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. 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.

Ben Adams’ national story

8 11 2010

Brighton Journalist Works graduate Ben Adams has landed an exclusive story that’s been picked up on the front pages of the nationals.

He works for a pharmaceutical magazine, InPharm, and went to a conference where two health ministers were speaking.

Ben says: “During the press briefing I pushed them to answer my questions over the future of NICE – the government’s NHS drugs watchdog – as I knew from conversations with the health secretary that he wanted it binned.

“Finally at this conference (and this is a testimony to drip-drip policies by the gov’t) they admitted to me and the assembled press that NICE would be sidelined. This led to the government having to release official word on their position this week.

“We put this up on Tuesday last week

By Saturday the Guardian had it as their front page:;

The Mail’s front page on Monday:;

The Wall Street Journal:;

And the BBC:

“It’s interesting to see your story become a media meme and to see the differences in reporting and the interviews they can get.”

Glastonbury, Goodwood and the Pet Shop Boys

12 08 2010

Former Brighton Journalist Works student Tom Hasson has been in touch to keep us up-to-date with his career


Tom’s in there somewhere – Tweeting

Guardian Music editor Tim Jonze asked on Twitter if anyone would be going to Glastonbury this year and if they’d be willing to tweet for The Guardian Music. Tom told him he was interested (along with a couple of thousand other people).

Tim got in touch a week before the festival to say that, having visited Tom’s Twitter feed and blog, he wanted Tom to be one of the eleven people selected to take part.

Anything Tom  tweeted during the festival was shown on every article published on the Guardian’s website regarding Glastonbury. Apparently Tom attracted all manner of new followers.

The editor of Scoff! magazine (a food supplement in The Spectator) has asked if Tom will do a food blog for the magazine whilst at the Vintage At Goodwood Festival in August.

Tom wrote the Future Events section in the latest issue of Brighton’s What’s On magazine and will continue to do so.

And finally, Tom is writing for Faux magazine. In a couple of week’s time, he’ll be interviewing the Pet Shop Boys for the magazine. Whatever happens, it’s a safe bet that Tom’s career won’t be ‘Being Boring’ (geditt??).

Tom writes:

“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do all of these things if it hadn’t been for my time at Journalist Works, so thank you! I learned a lot with you and appreciate everything that the experience taught me.”

Roxy Freeman: From nervous newcomer to Guardian cover story

15 03 2010

As I walked through the doors for my first day at Brighton Journalist Works in February 2009, the sight of the desks and chairs filled me with panic and it occurred to me that my solitary existence as an Open University student was over.

No more sitting on my own with my books night after night, this class was rammed full of smart, confident students with opinions and questions in abundance.

Over the next ten weeks, with the fastidious guidance of Paula, Richard, Matt and Pete, my knowledge of journalism went from nothing to fairly comprehensive.

At times it was really tough; I doubted not only my abilities but also my motivation. I had invested quite lot of time and money in the course but it was all on a bit of whim. I had no intention of being a news reporter and wasn’t even sure I wanted to work in the press. I just liked writing and wanted to improve my skills in the shortest time possible.

I never doubted the expertise of my tutors, who were all superb in their field, but I had no faith in myself. I was surprised to get through the ten weeks and even more surprised to pass all the exams with a C or above.

The next few months involved a number of unpaid work placements and numerous rejection letters. I was starting to lose heart when I got offered an internship at The Guardian, followed by print opportunities in their various publications.

In September 2009 I wrote a cover story about my upbringing, for the Guardian’s G2 supplement. Following its publication, I pursued various avenues including a paid internship with The Copywriting Company in Brighton. The placement taught me the practical side of how to put my new-found skills to use and actually to make money through feature writing.

In December last year, I was approached by a highly respected publishing company who were keen for me to write a book. Once the initial fear and anxiety passed I threw myself into writing a memoir outline. The sample chapters and full proposal is now with my agent pending formal publication confirmation by the publisher.

Enrolling on the NCTJ course at Brighton Journalist Works was not only a nerve-wracking experience but a massive leap of faith. A year down the line I’m pleased to say it was one of the best leaps of my life. I’m now doing something I love and by the end on the 2010 I may well be a published author, I can’t ask for better than that.

Roxy Freeman’s memoir is due to be published later this year. Her website is