Originally published at the City IN Journalism course blog.
As many of you know, I spent Saturday at the University of Warwick for the ‘Breaking Into Journalism’ conference, organised by The Student Journals to celebrate our second birthday (along with lots and lots of cake!)
The day featured journalists from Huffington Post UK, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Channel 4, New Statesman, City University’s Jonathan Hewett, and many more, speaking on topics from pitching to data journalism to media law.
Despite being TSJ’s Deputy Editor, I’d been relatively uninvolved with organising the event and I was really impressed by how well it all came together.
The conference opened with a keynote speech from Carla Buzasi, Editor-in-Chief of Huffington Post UK, on how she got her job and what she sees as the future of journalism. Then after four sessions of workshops attendees regrouped for a panel on Access to Journalism, with Channel 4′s Fatima Manji and Dawn Foster from the Guardian’s Comment is Free. Finally, David Allen Green, a practising lawyer and New Statesman’s legal correspondent, brought media law to life with his anecdotes about legal blogging and, of course, exposing Johann Hari.
- Be nice, and cultivate contacts. One of the first things Carla Buzasi told attendees at the conference was, “treat everyone as a potential contact, and make the most of your contacts”. This sentiment was repeated throughout the day; during the later panel on Access to Journalism, Fatima Manji advised “be nice to everyone” and “don’t set out with a mind to screw people over.” Dawn Foster added that if you want someone’s job, email them and ask how they got it – “there are few things journalists like more than talking about themselves.” Manji and Foster also agreed that getting yourself a mentor is hugely useful for your journalistic development.
- Write about what you love. Advice about specialising was another recurring theme, even from journalists who are themselves general reporters. In her workshop on pitching, Dawn Foster said having a specialism is a great way of making yourself stand out in a particular area. This came up again in the Access to Journalism panel, with Fatima Manji saying “specialisms are the way forward.” But while both Manji and Foster agreed it’s important to hone your specialism and write about what you love, Manji stressed the importance of pushing your own boundaries and also writing what you find difficult.
- Think about your pitch. Do your research – know who you’re writing to (avoid “DEAR JOURNALIST” or risk becoming Dawn Foster’s new “worst pitch ever”), don’t just read the publication but know it and enthuse about it, make sure your article hasn’t been written before. Keep your pitches short and concise, and don’t send more than one pitch in the same email. Be persistent, but don’t pester or harass editors or they’ll never commission you. Sameer Rahim, Assistant Books Editor at The Telegraph, who spoke on reviewing and literary interviews, also advised journalists not to underestimate the power of picking up pen and paper to write a letter – they’re a lot rarer than emails!
- There’s no match for great content. There was naturally a huge amount of time dedicated to discussion of the internet, which I think we’re all agreed has a huge role to play in the future of journalism. Jonathan Hewett gave two workshops – one on the basics of data journalism, and one (which I found really useful) on using advanced search techniques in Google and Twitter to find people and news. But digital media innovator Adam Westbrook also emphasised that flashy websites and fancy data visualisations are meaningless without great storytelling that “sucks ‘em in and spits ‘em out”.
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