Kickstart your journalism year of growth

The start of a new year is a good time for self-reflection and goal-setting. But this can be done at any point of your year … and even your life. What is important is to want to shift gears and chart a new course.

There is sufficient evidence showing there's value in setting goals and then plotting a course to achieve them. Successful people show continuous growth and change over time and while this can happen naturally, it pays to plan for it.

A good starting point is having a clear understanding of what stirs your passions. Setting goals that do not align with your true self - your real hopes and dreams - would simply set you up for failure. Admittedly, sometimes we need to do the drudge work to move towards passion but, even then, knowing what your goal is will help inspire you to push through.

In setting your goals, consider having both a long-term goal and SMART short-term goals. A reminder: SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Be mindful of your own strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to promote your career but constantly work on your weaknesses to ensure personal growth. Ask yourself what aspect of your storytelling or management do you want to improve? How can you do that?

Inculcating a culture of continuous learning and growth as well as self-reflection is the hallmark of a great leader.

Consider these 10 suggestions to move ahead in your career.

  1. Keep a journal. You don’t have to be a journalist to recognise the value of capturing your thoughts. A number of great world leaders kept a diary that captured their ideas, thoughts and observations. Evidence suggests it helps improve creativity, broadens one’s vocabulary (especially when you capture newly learned words) and supports memory. At a time when everything happens without a thought, a journal helps provoke mindfulness that allows you to interrogate your own views. Regular journaling is in itself a form of meditation that exercises self-discipline that can then filter into other areas of your life.

  2. Re-read your organisation’s Code of Conduct. Does your media house have a code of conduct? If not, lobby for your newsroom to produce one that everyone can support. Here is the Press Council’s Code of ethics and conduct for South African print and online media. Here is the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. It is important to know how professional journalists conduct their work. In doing so, you will know what you stand for and, more importantly, what you won’t stand for. Enrol here for frayintermedia’s online Press Code course.

  3. Review the unconscious biases you bring to your storytelling. Whose voice, views, stories do you privilege? What views are you reinforcing? How do gender stereotypes play out in your stories? Read on how to reduce unconscious biases in this HBR story.

  4. Add a new skill: If you are print reporter, sign up for a video course; if you are in broadcasting, try writing your story as well for the website. Experiment with different storytelling methods. If you’re broadcasting, write it up. Brush up your journalistic social media skills with these handy videos. And if you’re not convinced the work is changing, consider these digital journalism trends for global media in 2018.

  5. Verify before forwarding or sharing any tweet or social media update. Familiarise yourself with these guidelines for online verification. Public Data Lab with support from First Draft have released this Field Guide to “Fake News” and other Information Disorders.

  6. Words matter. Be precise in your wording, particularly when writing about race, gender or class. Avoid PR speak when stories needs specific language. Avoid language that reinforces stereotypes. Consider, for example, these tips on how to write about addiction without promoting stigma - and then look for similar guidelines for the areas you cover.

  7. Call out the bullshit. In this era of fake news, don’t let people lie to you. Know enough about the subject to be able to fact-check during your interviews. Don’t accept ‘facts’ at face value, they must be backed by credible evidence. Just because someone has a title does not mean their views should not be questioned. Here is Africa Check’s guidelines for fact-checking.

  8. Review who gives “expert” commentary in your stories - use new, diverse, voices. Are you using the same views in all your stories? Do you seek out new voices? Do you use commentators from the same institutions, universities or political parties? Consider drawing up your own directory of experts to include women and other marginalised people such as these examples. Remember, diversity includes a diversity of views.

  9. Develop expertise in a new area. Get out of your comfort zone and sign up for a course that can bring new ideas to your thinking. Subscribe to a new podcast. Sign up here for free Coursera courses.

  10. Read. Good writers read. Here is Quartz’s favorite Africa books of 2017 and the BBC’s top 100 list of books to read before you die. What books do you think journalists should read read? Let us know.

Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Consider what you need to do TODAY to change your career path. And then do it.

Do let us know which suggestions you are following and if you have any others you would like to add by posting on Facebook or tweeting to @frayintermedia with #JournalismGrowth2018

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