Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Uni Work - Oh Dear God, Let the Tediousness End

For Practical Journalism this week we were asked to write a short piece about what media/journalism job we wanted to end up with, what it entailed and blah blah blah. Unamused by the patronising nature of the topic, this is probably the shortest and most tongue-in-cheek essay I will ever write and hand in as an official piece of work. I think in order to pass this course I am going to have to climb down a few pegs and stop being such an unagreeable arse. You can't say that I didn't try to make it as entertaining as I could though.

An established columnist for any newspaper, whether it’s a national or a regional publication, needs to have a lot of writing experience under their belt. Becoming a successful columnist is hard work, and in these days of staff cuts and a downturn in advertising in the newsrooms, not only do you have to try really hard to attract the editor’s attention, you need to earn your keep once you get appointed your weekly word count.

To begin with, your writing skills need to be exemplary. Nobody is going to employ a columnist, no matter how thought-provoking or controversial their chosen subjects tend to be, if their grammar is clumsy and they can’t turn a phrase. A columnist’s job is to take a chosen subject, and weave (usually) between 500-2000 words on it, all the while remaining interesting and informative. The best columnists will find that their loyal readers respond to their style as much as they respond to their subjects – if you become a weekly feature of the publication, people reading your work will recognise the personality through the topic and be more likely to read your column in the future if you come across as an interesting character. So, not only does the writing need to be coherent, informative, have some form of subject that the reader will react to and have perfect grammar, but it needs to be strewn with personal experience, anecdotes and clever or witty remarks. It isn’t easy to continue to be bright and amusing week after week, just as it isn’t easy to pluck a thought provoking subject out of the air every time one is required. Column writers often complain that their job grinds after the initial novelty wears off, and finding subjects can be tedious and unrewarding (especially if you are receiving little or no feedback from your readers). The trick then, seems to be constant practice in order to become insanely prolific, and the ability to see an opening for discussion in the smallest of events or objects.

Becoming recognised and eventually hired and paid for your services is a long and often arduous journey. Sending work to national newspapers at this stage is ambitious to say the least, and although getting your name out is extremely important, busy editors will unfortunately just relegate your thoughtful pieces of contemporary observation to the shredder until you can prove you’ve had some relevant (and published) experience. The best places to send your work to get noticed are local publications and websites. The chances are that your local newsletter that flops through your letterbox every month would happily welcome a useful and informative voluntary contributor, and it’s only a matter of time once you’ve got your work out there in the public eye before you start winning critical acclaim left right and centre and working your way up to a paid position. Remain optimistic and persevere!

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