Seeking a career in journalism… (video)

Viewing time: 4 minutes and 10 seconds

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of the first issue, which ran on Jan. 27/17.



Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.

Today I have a question from Natesh Iyer from Dubai. He currently works as a web and graphic designer and his question for me was: “I want a career in journalism. Please tell me how I should start.”

I may be one of the perfect people to answer this question because I actually had a career in journalism for 20 years of my life. My parents owned a struggling weekly newspaper, where I worked first. Then I “graduated” to become a senior editor at a then-large metropolitan daily where I stayed for almost 10 years. I left when I became the mother of triplets — but that’s another story.

Actually, it was very lucky for me that I left when I did because journalism isn’t really a viable career any more. The big newsroom in which I used to work with 150 other journalists is now reduced to about 12. Many other newspapers have closed their doors altogether. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but getting a job as a journalist is a little bit like winning the lottery. Yes, there are still journalists out there, but I put them in the same realm as astronauts, presidents, and water slide testers. They exist but there aren’t very many of them. There are likely a few more jobs in broadcast journalism — TV or radio — but even those jobs are on the decline.

The big issue is that technology has changed the way the world works. Technology is great, it allows someone like me to deliver a video-podcast like this because I didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on cameras and lights. This would not have been possible 20 years ago and I certainly wouldn’t be able to deliver it without the Internet.

It’s precisely because people expect not just content but good content for free, that’s there’s not much money in being a journalist any more. That’s a downside for anyone who has aspirations of journalism.

BUT don’t get too depressed about it. In some ways, there are more jobs for skillful writers than ever before. But they don’t go by the name of “journalist” or even “writer.”

Many companies need people to write everything from blogs to speeches for senior executives. You can even do this for non-profits if you’re concerned about “selling out”. Some of them require Plain English writing — which is taking some highly technical information and turning it into words regular people can understand. Some of them need fundraising. And some of them need help writing books.

Learning how to write will NEVER be a disadvantage to you and, instead, can help differentiate you from other competitors for the same job. I was recently on a hiring panel for a social media job. One of the applicants was shortlisted because she had written such a great cover letter, even though she didn’t have all the technical qualifications.

I don’t suggest you go to journalism school because that’s a lot of time and money to spend on something that won’t lead directly to a career. But concentrate on improving your writing skills. To do this, find mentors in your community who can critique your writing and give you reasonable suggestions about how to improve. Try to get yourself an internship somewhere — make it a paid one, if possible — and learn by doing. The fact that you’re already a web designer is a big advantage. This means you can offer your clients one stop shopping – writing and design.

I want to thank Natesh for his question. If YOU have a question for me, you can email, tweet, or skype me, details in the description. And don’t forget to subscribe to catch this podcast every week.

An American writer named Findley Peter Dunne said the job of journalists was to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” I’m sorry to see traditional journalism slowly coming to an end. But it will be replaced with something else we just don’t know what that is, yet.

In the meantime, if you want a career in journalism, you can’t go wrong working to improve your writing. I’ll see you next week.

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