Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What is wrong with wanting to be a journalism student?

I was walking around town today after doing an interview with YACWA (Youth Affairs Council of WA) and I decided to go into work to get one of my shifts changed (it's the end of semester and EVERYTHING is due).

(brackets are fun)

The girls at work commented on my dapper looks, I was wearing a shirt and tie at the time, and then one of the younger girls asked me a question I hadn't considered.

"I'm thinking of doing journalism next year, what sort of things do you need to be good at?".

Far be it from me to give my 'expertise' on the subject, for I'm not in the industry (I write some freelance but that's about it), but I started to consider the aptitudes needed for journalism.

First and foremost, you have to be a good writer.

You need to learn the difference between a colon and a semi-colon. You need an extensive vocabulary and the ability to write punchy copy without mistakes is invaluable. Getting the spelling and grammar right will get you a pass no matter what, but what will really put you up there in the echelons of journalistic potential is to learn the power of words.

You see, words are very emotive things. They can express multiple meanings, and using the right ones in any given situation gives you the ability to stand out from the pack who will be writing straight from press releases for the rest of their careers.

We all like to read the news, but news presented in a form that is a pleasure read is an absolute joy.

Then, you need to be across the news.

It's vital that you know what's going on not just in a vague sense, but in particular. For example, journalism students tend today to talk about the cut and parry between Malcom Turnbull and Dr. Nelson after the budget, but not to many people can give you details about what was actually in it.

I'm the first to admit that particulars are not my forte. For example, each week we have something called a 'news quiz' comprising of ten questions from the weeks news. Now, I like to think that I'm across the news and I'm widely read, but as soon as the lecturer wants me to recall a particular figure, I'm stumped. On average, I do about 5/10 a week (and this guy wants to be a journo!?).

It's good if you know what's going on. It's better if you know what's going on and you can give particulars.

People skills are important too.

It's about knowing when to press a source, and when to back off. For a while when I started journalism, I thought the notion of calling somebody up for a quote was daunting. I, as a piddly little student wanted to call a professional to I could get a quote for an assignment.

As I developed though, I realised that most people want to help student journalists out. This is for two reasons; one, because people in this country are generally nice, and two, because they know we'll be the journalists of tomorrow.

Also, they have an opinion they want to get across, they have an agenda they want to drive, so anybody who can put forward that agenda is helpful to them.

That being said, you still need to be polite when calling for an interview. You also need to turn on the charm to get a source on your good side, don't take it as a given that they want to talk to you.

Also, the ability to go deep is paramount.

It's pretty easy to write from a couple of press releases regarding a certain piece of legislation, but few student go and read the legislation.

I appreciate that it can be a bit daunting delving into the world of legislation (It's like they don't want us to read it! *gasp!*), but the good journos will, and this will add extra depth to every story you do.

As I said, I'm a student journalist, and this shouldn't be taken as the be-all and end-all, these are just my thoughts.

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