Thirty six years.
In May 2022, I notched up 36 years in journalism after starting as a junior reporter in Taree, New South Wales.
So much has changed. It’s harder for journalists in lots of ways.
They’re earning less money.
They’re working longer hours.
They’re under more pressure.
It’s not all bad. For instance, there are more ways for journos to go direct to their audience and earn money through subscription or advertising – or both. Podcasts and video channels but also paid email services like Substack.
So, what I would say to somebody starting in the industry these days?
1. Always remember, you are in service.
Journalism is a service profession.
We serve the stories, and we serve the audience. Admittedly we don’t all live this out all of the time but our Code of Ethics is centred on honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others.
Some would say we also serve our employers but that brings me to point two.
2. Don’t expect loyalty (and don’t give it).
Work in a job only as long as you’re able to give your best AND as long as you are getting the best from your employer. It might mean staying 20 years. It might mean staying two.
Just suck that lemon dry and then grab a different one. Your employer won’t hesitate to give you the chop if needed. Don’t be left with a sour taste in your mouth.
3. Embrace the pressure.
What you learn from being under pressure will be an amazing grounding for all other iterations of your career. I’ve had a few.
Primary school teacher (briefly). Knowing how to handle reluctant interviewees and sort the truth from the twaddle really helps when you’re trying to establish which six-year-old is responsible for the spit ball on the class ceiling.
Communications specialist. When you’re experienced at writing for an audience, it’s easier to rework someone else’s words, so they’re met with ‘Yes I get it’ and not a yawn. Journos have to be good at this or risk the news director’s wrath (think fire-breathing dragon).
Marketing writer. I’ve been doing some work with a quality marketing agency, and I love it. Writing brand narratives, values statements and key messages is a lot easier after being a news producer. For one thing, I can whip out snappy promo lines – Coming up after the break – at breakneck speed.
After 36 years, I’m still a journalist and still grateful to have got that first break.
Whether newbies or a wannabes, my advice to the next gen is – stay strong, adaptable and committed to story.
You’ll be fine.