Career Exploration

6 ways to stand out when applying for journalism jobs

Written by mrafeeq · 7 min read >
Journalism Career
Journalism Career

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

It’s easy to see why journalism is regarded as a desirable career choice. Unpredictable and fast-paced, you never know what lies ahead when you head to the newsroom for a shift.

Journalism gives you the chance to talk for a living, ask questions, and tell stories to millions of people. Such jobs come with an incredible amount of responsibility and exposure — and in certain positions, you may have to work in dangerous places.

Unfortunately, today’s media landscape means it’s more complicated than ever to break into journalism. Local newspapers have been struggling to compete with social media, and their readership is dwindling. Some titles haven’t been forced to close, but they have had to make difficult decisions about staffing. In addition, many companies are choosing to advertise online instead of in their local paper, and classified ads from readers looking to sell their cars or find love has been drying up.

There would have been several newspapers covering the same area back in the glory days — each staffed with an extensive team of photographers, specialist reporters, columnists, sub-editors, and production staff. Now, a local paper may only have one or two journalists, even working across several titles.

None of this is to say that you should write off the prospect of a career in journalism. However, it’s worth remembering that fewer jobs will go around , and competition will be intense. It’s not uncommon for hundreds of people to apply for a single position, so your CV and cover letter needs to have a “wow” factor that intrigues employers and compels them to call you in for an interview.

Let’s look at some top tips now, all based on the experiences of people who have tried and succeeded when applying for local and national journalism jobs.

1. Specialise

There are several different specialisms that a journalist can choose — and many media organisations are heavily investing in teams that will be able to use their in-depth knowledge to uncover exclusive stories their rivals miss.

If you’re interested in sport or business journalism, for example, start building contacts and beginning to produce your own stories. Not only can these be published on your own blog — allowing you to create a portfolio of work — but you may be able to sell them on to newspapers and magazines. The connections you’ll build with editors, the bylines you’ll gain, and the outlets you’ll be able to name drop on your CV will amount to dynamite when it comes to applying for roles.

2. Understand their coverage

Failing to research the media organisation you’re being interviewed by is one of the most fatal errors a journalist can make.

If you’re applying to join a newspaper, you should read their coverage exhaustively. This will help you understand their editorial tone and style, the types of stories they cover (and don’t cover), the names of their top reporters and columnists, issues they campaign about regularly, and any political leanings which underscore their articles.

This knowledge will help you stand out in an interview because you’ll be able to answer questions about their product with confidence and give honest feedback if asked what you’d improve about the newspaper.

It also prevents awkward moments where you begin to talk about the newspaper’s showbiz coverage when they don’t have an entertainment column or pitch an idea for a local story in an area outside of the title’s patch. Such faux pas can instantly scupper your chances of being called in for another interview. You’d be surprised at how many aspiring journalists fail to do their homework before being invited in for a chat.

3. Pitch ideas

Newspapers and broadcasters want their journalists to have imagination and hire people with a proven ability to think outside the box. When a major news story breaks, reporters need to have ideas of ways to take the story forward — either by writing analysis pieces that examine why something happened or securing an interview with someone at the centre of the story.

During an interview, you shouldn’t be surprised if you are presented with scenarios where you are asked to pitch ideas on how to give readers and viewers a fuller understanding of a story. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with a few pictures of your own — perhaps based on the stories dominating that day’s news agenda or new angles on recurring issues such as Brexit or the Trump presidency. This is a fantastic way of advertising your journalistic style and editorial judgement — showing recruiters you’re experienced and able to spot a story from 100 paces.

4. Think beyond education

Many media organisations don’t regard A-levels and degrees in media studies positively — and likewise, if you’re looking to get into journalism, opting for an undergraduate degree in this subject may not be your most brilliant career move. Although most journalists in the UK are university educated, there is no industry-wide requirement for these professionals to have a degree.

If you plan to go to university, you should consider taking a politics, economics, history or English. This will help give you a solid foundation of knowledge which can then be built upon by a Masters degree in journalism.

That said, there are alternative (and less expensive) routes you can take to have a compelling CV that proves you’re qualified for a journalism job. For example, you can embark on courses accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) or the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC).

Some media outlets offer work experience, internships and apprenticeships, which can help you get a foot on the career ladder — and these schemes can be far more effective in helping you build a distinctive CV. You should also keep an eye out for graduate trainee schemes offered by big broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV, as well as national newspapers.

