New Times,
New Thinking.

10 February 2015

Read. Get paid. And don’t give up. Laurie Penny’s advice for young journalists

After Felix Salmon warned aspiring journalists that a world of woe awaits them, NS columnist Laurie Penny has some more cheery advice.

By Laurie Penny

1. Make sure you get paid. Even if you can afford to work for free, you’ll be undercutting everyone else.

2. Tell the stories that matter to you. Be clear about your own biases and assumptions. Question them at every turn.

3. Your platform is a privilege. That means you use it well, and wisely. It doesn’t mean you have to suck up abuse.

4. Learn from the best. Read collections of journalism and essays by writers from all different backgrounds.

5. Create journalism every day. Write or record something – even something small – every single day.

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6. Don’t become a journalist for the prestige, or because you think you deserve to be one. There are other jobs.

7. Read. Read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, essays, academic papers. It will ALL be useful someday.

8. Write and speak in your own voice. Yours. Nobody else’s. If you try to imitate someone else’s style, you’ll suck.

9. Do not, repeat DO NOT screw over your sources for a story. That kind of dipwaddery gives us all a bad name.

10. Build connections with other journalists. Support each other’s work. Community is more important than competition.

11. There is no such thing as ‘objective’ journalism. Strive instead for fairness and accuracy.

12. Carry a paper notebook. Devices fail, or aren’t secure. Working things out on paper will improve your style.

13. You want to be a foreign correspondent? Go somewhere foreign. Correspond. Don’t wait to be sent. Stay safe.

14. Don’t let anyone – source, editor or publisher – exploit your youth. You know who you are. Do your best work.

15. Everyone needs an editor. Find a good one and give them your heart, your soul and your best work.

16. If your outlet isn’t letting you do work that matters to you, publish elsewhere. We have the technology. Use it.

17. If you’re a woman or a person of colour, don’t let yourself be bullied into ‘personalising’ every single story.

18. Tell stories that aren’t being heard. Amplify unheard voices. “Go to where the silence is” – Amy Goodman.

19. Learn about British libel law so you can get around it like a pro. Wherever you are. Libel tourism is a thing.

20. Get yourself a mentor, or more than one. When you’re established, it’ll be time to pass on that favour.

21. You can learn a great deal from the older generation – but the rules are changing fast.

22. Nepotism exists in the industry. Breaking in without contacts is hard. Keep knocking on doors. Find mentors.

23. An expensive education is fine and dandy, but more important is continuing education. Read, read, read.

24. Don’t read the comments. DON’T read the comments. I SEE YOU READING THEM. Stop.

25. Sometimes your best editors and collaborators won’t be your colleagues. Run material past trusted friends.

26. For god’s sake, learn basic digital security.

27. Pitch, pitch and keep pitching. Remember, editors have a lot to read. Expect to hear back from about one in ten.

28. It’s okay to specialise. Find a subject area you’re passionate about and become an expert.

29. Work hard. Be ethical. Be resilient. Be brave. Be open to change. Go have adventures.

30. Don’t give up. Breaking into this industry is tough and unfair. But if you’ve got the talent, you’ll make it.

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