How to be a new reporter in a new area

When I applied for my current job, I produced a mini-report, pretentiously entitled No More Sink or Swim.

I’d asked some editors for their thoughts about their staff’s training needs, and then pretty much shamelessly passed them off as my own.

One said: “We tend to just sit people down in front of a computer, and say ‘get on with it’. It’s sink or swim.”

When new advertising staff start in our businesses, several weeks of training and induction lie between them and their first ever conversation with a customer.

Traditionally, the best new reporters could expect was a whistle-stop tour of the office, a five-minute session on editorial systems – and a newslist which already had their name on it.

I’m glad to say things are changing.

Next week, I will embark on my third induction day, as a new journalist starts work in one of our offices.

Increasingly, each new starter now has a ticklist which ensures that every aspect of his or her working life from claiming expenses to uploading video is methodically covered.

And we spend some time preparing people for what lies ahead.

So, to get to the point of all this, what is the best advice for a reporter starting a new job in a new patch?

  • Realise what you don’t know. Without going all Donald Rumsfeld on you, you’ll have conscious gaps in your knowledge, but there will also be things you don’t know you don’t know. Still with me? One of the great ironies of local newspaper life is that people who initially know nothing about an area find themselves writing for readers who know everything about their home town or city. Master geographical locations, strange company names, and eccentric streets – if you work in Bath, you should know it’s Beau Street not Bow Street.
  • Get confident with the technology and systems. Make content management systems your friend, and make the fullest possible use of email calendars, reminders, contacts and task lists.
  • Start carving out a profile. Stick your head above the parapet on Twitter, make sure you get some business cards, and get out there to talk to real people. The key to contact-making is all about striking up genuine human conversations with real human beings. Talk to people about things other than stories, and the stories will come.
  • You’re going to make mistakes. When you do, own up and be angry with yourself for a while. But don’t beat yourself up too much. They will come like number 9 buses at times. What matters is that you learn from mistakes and don’t make the same ones twice.
  • Keep on top of your workload by making lists, planning your days, weeks and months, and having honest conversations with your colleagues and managers.
  • Journalists need a healthy balance between cynicism and optimism. Try to develop a sixth sense for people you can trust and story scenarios that ring true.
  • Never forget that what you write matters: your words can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.
  • Make the most of the expertise and experience all around you, whether it be on different approaches to writing, technological short cuts or cracking contacts.

Above all, enjoy telling stories.

And good luck.

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