Give it to me straight, what does it take? How to land that job in the media

For Sam (not his real name), a recent college graduate who started out looking for a job in media, the main highlight of his work reporting for an online news website is the rampant flurry of information that surrounds him everyday. “I get to research deeply into the issues I care about, and tackle larger topics in the process,” he shares. For wide-eyed, fresh-faced graduates like Sam, journalism beckons with a plethora of prospects — reporting the truth, amplifying voices and holding institutions accountable, in cutting ways that only writers can. 

Yet, journalism today looks vastly different from anything that came before. With publications, websites and startups using different approaches to share stories and track the pulse of trends, the barriers to entry into the field may seem high — especially for someone on the outside looking in. How, then, can you make this leap? 

The digital world has transformed the activity of reporting, with new technologies driving both the production and distribution of content. Aside from print journalism, stories are increasingly created for and tailored to websites, rather than being simply published on them. Eugene Leow, Head of Digital Media and Strategy for different language publications at Singapore Press Holdings, reflects on the value of personalization today: “it’s about creating native content that is fit for purpose through that particular platform.”

It starts by really understanding our audience, what kind of content is consumed — genres, videos, podcasts, audio, graphics, how they interact with it,” Leow says. “The most valuable currency in this day and age is actually engagement.” 

Alan Soon, co-founder of startup Splice Media — geared towards promoting media transformation in Asia – encourages this awareness as well. He shares in an email that some of the best assets aspiring journalists can have is “an understanding of where media trends are going. The ability to take a step back and see what’s truly happening in the way content is being created, distributed, amplified, and paid for.” 

Alongside this knowledge of distribution, it is significant that reporting has become both multiplatform and multimedia – culminating in a variety of skills needed by upcoming writers to ensure that their stories are polished and impactful. Leow shares that “journalists really have to be comfortable in the moment of tech, as well, because you’re going to be dealing with a lot of content management systems.” This may include a knowledge of SEO, basic coding, and the ability to harness the niche tools embedded in each system. 

However, at the core of a reporter’s toolkit remains the ability to craft a good story. Angie Lau, founder and editor at Forkast News — a digital media platform focused on reporting cryptocurrency and emerging technologies coverage in the Asia-Pacific — vouches for this:

“The strength of really clean, simple, engaging, strong writing is critical, so get your writing skills down, find your writer’s voice, find the motivation with which you want to express your ideas to your audience. That is something that I would absolutely encourage anyone, be you in journalism or not, to actually honing that craft, and just keep working.”

Delving further into skills that will serve any budding entrant into the media industry, the keys of connection and promotion also emerge useful for the profession. Leong highlights the importance of building your own brand, emphasizing that “in whatever form…whether you’re going to meet somebody, whether it’s contact building. You need to have that natural energy to want to connect with people, and tell them stories.” 

Mike Stencel, co-director of the Duke Reporters’ Lab said in a 2016 interview with Poynter, when it comes to college journalists, “reporting, writing, storytelling – these kinds of foundational abilities still matter. But what will get you hired is the transformational skill you can add.” For aspiring journalists, an epoch of possibility lies in the media careers of the future. 

Tips for the job-hunting journalist

Here are 8 ways you can prepare for a job in the media:

  1. Develop a presence on social media, not only to use platform tools in keeping up with trending topics, but to build relationships with sources and tune into the conversations taking place within online communities. This engagement can prove useful in driving stories and understanding audiences. 
  1. A career in new media can be entrepreneurial and unconventional; it is helpful to build your own personal brand, to navigate intersections in the industry (for instance, between business, technology, editorial writing and product development in the media landscape).
  1. Hone in and focus on vision, mission, emotions and the issues you want to resolve. This is key in branding yourself as a journalist, or in developing a passion project in the field.
  1. Showcase your new media skills. Creating content on various platforms is a marker of your capabilities, but picking up new media tools and showing your ability to keep up with changing technology can set you apart.
  1. Strengthen your data collection and analysis skills, as this will come handy in both traditional and digital newsrooms. Asking questions of data is necessary in finding deeper insights and writing richer stories. 
  1. Remain committed to growing your network. Forming connections via both in-person and remote meetings and cultivating relationships with recruiters, editors and experts are valuable ways to prepare for the new media industry.
  1. Be ready to adapt and transition between different forms of content production, including innovating audio, podcast and broadcast platforms that are geared towards transforming the sharing of news content.  
  1. Conviction and commitment to represent issues is an essential tenet of journalism; be receptive to the meaning of news, and its potential to spark change.