Dig hard, write well, and maybe even sweep a few floors.
Broadcast professionals say that’s what young journalists should do if they’re serious about pursuing a career in the competitive field of news broadcasting.
Television and radio students who want to stand out from the crowd must become enterprising, information-sniffing archaeologists, said Al Tompkins, Poynter’s broadcast journalism group leader.
Tompkins said that for students to be great storytellers, they must dig up information no one else is looking for, and then produce the package with clarity and cohesiveness. To uncover well-hidden journalistic gems, Tompkins said students need to talk with the people no one else is interviewing.
“If a crowd of journalists is going somewhere, I’d go wherever they are not going,” he said. “Break the habit of talking to your friends. Seek out people not like you and learn to listen and not talk.”
In addition to being a good listener, broadcast students also must be outstanding writers.
“It doesn’t hurt to look good, but in the long term it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen too many average-looking and sounding people who are great writers do very well in this business. Mike Wallace and Morley Safer are not pin-ups, but they’re fine journalists.”
Gayle Sierens, veteran co-anchor and reporter for Tampa’s WFLA-TV, also said honing writing and editing skills is a top priority. In addition, she tells budding reporters to “develop a thick, thick skin” and “be yourself.”
Sierens said students need to work hard while being patient. Getting comfortable in front of the camera or behind a microphone “takes a while and doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.
To get a head start on the competition, Sierens said broadcast-minded students should seek volunteer or internship positions with local stations.
“Be willing to start small,” Sierens said. “Get your foot in the door and make a nuisance of yourself. Do everything and anything beyond the call of duty. Any shred of experience will only help you.”
CBS News Radio’s Peter King agreed.
“The best thing you can do is visit radio stations in your area,” said King, a national anchor and reporter. “Visit more than one. Get an internship or part-time job sweeping the floors. You can learn a lot just by hanging around. Be curious and ask a lot of questions. Don’t just ask what; ask why.”
While a great face may help in TV and a fantastic voice won’t hurt in radio, broadcasters agree that it’s what’s between the ears that counts.
“Good reporters know a little bit about a lot of things,” King said. “A good voice helps, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to keep you going. Being a good human being, having common sense and curiosity — those are the traits that make a good journalist.”
Thanks to Doug White, who wrote this story and contributed to the high school journalism website for Poynter Online in 2001.