Today is my big day. To commemorate the birthday festivities here are 25 things I’ve learned about journalism.
1. There is no such thing as a small story, only small thinking.
2. Sources always call back well after the story has run.
3. A cop is harder to interview than a criminal.
4. Someone somewhere will always be upset about any given story I’ve written.
5. Behind every good reporter is a good editor (or three).
6. Good headphones are a great investment. Unless you let someone borrow them.
7. Breaking news will always happen 20 minutes before shift is over.
8. White balancing is my friend.
9. Business and sports reporting are the hardest beats to cover unless you have a passion for them.
10. Journalists plagiarize each other more than they do outside sources.
11. Never stand downwind from a fire.
12. The small market television news reporter is the original backpack journalist.
13. Beat reporting is cyclical.
14. Nothing beats an old fashioned pen and notepad.
15. There is a 75 percent chance that I will have recorded bad audio.
16. Most journalists aren’t the heartless bloodsuckers the public thinks we are.
17. You can’t always fix it in post.
19. Scientists and journalists speak two different languages.
20. Make it to the scene before the TV reporter.
21. There is no such thing as “unbiased.”
22. It’s better to get off the phone and out of the office.
23. A deadline web project will always take two hours longer than I think it will.
24. If journalism becomes a chore, find a new profession.
25. Always keep a spare battery.

onday, 10 August 2009


Welcome to journalism4schools, a site designed to offer free advice to school leavers and others wishing to pursue a career in journalism.Since the mid-1990s I have been actively involved in training young journalists - initially as part of my job within some of the country's largest newspaper groups and latterly as a freelance editorial training consultant.
An award-winning writer with more than 20 years' experience in the UK regional press, I now work as a freelance editorial tutor and lecturer.
The driving force behind journalism4schools was my frustration at the poor guidance given about careers in journalism received by many young people getting started in the profession.
My experience has been that school leavers appreciate honest, no-nonsense advice about the choices they face in getting the best on-the-job training that will help them pursue their writing career.
This website aims to achieve just that, as well as offering a couple of keenly priced distance-learning courses for beginners who want to find out if the job is really for them without spending thousands of pounds on inappropriate training or discovering they have made a mistake halfway through a three-year undergraduate course.
Let me know if you find it useful, have any queries or find any information out of date. See the contents menu for help with specific questions or if you want to tackle one of the cheap courses available.


How can journalism4schools help with your journalism career?
1 - Free no-nonsense advice on the best training options for you
2 - Help with follow-up queries
3 - Links to relevant courses and other training resources
4 - Cheap distance-learning options to give you honest feedback on your writing
Advice on the site is geared towards school leavers in England and Wales who are interested in journalism careers. Anyone based abroad should looks in the contents list for the relevant link.


A useful starting point is to establish whether you are interested in a specific branch of journalism, since some journalism courses are geared towards those wanting to work for newspapers, magazines or in broadcasting, for example.
However you may not be sure whether you want to specialise in a particular discipline and there are also more general journalism courses for those who have no clear idea at this stage of their future career path
Be aware that the business is changing rapidly, with fewer "traditional" jobs in newspapers and more opportunities for those working on websites and specialist publications.
Similarly there is more overlap between these disciplines; all print publications now have an online presence and there is an expectation that you will understand how to write for the web, take digital photographs and upload video packages.
Some media companies are "broadcasting" on the web and all newsrooms realise the importance of serving online readers, as well as those buying a traditional printed product.
Traditionally, most journalists started th
eir careers working as a reporter for a daily or weekly regional paper. This is no longer automatic and there are many other ways of breaking into the business for those who have no desire to work as a local reporter.
It’s worth remembering too that there are numerous behind-the-scenes journalistic jobs which might be of interest to you too.
Sub-editors, for example, are the people who design and lay out newspaper pages as well as editing copy. There are also opportunities for designers in both the print and electronic media. Or you might be interested in working as a broadcast researcher rather than an on-screen presenter or newsreader.

The site is divided into different sections to help guide you through the journalism training options in a logical way.
You might start by looking at the qualifications and qualities required to become a journalist.

The training courses pages then look at the journalism training options in print, broadcast magazine and digital journalism.
You can also find out more about introductory distance learning courses available through journalism4schools.
Links are provided to the different independent sites run by various colleges and employers.


