Important lessons from being a reporter

Being a reporter is by no means easy. It takes a very special type of person to survive in the harsh worlds of print and web journalism and there are a great many things you will learn as you spend time working in the industry. Our copywriter Sam Payne recently joined the team after working as a reporter for the Hertfordshire Mercury newspaper. Here, he gives his list of five things about the job which it’s better to learn sooner rather than later…

Organisation is key

As a reporter, you’re going to have an extremely heavy workload and you will be working on a number of stories at any given time. With this in mind, it is very easy to lose track of the who’s, what’s, how’s, where’s and when’s of a story, especially if you are not well-organised. Having an effective system in place before everything gets on top of you is crucial: creating new folders to file your emails means you’re not constantly searching through a never-ending list of messages and queries, whilst writing clear, concise and ordered notes means you can quickly and accurately tell the story that you want to tell to your readers.

Shorthand really is essential

“But can’t you just use a Dictaphone these days?” If I had a penny for the amount of times I’ve been asked that question! The answer: not necessarily. In some cases, yes, it is quick and easy to whip out your iPhone and hit the ‘Record’ button. However, this option is not always available to you. For example, one of the most exciting things you will do as a journalist is get the opportunity to report from court. The stories you will be sourcing from here are likely to be of an especially sensitive nature, and the threat of printing something that is in contempt of proceedings is very real. Also, the use of electronic recording devices of any kind are strictly prohibited, so this is where the art of shorthand really becomes invaluable.  Being able to write legible shorthand notes at 100 words per minute is absolutely compulsory, and this will be reflected by the accurate and informed tone of your article. What’s more, when conducting face-to-face interviews, people respond so much better to a notepad and pen rather than having a mobile phone shoved in their face, and are more likely to disclose information to you they wouldn’t otherwise reveal.

News can come from anywhere and everywhere 

On the way to work, overhearing snippets of a hushed conversation,  spotting a set of blue lights flashing in the distance…the opportunity for discovering great news stories is all around us. To be a good reporter, you’re going to need to be a good listener with a keen pair of eyes, capable of distinguishing between what is news-worthy and what is merely commonplace. News can often be staring you right in the face – you just need the skill to be able to recognise it.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question

One of the most integral attributes you will need as a journalist is an inquisitive mind. When you look at things, you can’t simply take them at face value. Constantly question all that you see and hear and tease out every little detail of a story if you can, even if it doesn’t always seem necessary to do so.  An important thing to remember is that there really is no such thing as a stupid question. Often, those questions that you feel awkward to ask garner some really revealing answers, and your interviewee is much more likely to be impressed by your interest in their story. The more informed you are, the more accurate and entertaining your article will be!

Being confident makes all the difference

It seems obvious to point this out, but believing in yourself makes a world of difference. When you first start off in journalism, you will probably find yourself feeling very conscious about what other people might think about you. It is crucial that you don’t get too bogged down in this. As long as you know your capabilities, this will become apparent to others. When conducting tough interviews, it’s very easy to be put on the back foot if you don’t come across with confidence, and as a result, people may lose belief in your ability. Allow yourself to relax, be expressive and eloquent and you will get a far more positive response. People will want to talk to you and it will convince them that you can be trusted. A reporter is a very powerful person, who is invariably the individual everyone in the room is scrambling to talk to, or the person who strikes fear in those whose actions must be held accountable to the public.