Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Gissa job, go on, gissa job

I am made up by the number of job ads for real reporters jobs at the moment.
After almost a year of fake edit jobs or b2b bullshit, the market seems to have started to pick up.
And long may it continue.
I live in hope that my office might see the influx of new souls to replace the departed in the next few months.
So in the spirit of getting a new job or indeed your first job, I have a few tips for those of you polishing your CVs and preparing for interview.
Get names right. This tip is a deal breaker. I have tossed CVs and discarded cover letters when my name or the name of the paper is incorrect.
If you are one of 50 applicants for the same job (and you will be) failing to spell your potential new boss's name right will see you rejected before your email or letter is opened.
Keep CVs short. If you are applying for your first job your CV should be a page long - at most a page and a half. Mine is two and a bit pages and I have been doing this for nearly two decades in more than 14 organisations.
I don't really need to know if you worked in a travel agent during your uni holidays or had a Saturday job in a supermarket. We all did.
Provide a concise account of your qualifications and education with relevant work experience ie. what have you already done that relates to the job you want to do.
Include any awards, any extra courses or skills plus references. Everything else is puff and filler.
Hobbies and interests is a grey area. If you do something remotely interesting or hobbylike include them, however, socialising, drinking, reading and going to the cinema are not hobbies.
One of my favourite CVs listed sunbathing under hobbies. What a tool.
Spend time on the cover letter. For me this is the selling point. I want to hear about why you want THIS particular job. Why you are the perfect person for MY newsroom. Why THIS job ad caught your eye above all others.
Do not send me a generic cover letter that you send out to every other job. You know, the one where you change the paper and bosses name at the top. It's too obvious.
I want to see passion and enthusiasm. Not stock bullshit about love of writing and ready for the next step.
Pop in a few details that are relevant about the paper you are applying for. Mention a campaign or a news story you liked. Tell the boss what you will bring to the table.
Hard sell the mother fucker. Don't expect your CV to wow. They are boring and samey. A good cover letter is like your foot in the door at a death knock.
Don't pimp your CV. This is still a relatively small industry (and shrinking by the hour). Bullshit and lies on your CV can take only minutes to debunk. A phone call to a mate of a mate can quickly and easily reveal your claims about a chief reporter role and shifts on the nationals to be poppycock. Be honest, be frank. Don't get caught.
Do your research. Google your prospective employer, google his team and their stories. Look at the electronic paper which many sites have. Check out the council - who is in power, who are the MPs, check the paper's demographics (obtained with a quick call to the ad department). Look at previous campaigns, big issues, big stories, big libels.
Fuck it, google yourself to make sure the bollocks you are about to spout in interview doesn't come undone with that picture of you being arrested by the local constabulary.
It's all there. It's all online. There are no excuses for not spending a couple of hours doing your homework.
Target your audience. If you are applying for a news reporters role, the last thing your potential new boss wants to know is that you really want to be a sports reporter.
Either lie to him about your love for news or don't apply just because it's easier to get an NCE through news.
I don't consider sports journalism a real job, my only love is news so why the fuck am I going to waste my time training you so that you can get a non job. (ditto PR)
Get experience. This is a biggy for trainees.
In my book, commitment and enthusiasm is weighed above all other skills in this game. I will teach you the rest.
If you want to be hired as a trainee you must have shown enough initiative to have worked a few weeks in a real newsroom.
I had CVs out of my ears for the last trainee we recruited (many, many months ago).
Most had done a degree and started or completed the NCTJ prelims. It's almost the industry norm now.
But the very best - and the ones who secured the interview - had done all that and been to two or three newsrooms for at least a week - and produced cuttings.
I don't hold much sway with qualifications because I started this job with none and still have none and don't consider myself either at a disadvantage or a worse reporter for it.
But failing to prove that you really want to be a reporter is a real crime.
To illustrate my point, a couple of Oxbridgeites who, after securing a first class degree at our hallowed institutions, decided to embark on a career in journalism.
Their covering letters revealed they had not bothered to pursue NCTJs and sneered at the idea of real work experience but due to their academic brilliance felt they possessed the skills required to become a reporter.
The applications were binned.
It is only going to get harder to get into this industry. Newspapers are getting more and more about qualifications rather than ability.
Natural raw talent and great local knowledge is getting ignored because of pedestrian box-ticking HR interviews.
You need to shine more than ever to get ahead so don't let your initial approach let you down before you even get to a rare chance at an interview.


