The proper route to becoming a journalist

Some people say that in order to become a good journalist you need to go to journalism school. That journalism is an old-boys network where someone has to have the right connections, connections that they would get through journalism school, but I say this is not true.

Fact of the matter is that, from my experience, this is false — well the part about journalism school at least. I figure that one of the best ways to gain connections is to toss fear and procrastination to the wind.

Under pressure I have heard from a few fellow journalists that this would be a demolishing move and that the key to being a journalist is to attend the right school, get the right kind of education and I say “Wrong!”

The truth is to get into journalism you need to have the right connections. You have to have connections outside of J-school — national editors, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative editors and a wise reporter friend. But at the same time never, ever, expect them to get you a job.

Instead listen to their experiences: the places they’ve been, the people they’ve met and the stories they wrote. Listen to the mistakes they made so that you can avoid them. Try to get as much information from them as you possibly can — they usually are willing to give it out for free.

I’m not saying you won’t make some connections from journalism school — go ahead, spend your money, but it’s not the same.

One of my previous editors told me that a few years ago he would have told a young, prospective journalist that J-school was necessary to make it in the business, but that these days I would have a better chance throwing myself to the wind and freelancing wherever I end up.

J-school. It’s the difference between the young journalist who sits down in their professor’s office asking them questions about the proper route to getting a job and the young reporter who gets taught a serious lesson from an editor in the hustle and bustle of a busy newsroom. A place where at any give time some faceless officer could yell over the buzzing police scanner, “Get down or your going to get shot!”

In all honesty, I’m not sure what the difference really is. I’ve never really been taught anything about daily journalism in an academic environment but for some reason deep down in my gut I think I’m the better for it.

To me, the truest means of becoming a reputable journalist is formed through what is learned from a hand full of solid editors and a network of smart reporters.

It is through the lessons learned on the street that a reporter can aquire the skills that will make them a good journalist — not just classroom theory broken down in comments left at the bottom of the page. Instead, a reporter in the newsroom gets a quick run through of revisions by their editor at the end of the day before deadline.

All of it happening right in front of you, no grade either. It either makes it to print or ends up as a 100-word brief without a byline. All of it a learning experience, all of it useful and valuable knowledge and all of it exploding around you in a fast-paced news room full of grit and general eagerness.

I’m not sure how assignments pan out in journalism school — but I highly doubt there as intense and as valuable as the lessons taught in a real life press scrum with someone’s press officer holding their recorder up to the both of you, ensuring that they have plenty of evidence to nail you to the floor if you don’t make the “grade.” But like I said, I haven’t had the chance to sit in a classroom, read a number of textbooks and listen to a professor tell me how it’s going to be out there in the real world.

But I’ve been yelled at by an angry editor who has yet to have his morning coffee, been scared half to death when a Lincoln threatened to plow through the crowd of a protest march I was covering and have had the chance to interview people from all sorts of backgrounds, from the homeless living on the downtown Eastside of Vancouver to some of the most well known politicians in this country.

And that cannot be matched by a day in a J-school classroom. To all the prospective journalists out there, you have to throw yourself into the wind and no matter what crazy newsroom you end up in, do your damn best to get the story, each and every time.

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