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60 Second Interview: Wannabe Hacks

Thinking about a career in journalism? There are lots of excellent resources online to help you get started and find out what jobs in the media are really like.

And if you’re looking for up-to-date info and advice that’s aimed towards young people and students, Wannabe Hacks is a great place to start.

The site was set up by a group of talented young journalists and aims to give aspiring reporters guidance on building their media skills, from gaining work experience to getting to grips with the latest apps and pitching stories.

We caught up with Nick Petrie, a journalist and co-founder of Wannabe Hacks, to pick up some expert advice on entering the world of journalism.

How can I get started in journalism if I don’t have a lot of writing or media experience?

There are no barriers to getting started in journalism today. You can set up your own blog for free or start tweeting and posting notes on Facebook to get your thoughts and opinions out there. The first and most important thing is that the more you write, the more you learn.

The second thing is to start asking people for work experience and the best place to begin is your local paper. Local papers can often be short staffed and having someone in who is bright, hard working and can bring a different perspective to reporting, is really useful for them. The more you learn, the more you will improve and it will also give you an idea of the areas of journalism you might be interested in.

How can I make the most out of blogging?

The best way to blog is to think first: ‘what am I interested in’? and second: ‘who is my audience and what might they be interested in’?

If you’re still at school, you have an excellent opportunity to be really focused with a blog because your audience is most likely other students. Schools are also great places to find stories. There’s a lot going on, from sporting to artistic events, or it might be that the school is trying to cut your lunch breaks or introduce a new uniform. You can talk to the teachers, to other students, get their opinions, investigate the issue and put the information out there. This is the key to journalism.

It’s important to check your facts too. A fundamental skill for journalists is being able to ‘stand up’ information, which means, If you’ve been told something interesting, you don’t write about it until you have confirmed it’s true [from a reliable source].

Is it OK to write about my opinions too?

Traditionally newspapers keep their news and opinion pieces separate. But media styles are evolving so that some people now mix opinion in with their factual reporting.

When you’re getting started out it’s best to practice writing factual news stories and opinion pieces separately.

It’s perfectly valid to have an opinion and express it but remember to understand other people’s points of view and to think through why your opinion is what it is, so that you’re able to back it up.

And don’t get too personal. It might be OK to criticise someone’s work if they are in the public eye but don’t criticise how people look or dress [especially when it isn’t relevant to what they do].

his girl friday old fashioned journalistIt's important for journalists to get to grips with the latest technologies.. (Photo c. Wikimedia)

I’ve had an idea for a story but how do I pitch it?

A pitch should be short and it should be a summary of what you want to write about including the topic, why it’s interesting and who you might interview.

Don’t include a finished article at this stage.

Remember too, this isn’t a murder mystery story, so don’t leave the most interesting stuff to the end of the pitch.

Try and make sure you are pitching to the best person as well. Do some research and find the right section or commissioning editor to write to [you might need to call up to get an email address].

In your pitch email, write a good subject line including your topic and the fact that it’s a pitch. E.g. ‘Pitch: Why School Uniforms Are a Bad Idea’.

Include your contact details too so the editor can get back to you easily.

After you’re emailed your pitch, wait for a few days as editors can be very busy. But, don’t be afraid to chase up on email or the phone if you haven’t heard back from someone after a while.

Are there any courses or online resources that you recommend for young people?

Journalism.co.uk covers what media organisations are up to and includes advice on things like how to record a podcast or use social media.

BBC Academy has lots of practical written and video guides on print and broadcast journalism and the technologies involved.

And Wannabe Hacks too of course. We cover lots of the basics including advice on putting together your CV, cover letters and pitching articles.

We’re also just launching a mentoring scheme to match up aspiring journalists (16 and over) with more experienced mentors. They’ll get two hours per month in person and over email where they’ll be able to learn how their mentors got started and talk about the challenges they face as well as get practical advice on pitches, cover letters and articles. 

I’ve heard that there’s a lot of competition for jobs in journalism, how can I stand out from the crowd?

Be confident in all things digital. There are so many different opportunities to bring readers into stories these days. Lots of organisations are spending lots of time training staff to use new technologies, so if you can come in as a young aspiring journalist, already confident and able to show people new tools and apps, that can make a huge difference.

Even the ability to do something as simple as record audio on your phone is a big plus. For example, if you’re at a protest and can record instant reactions from people on your phone, there will be lots of ways to weave this into your story back at the office. Or you might feel the best thing is to get the information out quickly and broadcast on Vine or Instagram.

The more confident you are with digital tools, whether it’s the hardware or apps, the more useful you will be.

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Cover photo by Roget H Goun - CC Attribution