Being in journalism for over thirty years has opened up a wealth of opportunities and I regularly get asked by young people for advice on how to break into the media. It is a tricky industry to infiltrate and it is down to how proactive you are and not put off by knock backs when applying for work.
1. Be prepared to work as an intern.
Due to the level of competition in this industry, taking an unpaid role or applying to an internship can be an excellent way to make contacts and secure yourself a position in the future. This should be for a short period of time and used as work experience, rather than signing up for a year's contract. Companies very quickly will work out whether you will fit into their organisation, so there is no point being there for months when there is no possibility of employment being offered at the end of the term. Gain the experience and move on.
2. Contact small papers and local to your area magazines.
These are an excellent way of getting your articles published. It is unlikely that you will get paid for your work, but at least you will get a byline. The more articles you have published, the quicker your portfolio will grow and this is a great tool to take to interviews. Newspapers like to see that you have had some experience.
3. Build your confidence by approaching people for interviews.
Whether it is a friend who has just set up a business, a local cafe owner, or an actor in a local theatre production, this is a great way of getting used to dealing with the public and perfecting your interview style.
4. Practice makes perfect!
Keep writing constantly. Jot down notes and ideas along the way to ensure you remain inspired and to refine your writing style. Compare your early articles as you practice, so you can see how much you have improved.
5. Keep your writing tight
Don't use twenty words, when you could use four. People do not want to read a lot of superfluous information. Journalists are not creative writers. Avoid metaphors and similes and write in the present tense. You are not writing a historical novel. Get your facts together in a methodical so the article flows nicely.
Newspaper articles nearly always have a quote in them. It makes your article credible and personable. Always make sure the quote is correct and do not speculate on what someone is thinking.
The more research you do, the better your article. Be aware of taking information from the internet, unless it is from a reliable source.
8. Remember who you're writing for
When writing for a particular paper or magazine, do some research into the demographics and buy the periodical so you can study the style of writing. There is no point writing an in-depth article suitable for a broadsheet and then sending it to a tabloid.
9. Be prepared
A successful freelance journalist will always be looking out for a story. There is inspiration around every corner, you just need to look for it. Keep a camera phone and a notepad and pen on you at all times.
10. Knock backs
Journalists have to grow a thicker skin and not take it to heart when an editor does not want to publish their article. Be prepared for rejection letters, put them in a file, forget them and try again. There are hundreds of publications out there and if you don't succeed with the first ten, then approach ten more. Equally, when you do get an article published, be prepared for criticism from the public. The internet is a powerful platform and everyone is given a voice. If someone criticises your writing or the content of your article, then rest assured that they've read it and as a journalist, that is your main aim.