Winning ways to break into papers

Are you a dynamic self-starter? A dogged digger of facts? Can you
produce crisp, lively and accurate copy? Or maybe, as the writer
‘Rebecca West once said, you have “an ability to meet the challenge of
filling the space.”
Different editors look for different qualities in
the reporters they employ. All would expect you to spell the their name
correctly on your job application – not least as a sign that you check
details. They are often disappointed.
They want their reporters to know
what’s going on – and whom to talk to about it. They want people who
are good at finding things out quickly and accurately. If you have a
local angle, all the better. That is to say, if two candidates are
otherwise equal, the one with the strongest local link wins because
they will be more likely to have contacts and understand local
But it pays to do your homework. If you have an interview in,
say, Hastings, find out what’s been in the news there. Find out who’s
been in the news.
One editor told me the two most important things he
looked for on a CV were 100 words per minute shorthand and a clean
driving licence. But other useful qualities include a clear and concise
writing style – good spelling beats reliance on a spell-checker.
you handle the pressure of deadlines? Are you personable when
interviewing, yet persistent and determined? Do you have some kind of
track record to prove that this isn’t just a passing fad? Cuttings from
various work experience placements show a level of commitment to the
Most people start on a local paper. Only a few start their
professional life on a national.
Some employers will send on a course
to somewhere like The Editorial Centre in Hastings, where I teach
part-time. You will be paid to spend 15 weeks learning law and
government, journalism and shorthand. Each week you will have to find
enough stories to produce your own paper. Andy Coulson, the editor of
the News of the world, went to Hastings, and so did David Yelland, the
former editor of The Sun. The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The
Financial Times have all sent trainees there, as have daily and weekly
papers countrywide.
Some newspaper groups have in-house schemes or
their own training centres. Others will expect you to sort out your own
pre-entry training centres. If you’ve been to university, paying for a
course will add to your impressive array of debts.
The National Council
for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) accredits many of the vocational
courses offered in universities and colleges around the country. My
advice to those wanting to become a journalist is: “Go and find a
better-paid job doing something else.” If they persist, they are
already demonstrating one of the essential attributes.
But the best
reporters have all the qualities described above – and more. And just
as they persuade contacts to talk to them, so they persuade an editor
to employ them.
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