Getting into journalism (the back door way)

by Rachel Worsley
06 September 2019

If you’re a journalism student or graduate, it’s easy to think your future is grim. Who wants years of casual work or rejections despite polished resumes? It’s easy to get cynical and think, ‘I’ve ticked the right boxes, but it’s still not good enough!’

Newsflash: journalism isn’t exempt from market forces. It’s supply and demand. If there’s too many of you applying for a small number of jobs, people will miss out. It’s time to try something different. Here are three approaches that have worked well for me based on my time working in news and as a freelancer.

Develop a specialised niche

The internet has commoditised mainstream news. If you’re sick of being undervalued, you need to develop a niche. I honed my news writing and story-gathering skills writing for GPs and specialists for three and a half years. I learn exactly the same skills that I do in a mainstream newsroom: finding story angles, making key contacts and reporting quickly and accurately. Working in a niche means you develop expertise in an area over time. And that expertise allows you to bargain for better paid work.

How do you develop that niche? Apply for news reporter positions at trade media and business publishers. Connect with editors and key opinion leaders in the industry on LinkedIn. Develop your own blog or podcast reporting on the issue and build an audience around it using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Find cashed-up startups on LinkedIn and get them to pay you to tell interesting stories about their customers or their industry.

Just remember that you’re already putting in a lot of unpaid work and time for job applications with minimal results. Spend some of that time developing your niche and work will eventually fall your way.

Learn business development skills

I went to all three Rachel’s List winter masterclasses recently. I spent close to $600 to network with senior journalists and freelancers who were actively practising in the media industry. Along the skills that I learn are: pitching stories, charging appropriate rates, finding clients, managing workload and networking.

In three half-days worth $600, I learned more about how to make money as a freelance journalist compared with the $35,000 I spent on a university degree.

Even if you are set on a full-time job, learning these skills will allow you to build a portfolio of work that you can show to employers. Divert some of that time applying for jobs into building a worthwhile portfolio.

I also believe that it can help build enormous self-confidence. For every knockback from a mainstream media outlet, you know that you’ve got income ticking over from someone who does value your work. That self-confidence could be the difference to getting your next full-time job.

For those who are cash-strapped, you can also learn these skills for free through Google, podcasts and YouTube. That has been the key learning portal for me, supplemented by masterclasses and seminars for one-to-one networking.

Upskill wisely

All my work experience has been in journalism and marketing, but I only have a law degree. If you want to go to university, get a degree in something other than journalism. The value is not in what you learn or the piece of paper, although that’s helpful. The value comes from mingling with people who do not spend time in the media bubble. They can offer different insights and approaches that could help your journalism. And approaching your journalism differently will make you stand out.

Upskill in digital marketing. Learn about SEO, CMS, email marketing, social media and marketing funnels. The difference between content marketing and journalism is the purpose that the content is written for. If you’re working with brands, you can build contacts in an industry that could lead to newsworthy stories. You can learn digital marketing for free on the internet. Otherwise, look for short courses or free classes offered by local councils if you prefer face-to-face input.

It’s still possible!

Getting into journalism is tough. Be patient, upskill wisely and niche down in an area of demand. Focus on your unique value and you will eventually find a way to break into journalism.

Are you finding it tough getting into journalism – or did you get in via the back door way? We’d love to hear your story in the comments.

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2 responses on "Getting into journalism (the back door way)"

  1. Briar says:

    Great post Rachel. You are right, targeted short courses and workshops give so much practical information.

  2. John says:

    Rachel, you make some great points here and it comes down to what a senior journo told me at my first job many years ago – “Journalism is three parts; only one part is talent, the other two parts are perseverance.” It’s obvious you have plenty of all three – keep going!

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