and “bouncing back” from adversity are essential.

A lot of people don’t like journalists. They think you’re going to lie or hack their phone. The profession isn’t held in high regard by many people outside of the industry so remember that.

Remain professional and calm but keep yourself safe. Let people know where you are and an estimated time of arrival at your desk or home. Check in with the newsdesk, even if it’s just by text or email.

I was once spat at and had scum screamed in my face when I was asked to take pictures of floral tributes left after a little boy died just a few days before Christmas. I didn’t want to be there in the snow, freezing cold the day before Christmas, but my news editor wanted another update, so I did what I needed to do to file my copy. I simply wiped the spit and explained what I was doing and apologised if I’d caused any offence. I was left alone, thankfully, and was able to leave without further drama.

Think about investing in a personal alarm and keep your phone charged.

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