Keep on keeping on: the best advice for journalism graduates

It was a lovely day.

At the end of a week which saw our final year students producing their own version of the One Show, we gathered in the sun to say our farewells.

There were speeches, awards, photos, hugs – and some food and drink to kick off their own night of celebrations.

Some of them have jobs to go to, others are continuing with their studies, while some are still looking for work.

These are tricky times for the media industry.

Both the broadcasting sector and the traditional print businesses are looking to cut costs – and staff are their biggest outlay.

In the last few days, we have heard about the Telegraph shedding jobs, Vice making 20 people redundant, and the Guardian disbanding its investigations unit.

There are jobs out there – there’s one with my old colleagues in Bath, and another with my friends further down into Somerset.

But life in the newsroom of today is full-on – a relentless rollercoaster which will take you to huge highs but also some frustrating and exhausting lows.

So it’s important that we sent the soon-to-be-graduates that we have lovingly nurtured over the last three years out with the very best advice we could muster.

Which is what we did.


One by one, my colleagues and I came up with words of wisdom for our departing students.

These were some of them:

  • Say yes to everything – make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, and try everything
  • Ask for feedback if you get rejected for jobs – it should tell you where you need to improve, but it could also open new doors
  • Make the most of every contact you come across. You’re likely to find work by being in the right place at the right time, and by making the right personal connections
  • Keep picking your lecturers’ and support staff’s brains and talents
  • Keep on keeping on. Be resilient. Pick yourself up after rejection and know that people who want to make it always do.
  • Break the rules and take risks. Within reason.
  • Remember everything you’ve learned and how good you are
  • Aim high. Tell yourself you can always do better, whether that be in finding the right interviewee, or in pushing a story to the limit. Don’t settle for that’ll do.

That last one was mine.

It wasn’t my most profound thought.

But it is a mantra of mine, one that I always tried to drum into reporters in my previous job.

I always told them that I realised compromises had to be made in their stressful lives, when time was at a premium.

But I also told them I wanted them to remember me as a sort of nagging parrot on their shoulders, encouraging them to look to the skies rather than the gutters, and – now and again – to push themselves towards perfection.

It’s a point made by the wonderful Gareth Davies, the multi-award-winning chief reporter of the Croydon Advertiser, in an interview with Press Gazette.

Speaking generally, the difference between a good journalist and an ok journalist is the good journalist is the person who’s willing to put in the time and effort. Sometimes the really good stories take time and effort and you’ve got to commit yourself to going the extra mile. You’ve got to ask that extra question, you’ve got to not let something go when you might otherwise think maybe the story’s dead or I’m not getting where I need to go with it. Just keep asking, that’s the difference I guess.

Often conversations about the gulf between the ideal world and the real one would focus on the difficulty of getting out of the office to talk to real people.

One of the joys of our students’ end-of-course show was the sheer number of interesting people they managed to interview.

I’ve just finished arguably the best guide to being a journalist ever written – Tony Harcup’s Journalism: Principles and Practice.

It’s a superbly-written book, packed with wisdom of the sort we were trying to impart, gleaned from dozens of interviews.

Some of the wisest words come from onetime Guardian reporter Martin Wainwright, once a journalist on my beloved Bath Chronicle.

I love this one: “As a journalist, you spend most of your life rushing, but it’s still worth spending as long as you can with people.”

Political interviewer Andrew Marr once said that his prescription for better journalism was simple: “Get out more.”

And the Guardian’s Jemima Kiss has another beauty for Tony Harcup: “Meet as many people as possible, always.”

In the end, these are the best pieces of advice of all for people about to start a media job, or looking to find one.

You won’t do either hiding behind a keyboard or a phone.

Get out, meet people – in the real world and the media one, keep looking for stories, keep writing, and don’t give up.

To everyone graduating this summer, the very best of luck.


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