Anyone wanting to work as a journalist is likely to find that practical skills are every bit as important as formal qualifications. You do not have to be a graduate, for example, although the increasing number of young people embarking on some form of higher education in recent years has meant that most people entering the profession are now graduates. There used to be far more opportunities for school leavers to break into the business without attending college or university, and this is still possible if the idea of higher education does not appeal.
For similar reasons the minimum education requirements for prospective journalists tend to be quite low – normally two A levels, of which one should be English. But don’t be misled into thinking that this means getting into the business is easy, or that journalists in general are not well educated. It is simply a reflection of the fact that in some cases practical skills and specific qualities may be of more interest to editors than academic qualifications – mainly because academic qualifications are not in themselves an accurate indicator of whether someone will be a good journalist.
The same applies to your choice of degree subject should you choose to go to university before entering the profession. Unless you have very specific choice of careers in journalism in mind – working as a foreign correspondent, say, or a business specialist – editors will normally be happy to consider applications from candidates with a wide range of traditional university qualifications, from English to economics.
However it’s worth noting that editors are very wary of media studies qualifications, since these are frequently very generalised and do not include any practical journalism training. The explosion of interest in media careers in recent years has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of such courses provided by colleges, but editors would often prefer candidates to have studied a traditional mainstream degree course or a recognised journalism qualification. if you are 19, have a good grasp of the writing essentials and have plenty of contacts - or the ability to got out and get them - you could even win a place on a course normally described as "postgraduate".
(The training courses section of the website discusses which courses are recognised by different bodies.)
You need to consider whether you have really got what it takes to succeed in what can be a very demanding environment. Potential employers are looking for signs that your interest in the job is a genuine commitment, not just a passing fancy – and that you have the qualities as well as the qualifications required to cope with the day-to-day demands of the business.
Those interested in specialised careers in journalism would be expected to take relevant university courses – languages in the case of a would-be foreign correspondent, or business studies and/or economics for someone interested in becoming a specialist business correspondent. The same would apply if you dream of becoming a political correspondent, for example.
Two things are worth bearing in mind when choosing a university course. One is that the course will not in itself bring you any closer to becoming a journalist – you will still be expected to undertake one of the short postgraduate journalism courses to acquire those all-important practical journalism skills.
The second point is that there is a lot you can do while you are at university to make yourself a stronger interview candidate – by editing the university magazine or newspaper, for example, or contributing to the local newspaper, working as a freelance or doing anything else which helps to establish your commitment and enthusiasm as well as providing hard evidence of your ability to get your writing published.
You can also set about acquiring some of the practical skills required by working journalists which are not normally taught at university – like shorthand, and a knowledge of media law and government, both at a central and local level.


Journalism is not for the faint-hearted or the half-hearted and there are a number of specific qualities editors are looking for when they interview candidates for trainee vacancies.
What sort of person makes a good reporter? An ability to communicate easily, both verbally and in writing, is an important and fairly obvious prerequisite. But are you genuinely interested in people? Are you inquisitive, curious or downright nosey?
Are you good at interviewing people? Are you good at listening to what they say – a much underestimated journalistic skill? Are you good at researching a complex subject and explaining it in plain English?
Can you communicate well with people from all walks of life? As a local reporter you would be expected to attend inquests and funerals, courts and council meetings and interview everyone from disgruntled council tenants to the mayor or chief constable.
Sheer enthusiasm is a virtue which is hard to ignore. Editors don’t expect trainees to know all the answers, but they do expect them to be eager to learn. Candidates who appear cynical, disgruntled, arrogant, bored or indifferent will be quickly weeded out.
It’s worth thinking at an early stage about what else the job involves. You will need to meet deadlines, for example, which means working at speed and often under pressure. Is that something you would relish, or something you fear? Evening papers have tighter deadlines than morning or weekly papers, so reporters on those titles will be expected to produce clean copy very quickly indeed once they are fully trained.
It should be obvious that none of the academic qualifications you gain give any real indication of whether you have the above qualities, so the initial interview will be important. But the best way to prepare for the interview is to have practical examples of your published work to show an editor.
Indeed, many papers will not interview any candidates who do not have hard evidence of their ability to do the job, possibly gained through one or more work experience placements.
The problem for editors is that the CVs of ten typical graduates will look very similar. They will therefore be looking for any evidence that sets you apart from the crowd. More information about this is contained in the section on CVs.
Persistence and determination are valuable qualities in a journalist, and editors will be on the look-out for evidence of these from the outset. That means not being put off if you are unsuccessful at your first attempt. It will count in your favour that you have continued to take practical steps to overcome any obstacles places in your way. Editors will also look favourably on candidates who take constructive advice in good faith and who set out to follow up any practical guidance offered.


As for any applicant, your CV is a showcase of what you can offer a potential employer. For prospective journalists, it’s particularly important that any CV avoids being pompous, verbose or wordy.
Keep your CV and covering letter concise and to the point – and above all, make sure that every word is spelt properly and that the application is addressed to the right person. Many applications have been thrown straight into the bin because of basic errors which smack of carelessness or incompetence.
This should be self-evident, but it is surprising how many letters of application contain glaring errors simply because the applicant has not checked their facts or proof-read the final draft carefully enough.
Increasingly, editors are also looking for a clear demonstration of your commitment to the industry in the form of work experience - preferably resulting in published work.
In some cases editors will only invite candidates to interview if their CV includes such experience.


This no-nonsense distance learning journalism course aims to give you a thorough grounding in basic journalism skills, as well the chance to obtain honest feedback from a professional journalist on a series of written assignments.
Your tutor will provide detailed feedback on your written exercises, as well as answering any queries you may have and offering career guidance if appropriate.
You will learn how to write news reports, features, columns and reviews, learn more about the print and broadcast industries and tackle written assignments ranging from factual reports to magazine articles.
You will also be introduced to ways of developing your news sense, making contacts, crafting “intros”, spotting “angles” and conducting effective interviews – as well as specialist areas like court reporting, travel writing, face-to-face profiles and human interest features.
The journalism course is highly practical and focused on helping you to write in a sharp, concise style that will appeal to editors. Feedback is honest, constructive and designed to encourage you to make rapid progress in honing your writing style.
The course includes a brief introduction to media law, sub-editing and writing for the trade press and broadcast media.
The course comprises SIX lessons, each incorporating written assignments, and is currently available at a special rate of £95 all-inclusive. Once enrolled, you can tackle lessons at your own pace: an assiduous student might expect to complete the journalism course in 12-16 weeks, but you have up to 18 months to tackle it at your leisure if you prefer.