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Who gets the jobs?

Karen Poh

Tue Dec 04 2012

the thinking reporter ft

OUR editor-in-chief and Meld founder, Karen Poh, shares some advice on scoring that seemingly unattainable first job in journalism. 

Meld's founder and editor-in-chief, Karen Poh, shares some tips on scoring that first journalism job.

Heady idealism needs to be taken with consistent doses of hard work and humility.

I remember interviewing a first-year media and communications student who demanded work as an editor.

She had no prior work experience, only hifalutin ideas of the glamorous life as an editor for a glossy.

And nevermind that as a young start-up, the only editor we were going to have in the organisation at the time was me.

“You probably need a bit of experience before you can do any editing work. Why don’t you start out by doing some reporting first?” I tried to dissuade her gently.

“No, I’m not interested. I’m going to return home and work as an editor for a magazine.”

Enough said.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give to journalism students, it’s don’t ever stop dreaming. But do keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. And know this – a spirit of humility will take you places.

You may wish to become a reporter dedicated to lifestyle/entertainment/sports/insert-your-favourite-round here, and you may be keen to build up a portfolio of work to have something to show for it.

But at the infancy of your career development, building up your skills and competencies in journalism should be your priority, and that means being open to learn new skills, and writing outside your areas of interest.

Getting hard news reporting down pat for example, can teach you valuable lessons on writing quickly and succinctly, fairness and balance, fact-checking, sourcing and more.

Versatile reporters are definitely prized, plus, you don’t always get the dream job you want at the first instance.

Learn to say yes, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone. Don’t wrangle your way out of a difficult assignment, or change the brief to escape doing the hard yards. Don’t make excuses, all you have to do is ask if there’s something you don’t know.

Good habits and attitudes cultivated early will help set you apart as someone who knows how to conduct themselves professionally.

And finally, in anything you do, be polite. Prima donnas are not welcome anywhere.

I will never forget the editor who made this remark long ago to a bunch of us rookie journalists: “All of you are turds, you know nothing.”

It probably wasn’t the most politically correct thing to say, but it was certainly a painful reminder about the importance of being humble.