Other skills such as shorthand and the ability to speak different languages will also pique the interest of HR departments in newsrooms. In addition, many organisations are now international in outlook — and being fluent in another language also broadens your horizons because you’ll be able to apply to work with foreign media outlets in their UK-based bureaux or at their headquarters around the world.

5. Consider different routes

If you want a successful career in journalism, you should keep an open mind and consider applying for jobs that will help you gain the skills that every reporter and editor is — even if it isn’t working for a news outlet, to begin with.

For example, trade publications can be an excellent way of starting out in the media industry. This means you might be writing articles for a business-to-business publication focusing on niche sectors within agriculture, construction, finance or marketing. We talked before about how specialist knowledge can make you more likely to be recruited as a journalist — and the skills you develop in one of these entry-level jobs can go a long way to helping you fulfil your dream.

Another good idea is to work with the media offices of charities, non-profit organisations, or companies. This can help you understand how to write news releases and reports, and you may even get the opportunity to perform interviews that are then released for journalists to use.

As you can see, working in these related fields can help you build the skills that will help you hold your own when applying for a competitive journalism job. Given how it’s so difficult to find local media work these days, opportunities like this are indispensable in helping to cut your teeth in the industry.

6. Write an excellent (and typo-free) cover letter

Given the sheer volume of applications that recruiters are going to be sifting through for journalism vacancies, you’ll want to write a cover letter that is short but engaging.

You need to think about it as a newspaper article. Here, it’s crucial to capture the reader’s attention within the first few paragraphs. Otherwise, they’re going to switch off and move on to another story. By ensuring your most gripping and exciting attributes are included in the opening sentences of your letter, you have a greater chance of being placed on a shortlist for an interview.

Cover letters are an opportunity to showcase your writing style and discuss the achievements in your journalism career to date. Therefore, you should be writing a new letter for every job you apply for, rather than using a cookie-cutter approach where you copy and paste the same letter for every opening. Recruiters will spot generic cover letters from a mile away. However, it also means that you’re missing out on the opportunity to reflect the particular skills they’re looking for (and how your skills match the job responsibilities) in what you write. So personalising your application and taking time to show how you’re the perfect match for a job is vital if you’re going to distinguish yourself from the dozens of others vying for the same position.

Tips to Help You Dive Into Journalism School

As a prospective journalist, you’re often told that it’s not what you know but who you know. Getting into journalism school is no exception. With these five tips, your chances of getting into a top journalism school will go up exponentially

1. Find out which schools have the best ranking for your desired field

2. Get recommendations from people in the industry

3. Follow up on all of your applications – even if they reject you

4. Don’t skip class

5. Write all the time

Build Your Own Brand by Being Active on Social Media

When people think of journalism, they think of news, facts and information. However, social media has changed the way journalism is done. Journalists nowadays cannot just be journalists. They need to be marketers, public relations experts and community leaders as well.

Journalists should take advantage of the thousands of social media opportunities to create their own personal brands and build their audience base.

Be an Expert by Publishing Content Regularly and Wearing Multiple Hats

The freelance journalist or freelance writer’s job is to create and publish content daily. Freelance journalists and writers must wear multiple hats, such as marketing manager, editor, and more. They must create content for themselves or their clients that will be engaging, informative, and high-quality. Freelance journalists and writers should learn to play the long game with their careers because it is not an easy career path.

What are the Benefits of Becoming A Journalist?

Journalism is one of the most rewarding and noble professions in the world. Yes, it has its share of dangers, but journalism has helped change lives for the better. Journalism is all about telling stories that will make a difference.

As reported by The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, “journalists are the public’s last line of defence against abuses by governments, businesses and other powerful institutions.” Although journalists are critical because they can be sources of information for people who need it, they can also help expose injustices in our society.

Journalists’ work is crucial to democracy. This profession helps people understand what’s really happening in their communities and across the world – helping to make sense of events that might seem overwhelming or confusing.

Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, and their work is not aligned with any particular group. This ensures that they can bring the truth to the people. They help in maintaining transparency and accountability, among other things. It’s up to the journalists which stories should be told, how they should be said and what biases should or shouldn’t be included in the report.

Conclusion: You don’t need to be a journalist to be a successful journalist. It’s vital that you’re flexible and can adapt to the changing needs of the industry. The world of journalism is currently undergoing significant changes. Journalists are not just limited to writing articles anymore; they can use various tools and skillsets to tell their stories and engage with audiences differently.

Journalists do not need formal degrees, but they should have knowledge of statistics, research skills, and technical skills such as video editing or photo editing addition; journalists should also have good writing skills, creativity, people-reading abilities and excellent communications skills. These attributes will help them be more successful in their careers as journalists.

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