It’s been about 9 months since I made the decision to join journalism. A complete jump from my previous job, though I have no regrets. From naively thinking a good command of English and writing skills would be enough to equip me for the job, I have since been humbled by my lack thereof. In between unlearning and relearning different ways to write, I have also been learning more about how business and the economy works, making sense of numbers, juggling editors expectations, deadlines and just really trying to have fun in between.
I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far here, because really, no one talks about this great profession enough.
#1 – Get straight to the point, “this is not a law essay”
Basically what my editor told me on my first day when I was given my first announcement for the website. As a typical law grad, I had written a really long paragraph with long sentences that did not even address the issue. I was quickly introduced to the inverted-pyramid style used in journalism – salient points in first paragraph. Everything a law essay was not!
#2 – Read, read your paper, read your competitor’s paper too
Journalism, probably the only profession which encourages you to read the papers in the morning! Read your own work, read your competitors too. Compare the stories, compare the writing styles, learn from them and learn what you could do better.
#3 – Always review your edited work with your original
The only way to learn from your mistakes. Compare what you wrote and what was published instead, you will learn what your editors expect or what the house style expects. As editors are busy and don’t always have time for verbal feedback, this is basically a version of feedback too.
#4 – Good journalists do their homework well
Always prepare before you attend an interview or an assignment/event. Even if you have no information about what’s happening. Read about the industry, read about the person or just read. The more you know, the more you will know what to ask.
#5 – Befriend other journalists, the best way is through mingling at events
This is very important, not just for growing your network but also for the stories you cover. Missed something? Check with a peer. Not sure what the lead of the story should be? Check what the gang is talking about. Journalists are generally friendly in a sense that everyone wants to know what the other will write, so they naturally talk to each other. Be sure to be in the circle.
#6 – Learn from the best, eventually form your own writing style
Till today I am still figuring out my writing style as business writing has its own requirements. So while I try to do so I learn by adopting my editor’s. Though I noticed that as I get better and more confident, editors will accept how I write. It’s what makes one as writer, unique. The key is confidence.
#7 – You will burn out fast, take your rest and take it well
I noticed that many people on the desk fall sick easily, and are just generally tired. No surprise, the mental fatigue that dawns upon writers amidst tight deadlines and external pressure to continuously compete (“the web is a hungry monster, you must always feed it”) easily wears us out. There is high satisfaction to be attained from getting published but it burns you out. So one must always rest well, and take holiday breaks when needed.
#8 – Fear not the harsh criticism, it will drive you to excellence
Talking to an editor about work is a really scary feeling. “Why did you write this? What does this mean? Did he actually say that? So what’s the difference between the two numbers? Are you sure you understand?” Almost a year into the job and I still fear my editors (they’re really nice, they’re just…stern) but you know what? They have taught me so much. I know I am sitting on the best business desk with exceptional thinkers and excellent writers. There is nothing to fear, only much to aspire to.
#9 – You do not need a journalism degree to be a journalist. Though if you have background on finance, it would help as a business journalist.
The profession itself is easy to grasp, what is more important is the subject matter you cover. Since I don’t have background on business, accounting or finance, I definitely struggle and need to learn the long hard way – by making a lot of mistakes. Regardless, learning on the job is acceptable. Just make sure you learn fast.
#10 – Who said journalism was easy? Journalists have a duty to the public, we need them
Time and time again I am reminded of why I have always loved the profession from a young age. It’s a national service, a duty to inform the public. Journalists are just as important as the lawyers and the government officials. We deliver the news you read every morning, yes even the ones on facebook. Print may be dying but news is not, there is still a need for people to write stories regardless for digital or print. It’s an exciting profession filled with crazy challenges and bright prospects. I wish Malaysian people aspired to it more.