Journalism is constantly evolving: from the soft launch into digital and online media to the rapid penetration of artificial intelligence in the work that we do. There are also emerging forms of journalism, such as citizen journalism, solutions-based reporting, and data journalism. It’s a fast-paced industry, but as soon as you get around it, it can be an extremely rewarding career.
The hard skills in journalism, such as writing or pitching a good story, researching, and being digitally savvy, are important for the everyday practice of journalism. They are the basic skills you need to have to operate as a journalist every day and they can be honed and strengthened with the right leaders and lessons.
The soft skills in journalism tend to revolve around your attitude and the way you approach your work. Think about what you can do personally to launch your career and stand out from the rest, then do it.
The fraymedia foundation hosted a webinar on 25 January on what it takes for young women to launch a career in journalism. It was joined by senior and seasoned journalists who gave insight into their own experiences in the field from the time they were cub reporters to becoming fearless lionesses in the media industry—whether it’s as journalists, media practitioners, or leaders.
Their lessons were invaluable.
Foremost, fraymedia Foundation interim CEO Charmeela Bhagowat, noted how the changing media landscape has presented new challenges to journalism as a profession: traditional forms of journalism are facing the advent of new journalism which includes citizen reporting. She said that everyone can be a reporter if they have the tools but this often is characterised by a lack of responsibility when it comes to ensuring the basic practices of journalism are maintained such as fact-checking, balanced reporting and accuracy.
All journeys toward becoming a journalist are different. Sometimes, you start off in another field, like Mamaponya Motsai, for example, who first pursued a degree in Geology and later taught English in an Asian country before turning to journalism. She sought to change the narrative and perception about Africa using her words and skills as a communicator. She did a journalism course and reached out to editors to kick off her career.
Similarly, Mwape Zulu Kumwenda, now the director at Crown Television, wanted to become a lawyer, but she instead turned toward journalism and is now a successful investigative journalist.
The key to creating your own future in the field of journalism is to take initiative. Mahlatse Mahlase did this too when she started off as a journalist at the age of 18. She saw the inside of a radio studio and got hooked into the world of journalism. After completing a journalism degree, she carved her own path in journalism by courageously calling up editors, convincing them to hire her. After the tests and interviews, she landed herself a job at the SABC. But it didn’t stop there. The beauty of journalism is that you are learning every day, and Mahlase took advantage of that opportunity. She shadowed senior journalists and offered herself to take up assignments, even on weekends. Her hard work led her towards great life experiences, including traveling and being stationed in countries (sometimes dangerous) to tell big, important stories.
Her success today, as the manager at the content hub at the South African Reserve Bank, and former head of SANEF, is a testament to the hard work and initiative she took at the beginning of her career and maintained throughout.
Here are some tips to prepare you ahead of the big leap:
- Multimedia skills: offer more than one service to your newsroom so learn online journalism, social media management, videography, and graphic design.
- Self-management skills: learn how to manage your time and work efficiently to avoid burnout.
- Know your newsroom’s needs and audience: this will help you pitch winning stories for your publication that will carry both your reputation and career forward.
- Be creative and seek unique stories or angles so you can stand out in the very competitive field.
- Report for action: aside from focusing on just telling the story, think about who it might impact or how it can create change, and report on that.
- Solution-seeking reporting: an emerging form of journalism is solutions journalism, which reports on effective solutions to create change. Learn more about this and other new forms of journalism.
- Continue to hone your skills: journalism can be taught in a classroom but only properly learned on the field, so practice journalism in and out of the newsroom to increase efficiency.
- Pay attention: news moves fast, but you need to move faster by keeping an eye on what other newsrooms are reporting on and how you can also report it for your publication.
- Seek opportunities in community media: get involved in your community and their publications to get more experience which will also boost your CV and skills as you move onto bigger things.
- Show initiative: seek your own opportunities instead of waiting for someone to hand it to you. It’s an extremely competitive field, and you need to go the extra mile to stand out.
If you get to the interview process, remember these four things:
- Research the institution and know their background and specialties.
- Know what’s the top five stories in the country.
- Know what’s the top five stories in this publication.
- Have an idea of how you might report on a specific story in the headlines.
The soft skills have to do with your attitude, so be courageous, take initiative, build on your strengths, and show interest.
Journalism is an extremely people-oriented field. The more people you get to know, the better your chances are of gaining access to places and events and getting more opportunities, said Paula Fray, founder of fraymedia Foundation.
Networking is not simply about meeting people but also maintaining and nurturing a meaningful relationship with that individual. It means supporting their career, as much as they support yours, and keeping a good reputation with all those you meet. Networking is an activity that can take place online through social media platforms such as LinkedIn or X—where you share your work, elevate your brand and interact with other people’s posts and work in a professional way. You can also join groups of interest to increase your visibility. You can network offline at events, or journalism awards evenings and mixers—remember to maintain that relationship by following up and supporting them.
The aim is to interact: get to know others and let them get to know you.
Key takeaways from the webinar:
- Be intentional.
- Show initiative.
- Be multi-skilled.
- Be able to self-manage.
- Seek relevance.
- Read and be engaged in your community.
- Just write.
“Sometimes being a journalist is just telling a story around you, and having an impact in that way,” Bhagowat concluded.