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Five qualities editors seek in journalists

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Five qualities editors seek in journalists

David Brewer, Media Helping Media | March 19, 2012

What are the best qualifications for becoming a journalist?

After spotting this question posted by would-be journalists on the sub Reddit real journalism, I put it to senior editors on the Media Helping Media LinkedIn group and asked them what is the best degree for a career in journalism?

The following are some tips that might help those starting off in a career in the media.

Life experience, humanities and social sciences.

Dr Eric Loo from the University of Wollongong looked back to the days when a high school certificate sufficed for entry level journalism. That’s no longer the case, he wrote.

"I'd look for candidates with a modicum of life experience, those who can show a capacity to look at local and world issues from different cultural and political perspectives. A degree holder in humanities or social sciences who can write and communicate clearly is preferred to a journalism graduate.

"A high school certificate sufficed for entry level reporting during my time in the 70s. We learned to report on the job, walked the streets, knocked on doors. The phone was our only tool to connect with the human voice.

"Those were the days of ‘shoe leather’ journalism. We were expected to be out on a job or on the phone."

Attitude and aptitude are essential for all journalists.

Despite working as a journalist for 37 years, Harishchandra Bhat’s LinkedIn profile says he is still studying.

"Eric is perfectly correct in his assessment. It is not the degree that counts, but attitude and aptitude. One has to have the sense of proportion, nose for the news and public interest in mind. Non Matriculates (non-graduates) have made it big in the profession. Journalists are born, not made."

Specialist knowledge can be really useful.

Nick Raistrick, Media Development Director at East Africa Cup, says specialisms can come in valuable.

"I think it's still a vocational career and it depends on what kind of journalism you want to do, but specialist knowledge on a topic can be really useful. I wrote loads of educational features after having taught for years, for example.

"Remember that lots of journalists are English/humanities graduates, so there can often be a demand for people who can do a good science story, for example."

History and languages are important.

Nick Walshe, a TV news and media consultant, says learn a specialism first and consider studying journalism later.

"To be an international journalist, do a languages degree - Mandarin, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Swahili, French all cover a big chunk of the world. Ideally do a joint degree with two languages.

"To be a journalist in the Middle East, and probably anywhere else, study history - if you don't know what's gone before, you haven't got a chance of explaining what's happening now.

"If you've got the money, finish off with a one-year Masters focused on practical journalism. You can learn journalism once you've got a basic grounding in something else."

Curiosity, critical thinking and a hunger for news.

Magda Abu-Fadil, director at Media Unlimited says basic journalistic instincts are important.

"Many a stellar journalist didn't get a degree in communication, journalism or media studies. I did because I wanted to. But as Nick Walshe said, being multilingual is imperative if one is to cover international affairs.

"Curiosity, critical thinking, a hunger for news, a burning desire to tell a good story, regardless of the medium or platform, and a dedication to accuracy, fairness, balance and media ethics would be a good start. A lot also has to do with experience. So acquiring experience while learning is added value."

To read the full article, click here.

This story first appeared on the site of IJNet’s partner, Media Helping Media (MHM), a training information site that provides free media resources for journalists working in transition states, post-conflict countries and areas where freedom of expression and media freedom is under threat. The complete article is translated in full into IJNet’s six other languages with permission from Media Helping Media.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via NS Newsflash.

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