Final advice for the first years

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Paul McIntyre

Paul McIntyre. Pic by Ida Husøy

The first year of any university course can seem incredibly daunting, and even as I head towards the end of my time at JMU Journalism, I can still recall the feelings at the start of it all.

You find yourself in an unfamiliar environment, especially if you’re away from home by yourself for the first time. That alone is an arduous challenge to begin with.

In journalism, that difficulty is compounded. This course asks you not only to learn an array of new skills, but also to put them into practice almost instantly. You are, in many ways, ‘learning on the job’.

These skills then manifest themselves as you pursue original news for your portfolios.

It’s natural to feel a certain level of anxiety about this part of the course.

How can you find a good story? How can you make contact with the people most appropriate to communicate with about the story? And how can you talk to those people and ask them questions about their lives?

Thankfully, it’s not as difficult as it first seems. And the only way to overcome any fear about those things is to bite the bullet and do it. Then suddenly, and amazingly, it starts to become a far more natural process.

Finding a good story requires ingenuity. You must adopt a mentality of everything being a potential source of news, and you have to look at things from all angles.

Rocky VII. Pic by Harriet Midgley

Paul is part of the JMU Journalism website team. Pic by Harriet Midgley

Consider the following:

  1. Is your idea feasible? There’s no point pursuing an interview with an A-list celebrity who doesn’t want to talk to a student journalist – although many of my fellow students on JMU Journalism have indeed achieved this
  2. Who is your audience? There has to be one, or else there is no reason to write the article
  3. What is the angle? A story about a supermarket being built isn’t the most interesting in the world. However, a story about the development of a supermarket creating local jobs – and affecting existing local businesses – will interest a particular audience
  4. Who are your sources? Sources are essential to your story; they will, ideally, complement it with an informative and/or colourful quote that grabs the attention of readers

Original news is not the only part of your course, though. Among many other aspects, one of the most significant is your ability to persevere while learning the art of shorthand.

At times it seems redundant to emphasise the undeniable importance of shorthand, but here it is nonetheless.

Take the time to learn it, even if you wish to do so at a steady pace. It may appear like a luxury rather than a necessity, but in truth shorthand is one of the most important tools you can have in your arsenal.

All this talk of learning shouldn’t disguise one thing, though: with the right attitude and application, there’s no reason you can’t become a good journalist and enjoy doing so at the same time.