Crowdsourced advice for journalism students

Marie Le Conte
Dec 1, 2017 · 4 min read

Hello! I put this together for an alumni panel I was on but thought it could be useful for other people.

Callum May, BBC:

“Do crap shifts for a while and don’t complain about them”

Josh Lowe, Newsweek:

“Find some way to teach yourself analytics, as in: get used to finding what people read/how to make lots of people read something. And get used to that being a big part of how your stories are judged.”

Mark Di Stefano, BuzzFeed:

“Get to love talking on the phone.”

Rachel Cunliffe, CityAM:

“Say yes to any opportunity. Even if it’s not your field. Even if you don’t know about it. You never know what random experience is going to be useful.”

Jonn Elledge, New Statesman:

“Twitter is a hellscape but it’s also where journalists network so get on here. Also: be pleasant. Unless you’re totally useless or a literal superstar, being easy to work with matters as much as your actual abilities”

David Whitley, freelance:

“Put yourself in the editor’s shoes: What can you do that’s most likely to make them keep employing you? (ie. Send in copy that needs pretty much no editing, pitch for the sections that are hardest to fill). And, from a specifically freelance perspective, always have another three ideas in your head, ready to throw out quickly in a reply to a pitch rejection email.”

Sebastian Payne, Financial Times:

“Find a USP. Figure out what combinations of skills and interests you have that no one else out there does. And pursue it with vigor.”

Ned Donovan, Mail on Sunday:

“Go to the ridiculous drinks meetup things, pitch as much as you can (you’d be surprised how desperate newsdesks are), do shifts no one else wants to”

Duncan Robinson, the Economist:

“Oh, god, just be nice. You can be a dick if you are a genius, but you are probably not a genius so learn to play well with others. Even if you are a genius, you will still eventually be fired because nobody wants to work with an arsehole.”

Emily Bell, Tow Center for Digital Journalism:

“ Consume news constantly, phone or meet people, know every journalist and story on your beat, tweet, write well, don’t be a dick.”

Patrick Kidd, the Times:

“Never underestimate the value in buying a senior journalist a drink in exchange for advice; be flexible in subjects you write on and availability to work; and above all: read loads. Also don’t moan that you have to work past 6pm or at weekends”

Oliver Milne, the Mirror:

“Start writing now, everyday about a topic you love. If you can’t do it or don’t prioritise it then you probably don’t want to be a journalist. Learn video/audio skills now. Don’t box yourself in because you won’t get the job you want right away. Learn media law.”

Naomi O’Leary, Politico:

“Try to get as many skills as possible that distinguish you and make the most of them. Like: extra languages, or knowledge of something tricky that just happens to be your passion.”

Jon Stone, the Independent:

“Dive in and use your instinct because the industry moves so quickly that most career advice is obsolete within the year.”

Richard Wheeler, PA:

“Don’t expect to specialise from day one, as there’s a lot to be learned from doing wider reporting before moving to a specialism”

Bryce Elder, Financial Times:

“Journalists do things the reader can’t do (such as speaking to important people or being dazzlingly clever) or they do things the reader doesn’t want to do (such as poring through dull papers or doorstepping the recently bereaved).”

Daisy Buchanan, Grazia:

“On the features end, being kind and polite makes a much better impression on editors than being shouty and overconfident. And it’s better to file shite on time than to file a masterpiece late.”

Jack Torrance, the Telegraph:

“Don’t turn your nose up at publications you’ve never heard of, everyone has to start somewhere (and bills to pay)”

James Manning, the Sun:

“Don’t be a dick on social — employers will 100% check. Don’t spam-apply, with a generic CV, for every single vacancy you see.”

Rachael Krishna, BuzzFeed:

“Go to pubs/ meetings/ social things as much as you can. Talk to people and work out how they did it. Get your face known even if it is the guy at the pub.”

Lizzie Palmer, New Statesman:

“If you’re not posh or well-connected then make the most of every ridiculously tenuous contact you can find for work experience — you have nothing to lose by asking even if they ignore you.”

Janice Turner, the Times:

“Read everything. (From actual print newspapers to obscure blogs.) Stay curious. Remember this is a small industry and your reputation is all.”

Helen Davidson, the Guardian:

“Find a journo you like/identify with and just bug the hell out of them for advice (if they’re dicks then find another). Also don’t be precious about early opportunities.”

Paul Vale, Vice:

“Say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything. It doesn’t matter what hours, how poorly paid, what part of the industry. Nothing gets turned down in the first two years. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a politics editor, if you get offered the property page, you say ‘yes.’”

Suzy Wrack, the Guardian:

“Network like crazy no matter how unnatural it may feel. And always ask for shifts. Even when rejected for a job, ask for feedback and if they have any shifts going. 90% of the time a job advertised will go to someone who already shifts there.”


This is a very condensed version of the Twitter conversation we had, click through to read it all:

    Marie Le Conte

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    The Sunday Sport once called me a 'less-than-original sex person'.