8 things journalism has taught me
Facebook’s Timehop can be a terrible thing. It is a vortex of photos of long-forgotten nights out and terrible haircuts all popping up just to dampen your mood first thing in the morning.
But it is also a scary reminder of how much time has flown.
I got onto Facebook during my first year at uni, which means that sometimes it blesses me with Fresher’s night out photos such as this gem.
But it also means it is a handy reminder of a number of landmarks which have passed since I first moved into Charles Morris Halls on the University of Leeds’ main campus.
I had one of those recently, when Timehop kindly reminded me it was eight years to the day since I started out as a journalist.
I came out of uni, spent a year bartending and doing a journalism training course and then started out with the Surrey Mirror newspaper in the latter half of 2010. I moved up through the paper as a reporter, leisure editor, chief reporter, news editor and social media editor, before leaving to join Frontier magazine as business editor just under two years ago.
But as I looked back at a picture of the fresh-faced chap who kicked off his journalism career in Reigate those eight years ago, I realised I have learned a few things in that time.
You might almost say there’s one lesson for each year.
Take responsibility for your actions
This is possibly the biggest thing I took from six years at a local newspaper. Pretty much every week someone would ring up the paper blaming us for printing a negative story about them. I spent quite a while being concerned and trying to talk people round, but it always came down to one point: were we right and fair to print the story? If so, then the person was actually angry at the fact they had done something and other people had found out. Weirdly, once I pointed that out the conversations actually became easier.
Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword film last year splits opinion over whether it was an enjoyable romp or a ridiculous wrecking ball to a classic tale, but it contains a quote which resonates quite nicely here: “Why have enemies when you can have friends?”
Journalism is often seen as a confrontational profession. People shy away from talking around journalists and shun them where possible. In some cases this has been earned. In other cases a blunt and direct approach is very necessary. But as a general rule, I’ve found you get further by getting on with people than you do by antagonising them. Also, people who like you are more likely to be willing to have a conversation if they are upset with you, which is helpful.
Check your facts
Journalism #101 this one, and it should probably be at the top of the list. Basic rule: Just because someone told you something, or you saw it posted somewhere, doesn’t make it true. No matter the person. No matter the subject. No exceptions.
People are interesting
Yes I know it is a cliché, but clichés become clichés because they are often true. If you talk to people you will find most of them have something interesting to say. It is always worth a chat, not just a brief touch base when you need something.
Make the call
WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, email – there’s any number of ways of getting in touch with someone today. But if in doubt, you will never beat picking up the phone. It is direct and instant.
No debate is black and white
This could not be any more relevant right now. As some press actively pick a side it is worth remembering that in most cases there are contexts and points of view which will muddy both sides of an argument.
Don’t just wade in.
Know the value of information
Even is something is true (see my previous point) it is not necessarily best to just throw it into the public sphere – in journalism or daily life. Context, source and effect are vital and it is what draws the line between journalists and gossips.
Have an escape plan
“At some point in your career you will be made redundant.” That was one of the key lessons I was taught during my journalism training. Most things in this business are not very secure and it is useful to usually have an idea of a way out if it goes south. Better to be safe than sorry – otherwise you’ll end up in PR.*
* I don’t actually have anything against PRs; to quote René Mathis, many of them are lovely people. Plus they’re sort of vital to what I do.