  1. "B2b bullshit" is where real journalism persists. These mags are still (barely) profitable so management are still (grudgingly) investing in journalism. Time to go out contact building - check, web specialists to free up the print reporters - check, exclusives every week that the nationals pick up - check, genuine expertise - check. Where do you think the nationals pick their health, housing and education specialists from? Just because you haven't worked in the sector doesn't mean it isn't credible.

  2. This is a great post about what you need to get into the industry - at last someone has written a full guide to it. Good on you for spending the time to write it!

  3. B2B is where people who have failed to get on a newspaper end up and then tell everyone what great journalists they are. There are very few exceptions to this.

  4. A great post. However the B2B reference was crap. I am a pretty senior journalist on a high-profile newspaper and all my background/training was on B2Bs. Some of the best journalists left in this country are knocking about in that sector and it should certainly not be dismissed.

  5. As the number of newspapers dwindle month by month, there'll be fewer and fewer "real" news rooms where "real" journalists can compare dicks. Sorry, cultivate good old fashioned news values that David Simon romanticizes in The Wire.
    Seriously, there's huge structural change going on in this industry. The hacks on newspapers in this country are great. But if you say papers are the be-all and end-all, that particular pyramid is only going to get smaller. Do you want to end up as the media equivalent of real tennis?

  6. "Do you want to end up as the media equivalent of real tennis?" asks Anonymous, above.
    Goodness, after experiencing the dreary reality of the huge structural change you refer to (more like fucking us into oblivion with a vomiting migraine thrown in) me and my partner think we do.
    We want to live, work and raise our kids in Real Tennis land, where everyone plays Real Tennis and can't wait for the weekly Real Tennis Gazette to come out after we've happily slaved over it for 60 hours plus. We'll cover all the Real Tennis council meetings and courts, protests, write fantastic tributes when Real Tennis people die, and run campaigns for a zebra crossing on the road Real Tennis kids use to get to the Real Tennis school. And we'll put all the Real Tennis results up on the website as they happen.
    In the meantime we'll live in this Matrix-style fantasy until someone unplugs us.

  7. Blunt, if your CV really is two and a bit pages long, it's be thunking into my bin unopened and unread.

    Bloody good post as usual, mind.

  8. You might be interested to know that the Whitehall editor of the Daily Telegraph - and one who was in the thick of it reporting on the MPs' expenses scandal - started out on a b2b.

    There's loads of hacks on nationals who were on b2b papers at one time. The one thing a b2b (a good one, mind, not some of the rubbish out there; and there is plenty of it) teaches you is to dig out off-diary stories. How to speak to people, how to work a contact, how to spot a story, how not to turn them over. A lot of it is cold-calling and just getting them to talk. Immediately telling them you're a journalist and they'll run a mile. The trick is to make them think they're not talking to someone gleefully scribbling away at the other end of the phone who will then print what they've just said. I learnt all that at the b2b I was on.

    I've worked on nationals as well and a lot of the latter still rely on wire copy and reporters spin it the way their desk editor tells them to.

    And, certainly on the business pages, a lot of the stories in the Sundays - I'm thinking Telegraph and Times here - are drops. I found myself talking to the PR a lot of the time because that's the way it gets done. On a b2b, if you play it right, you get really good contacts - who wouldn't know what PR is - from the off.

    Don't get me wrong, I've worked with some cracking people on nationals who've never been near a b2b in their life but to dismiss all of them as "bullshit" is very wide of the mark.

  9. Great post but you make it sound like you're the first person ever to receive a crap cv or job application. But when you're at the top of the pyramid, you draw the unwelcome advances of the greedy, stupid and lazy. But then without them, what news would you have?

  10. re 'the unwelcome advances of the greedy, stupid and lazy'
    Any greedy person applying to be a trainee journalist would have to be incredibly thick. However, I suppose they could also be both rich and lazy, so making the starvation diet salary of no consequence.
    Seriously, I have never come to terms with the number of applicants who cannot correctly spell the editor's name in their covering letter.
    They all go straight to the bin, so I never get to read of their amazing backpacking adventures during the 'gap years' they took before and after uni.