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Top tips for aspiring journalists

In this blog piece, Creative Access intern Folarin Sagaya provides some valuable tips for aspiring journalists. Folarin is currently interning  at the BBC.

I’m not going to pretend like I have all the answers on what it takes to have a career in journalism. Frankly, I’m still figuring it out myself. What I can do is share a few things I’ve learnt along the way. These might help those teetering on the edge and questioning whether to make the leap into what can be an intimidating profession. It might also be of use to those like me, who are starting out but occasionally feel a little overwhelmed by the big bad media world.

Journalism for me is somewhat of a second career, it all began to come together when I realised all those dreams I had as a kid did not have to be dreams anymore. I come from one of those lawyer, doctor, engineer African families, where saying you want to tell stories for a living gets you either a “there, there” pat on the shoulder or a clip around the ear.

So here are a few tips:

Decide what journalism means to you

It will become apparent quite early on that journalism means so many things to different people. Those outside the profession have a perception of what it is and those inside it interpret it in different ways.

You’ll hear the mantra “it’s about storytelling” quite often and this is true. But you need to decide what sorts of stories you’d like to tell, how you’d like to tell those stories, where in the storytelling chain you want to place yourself, amongst other things.

You might not have all the answers or you might decide you are ready to make some sacrifices in the shorter term for the greater good. That’s fine, but try to have a few things clear. Do you want to write, make films or do you have no preference? Do you want your voice heard or your face seen? Is it something you want to do on your own, with a small band of like minds or as part of a big machine?

Do not isolate yourself

Even if ultimately you want to be the solo “I do what I want type”, you are going to need people to make this work. Reach out to people you admire and ask for advice, share your work and ask for feedback, collaborate with your peers –everyone has a unique perspective. This can be tough, especially if you’re an introvert (oh yeah – don’t believe the line about the media not being for introverts too), but it’s the best way to learn.

Just view people as human beings, it will make building those relationships a little easier. And you never know, one of those emails, phone calls or coffees might just be what takes you to where you want to go.

Look to gain experience

It sounds silly but people want to know you can do stuff. Your fancy degree might help but really this is about being creative. Everyone knows the catch 22 of how will I get experience if you don’t give me a chance, and this is true. But turn it on its head and create your own experience. Start a video blog, write reviews, take pictures, interview your postman – whatever it is that you’re trying to do, start doing it at a local level.

Be ready for the doubters

People will tell you many things. You’re too young, you’re too old, you’re not qualified enough, you should go for a career that pays better or is less competitive, you’re a being a dreamer. It can be difficult for any of this not to sway you (see my introduction) but hold your nerve, always remind yourself what you are trying to achieve and why.

Stay in your lane

Similar to the point above but rather than other people distracting you, this is about you distracting yourself. It can happen in many ways, from being mesmerised by the glitz and glamour of someone else’s career to jumping ship at the first sign of trouble.

It’s important to have ambition and it’s also wise to be realistic if something absolutely isn’t working out, but try staying true to your core all the while.

Do your homework

It’s fine to dream. But everyone, every film, every article, broadcast or picture, has a story behind it. Try to find out as much as possible about what it takes to do what you want to do. What goes into making that film? How did your favourite writer get to where they are? What are the different roles that exist in the organisation you want to work in and which one would you like? It will give you new ideas and it will help with your knowledge base.

Take responsibility

Do not give up all your power. Yes the world isn’t fair, yes we operate within a larger framework of things beyond our control. But make it as much about you and your ability to make sensible decisions. The blame game is an easy way out, try and avoid it.

Don’t forget your manners

It sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised how easily these can slip. Keep them in check. You will be dealing with people all day everyday and in every possible capacity. Just the basics go a long way (no need to be extra) and to everyone too, not just to the people who might be able to give you a hand.

Be confident

It’s easier said but confidence really is as the root of every possible aspect of what it means to be a journalist. It will keep you on track and it will let you shine. There’s no magic pill for building confidence. But I’m realising a lot of it comes from knowing your truth and having that awareness that everyone makes mistakes, no one has all the answers, and you bring something to the table just being you.