Booze, SM cafés and go to the opening of an envelope – How to succeed in journalism

3 09 2012

Know your patch is an essential rule for all journalists.

From the geography of an area or niche you work in, knowing the right people and building up contacts is an essential part of any journalist’s tool kit.

Journalists need contacts to help them source and develop stories whether they work for newspapers, business titles or glossy magazines.

All Brighton Journalist Works students start learning these skills from their first week as they are allocated an Argus community reporter’s patch and are expected to source and develop stories from these contacts.

Stories are about people

Getting to know people is essential as all stories have and need a human side.

Learning the patch is old-fashioned journalism. BJW students need to walk around the patch, find the notice boards, discover the community groups, attend a few meetings and even chat to a few locals in a pub.

We asked a number of journalists how they developed their news contacts.

Guardian technology and media reporter Josh Halliday ran his own hyperlocal news site during his final year as a journalism student.

His SR2 blog frequently beat the local daily newspaper to news stories because Josh knew the right people and lived in the community.

“Booze. Twitter. Hobbies. Booze,” he said. “That’s pretty much it – comes down to being visible.

“A harder thing is keeping contacts.”

Josh made a name for himself while still a student as an early adopter of digital media tools, such as Twitter. This helped him land his first job straight out of university at the Guardian.

Journalism.co.uk technology editor Sarah Marshall has worked for local newspapers and regional radio stations for many years and backs Josh’s advice to be visible and head down the pub.

When asked how she built up her contacts she said:

“It is essential to get out and about as well as contacting people (usually by email/phone). Twitter is essential (and yes, booze too).”

Digital developments

Editor of the Daily Post, Alison Gow, who is former editor of WalesOnline and executive editor digital of the Liverpool Echo, knows how essential grassroots contacts are when it comes to finding stories.

“There was no web when I started so going out to see people was key. My daily visits were to police, vicar, undertakers, grocer, butcher, town clerk etc.

“Now? Social Media cafés, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr groups, hyperlocal forums, Meetup groups. Plus real world visits to the usual suspects.”

Argus web editor and Journalist Works online journalism tutor Sarah Booker Lewis also put in the legwork on her first job as a reporter.

“I moved from Brighton to Buckinghamshire for my first job and knew nothing about the area. I spent a lot of time walking around my patch and going to the opening of an envelope.

“By the time I left the newspaper to return to Sussex many of my contacts thought I was local, which I took as a great compliment.

“I was active online for a long time before my first newspaper had a website, so I posted on the Chalfont St Peter community forum when it started.

“When I returned to Sussex as a web editor I worked on building a network of contacts on social media.

“My Space and then Facebook and Twitter proved invaluable as points of contact with the public. People can talk to us and I pick up stories every day.”

Marketing Weekly’s tech/media/mobile reporter Lara O’Reilly had to take a different approach suited to a business to business publication.

“I did the PR ring round then arranged as many face to face meetings with actual contacts as possible.

“Using LinkedIn, and attending conferences and events really helps build contacts, too.”

Wherever their future career takes them, a Brighton Journalist Works student has the advantage of building their confidence and the front required in real world journalism.

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