How to hack Storyology and kickstart your journalism career
What I’ve learned from going to boatloads of conferences.
Sending out resumes isn’t usually enough in journalism. If you’re just starting out, you need to go to conferences to soak up wisdom from your elders, meet said elders and hustle yourself a job. That is why our number-one job tip for young journalists, at the Walkleys, is to get a pass for Storyology.
But it can be daunting. All those accomplished people milling around. All those sessions.
Allegory: I’m thinking back to our 2015 festival. We were scrabbling for photos of a particular session for the Storyology blog. We found one, tweeted by one @verbaliza — Eliza Berlage, a recent journalism grad who’d been sitting up front. A few months later, guess whose application for a Walkley program assistant stood out? Yep. She was hired. And since working for us, Eliza’s gone on to work for veteran political journalist Michelle Grattan in Canberra.
Here’s how to approach Storyology like a pro:
- Do your homework. Study the program. Bone up on speakers’ past work: we pick them because they are amazing. Make a schedule for yourself. Contact speakers or other attendees beforehand and try to schedule a quick coffee with them. Come armed with questions.
- Networking takes practice. If this comes naturally to you, fabulous. If you’re in the other camp (hey, fellow introverts!), don’t despair. Just to borrow some woo-woo from the yoga teachers … set your intention at the start, and breathe. Think of a few key topics you want to use the conference to learn more about. Ask for advice. Listen more than you talk.
- Learn to move on. Don’t stress if you don’t connect with someone. It’s a big event and there are a lot of different kinds of journalists out there. It can take a while to find your niche.
- Eat healthy. I am not kidding. A while back, when I was preparing to run our Editors Lab news hackathon, Ryan Hunt from News Corp. sent me his guide for running successful hackathons. It said to serve fruit and veggies, not pizza. Conferences are similarly draining. This will help your brain function.
- Sit up front — and stick your hand up. Again, a reminder for the introverts who might have to beat the shyness out of themselves (you can always recover later). Speakers won’t talk about the exact thing you want to hear about unless you ask them. And if your question isn’t picked, make a beeline for them after the talk.
- Share what you’ve learned. Use the #storyology hashtag. Journalism is all about being able to distill the best bits into a small amount of space. In the same vein, retweet others. Aim for a generosity of spirit. People notice.
- Have fun. There is this magic thing that happens when everyone’s super tired and their brains are full at the end of the conference. People stop worrying so much about impressing each other and sounding smart. They get more open to making connections and friendships and conference buddies — people you might just see once a year but whom you know you can hit up if need be. So don’t skip the socials. Plus, Walkley after-parties are legendary.
- Do your homework afterward, too. Write up your notes. Start putting all those tips into practice. Write your new connections a little hello, so they remember you. You never know where it might lead.