This feature was written by freelance writer Mary Ann Pickford

If you’re considering a career in journalism, but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a highly competitive industry. But it’s nothing a little hard work and dedication can’t fix. We speak to a news reporter and a sport journalist to find out what it really takes to work in the industry.

Have passion for the job

Lauren Clarke, 25, is a multimedia reporter for The Star in Sheffield. She says she has wanted to be a reporter since she was nine years old. For Lauren, the way to get into the industry is all about experience, even if you fall short of a few As or A*s.

“I did my A-levels, but didn’t get the grades I needed for university, so I had a year working and getting work experience at newspapers before eventually getting into the University of Sheffield. I did a three-year journalism degree, which was fantastic and included both print and broadcast. Afterwards I designed newspaper and magazine pages before getting my first reporting job at The Star.”

For sport production journalist/reporter Liam Blackburn, 27, it’s a similar story. Liam, who is based in Bolton and works for the Press Association, says: “I always really enjoyed writing and sport, so it felt like a natural career path ever since I was writing football match reports for primary school projects.”

It seems passion for the job started at a really young age for these guys! But it’s also clear that experience in the business and a love of writing helps get your foot in the door. Oh, and a degree in the relevant field, too.

Liam says that after getting career advice from people in the industry, he decided to do English Language at university. He became heavily involved with the student newspaper and did some work experience before applying for a post-graduate course in print journalism at the University of Sheffield.

Get yourself qualified

What might also help you stand out as a candidate if you’re trying to get a journalism job is having NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualifications. It’s an organisation that offers accreditation to universities who run journalism-related courses, meaning that students who graduate with these NCTJ-accredited degrees have more of a chance of being hired by a newspaper or news organisation.

The pros

If you like every day to be a surprise, this may be the right job for you. Lauren says: “One of the best things about it is that it’s so varied – you never know what the day will bring. I’m never bored. I could be covering a court case or I could be at someone’s 75th wedding anniversary, you just never know.”

Liam just loves the fact that he’s constantly writing about a subject he’s always had an interest in. He adds: “I’ve also watched and reported on some brilliant sporting events, from Premier League matches, England one-day internationals and last year’s Super Bowl. I’ve even visited the Faroe Islands earlier this year, which I would never have done in most other jobs.”

The cons

But for all the perks of covering high-profile matches or even meeting so many new people at a party – when you’re at work! – there are some negatives to being a reporter.

Lauren says one of the downsides is that the hours can be long and unsociable. Liam agrees, saying: It’s a full-on job, and you can be working 12 to 14-hour days, while a lot of the work is on week nights and weekends, which means you don’t really get a social life. Even on days off you will often be writing follow-up pieces or news can break, which means you may be needed.”

He adds that there can be a fair bit of travelling involved, too, during times like the festive period when everyone else is seeing family and friends, “but that just all comes with the territory”.

Be organised and ask questions

Being naturally curious about everyone and everything is a quality that will stand you in good stead for this type of job. It’s what helps you to get the story and all the details that readers want to know about.

“I’ve found that being very organised helps because you’re working to tight deadlines,” adds Lauren. “I can be a bit of a scatterbrain at times but I hope I’ve become less so thanks to this job!”

Liam says: “Good knowledge of your chosen field, an inquisitive mind and the ability to write quickly and concisely are good qualities to have. Some reporters are brilliant at obtaining and using contacts whereas others can excel in fields like social media or writing. The more you can do, the better. If you can carve out a niche for yourself, that’s helpful as well.”

Determination pays off

If you’re trying to get a career in journalism but struggling, don’t feel downhearted. It’s your tenacity and ability to keep trying that will get you there. Lauren advises to get as much work experience as possible and to get involved with your university newspaper or magazine, if there is one. If not, why not start one?

Lauren adds: “I was a news editor and features editor for Forge, the paper at Sheffield University, and it meant I was writing all the time alongside my degree work. Practice makes perfect.”

Liam agrees that it is a competitive industry, but that you shouldn’t let that stop you. “It’s certainly true that it’s a very competitive industry, but I wouldn’t discourage people at all,” he says. “Get your NCTJ qualifications, write blogs, be active on Twitter, do as much work experience as possible and make the most of it – be proactive, come up with ideas and make sure they remember you. It was through a work experience placement that I got my foot in the door and that’s half the battle. Then, as with any career, it’s about working hard and as much about who you know as what you know.”

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