Going for the juggler: what I now look for in a journalist

I’ve got a tough gig on Monday morning.

At 9am, I’m going to be trying to entertain 40 15-year-olds with a talk about journalism.

Among the questions I’ll be tackling in the dying embers of the school term will be ‘what qualities does a journalist need?’

I’ve always had a fairly straightforward response to this one: a potent combination of empathy and determination.

And that’s still the case.

But there’s another quality that’s fast becoming even more important.

It’s a cocktail of time management, prioritisation, stamina, resilience and multi-tasking.

Or, perhaps, juggling.

That’s certainly the ability that I am stressing above all else when I’m talking to colleges and universities which train the journalists of the future.

Many of the heart to hearts that I have with reporters are about the increasing challenges of keeping the balls of 21st century journalism in the air.

The demands of keeping a 24/7 website fuelled with content that works can be in conflict with digging deep for off-diary stories, and with getting out and talking to real people.

And the information overload can be relentless, with advice from all quarters on trending topics, a running commentary from readers, multiple Twitter feeds, and an avalanche of analytics.

The definition of stress to me has always been lack of control of your destiny.

That’s why a study found that civil service messengers were far more stressed than the mandarins responsible for thousands of staff.

I always use a journalistic metaphor: that each day is a blank sheet on a notepad.

If we allow them to, other people will scribble all over that piece of paper.

I try to get my colleagues to maximise their advance planning (is there any other sort?) to attempt to ring-fence slices of their time.

We now have better calendar planning tools than we have ever had.

As John Lennon so memorably and accurately sang, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

But he also co-wrote We Can Work It Out.

Resource constraints will always mean we can’t keep as many plates spinning as we’d like.

But if we plan ahead to grab each day by the scruff of its neck, we may spend less time feeling that there’s an entire kitchen cupboard crashing down on us.


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