Although I do not consider myself to be an expert journalist, I do have enough experience and success to offer aspiring journalists some useful tips. The tips I provide in this piece will be useful for anyone interested in becoming a journalist of any type.
1. Embrace the notion of writing as a process. Too often new journalists are producing pieces that have not been carefully written. When people read your writing, they don’t want to read pieces that have not taken full advantage of the complete writing process. Make sure you edit your writing for grammar and mechanics errors. People are too eager to publish things without editing their work for grammar and mechanics errors. You might also read the following piece: “Prewriting: A Neglected Stage of the Writing Process”. In order to be an effective writer, you need to give yourself plenty of practice writing. You should write daily. If you’re serious about being a journalist, you will love writing and find time to do it each day.
2. Enroll in a challenging Journalism program. If you really want to become an effective journalist, you will enroll in a Journalism program at a university that will challenge you to be the best journalist you can be. Do your research to find the right Journalism program for you. Be sure that it’s a program that has a strong emphasis in writing. Many Journalism programs will emphasize everything except for writing. If you’re going to become a successful journalist, you will need to be an effective writer.
3. Cover substantive stories, issues, and problems. Too many journalists are covering stories, issues, and problems that lack substance. As an aspiring journalist, you don’t want people to not want to read and hear what you have say because they know you’re not going to discuss phenomena important to them. Invest the necessary time in covering things that will matter to many people. Research the issues, stories, and problems the average American wants to read and hear.
4. Be innovative and distinctive. Find ways to be creative and set yourself apart from the rest of aspiring and extant journalists.
5. Be willing to ask tough and probing questions. When you’re interviewing people, don’t be afraid to ask them challenging and probing questions. Your readers and viewers will appreciate you for being willing to ask questions they want answered. Too often existing journalists leave their readers and viewers unsatisfied because they lack the courage to ask the tough and probing questions to gain the answers average Americans desire to know.
6. Don’t let your politics harm you professionally. Do not allow your politics to keep you from covering certain topics. When you start limiting yourself to what you will cover, you begin to diminish the possibilities of what you can become as a journalist. As an aspiring journalist, it may not be a good idea for you to immediately declare yourself as being a “liberal journalist” or “conservative journalist.” If you want to be a liberal or conservative journalist, wait until you have reached a level of success that these labels will not harm you professionally.
7. As much as possible, be objective in your reporting. As much as you are able, don’t let your personal biases creep into your journalism. If you’re given an opportunity to offer your personal analysis, then feel free to divulge your opinions. You want your readers and viewers to perceive you as a credible journalist they can trust.
8. Dress professionally. Many people judge whether a person is a credible journalist by the way he or she dresses. Wear attire that is going to convey that you’re a professional.
9. Practice giving presentations. To be an effective journalist, you will need to be able to communicate well orally. One of the main reasons people cannot give successful oral presentations is they don’t properly prepare themselves. You should, therefore, always be prepared for your oral presentations. When you have prepared yourself well for your presentation, you will feel more confident about it.
10. Commit yourself to the craft. If you want to be a successful journalist, you need to really devote yourself to doing what it takes to be an effective journalist. When you know you have weaknesses, you need to work on them. If writing is not your strength, then you need to work on improving your writing each day. If public speaking is your weakness, you need to work on ameliorating your ability to communicate effectively in public.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison