In the last month I have been to 10 interviews, from Truro to Maidstone.
As a new NCTJ graduate from Brighton Journalist Works, I’ve been travelling the country to get my first ever paid newspaper job.
While I did not get offered every job that I applied for (I did apply for them all), I am now excited to start my new career.
Before I went to my very first interview I Googled everything to help me prepare and realised there is a shortage of any help for journalists but pages and pages of advice for other jobs.
So here are my top tips on how to prepare for local newspaper interviews.
During your time on your journalism course, you will have written something – if not, you were on the wrong course. You may not have had it published but as part of your portfolio you may have written court reports, reviews and press releases.
If you haven’t done a journalism course, you’ll have done work experience before applying to journalism jobs, and will certainly have a few pieces to display to a potential employer. Whatever you’ve written, big or small, your future employer will want to see what you can do. At first I had it in a tiny A4 folder where the pieces all fell out; an investment in an A3 folder and poster paper was worthwhile and added a professional touch.
This is incredibly useful to do before you turn up for an interview – you won’t have much of a chance if you can’t prove you know the area.
Not only does it show the interviewer that you are motivated and can research but it also gives you an indication as to whether you actually want the job in the first place.
Researching this beforehand meant that I got a basic grasp of the area and how the paper covered it, and it made my decision of which job to take a lot easier. Knowing your patch going to be a vital part of your job (should you get it) so you may as well start off on the right foot.
Twitter and Tweetdeck are by far two of the best ways to research the local area.
In the last few years, Twitter has become one of the biggest sources of breaking news. In 140 characters, news is broken before it makes it to the front pages, TV channels, or news websites.
A good source of local news is finding out what the local MP is up to and the council and councillors. As part of your job at the paper you will have to either keep track of the MP or turn up to council meetings, if you don’t know who these people are at the beginning- finding news can be a struggle. Also if you don’t know who these people are affiliated to, you will find it hard to understand their rhetoric, this means finding out which party they come from can give you a news angle and it also gives you an idea how the area (and the MP) fits into the bigger national picture.
If you are lucky enough to have any spare time before interviews- it could just be an hour or two- I would highly recommend doing a quick tour of the town or city. Gives you something extra to bring to the interview. Just make sure you don’t get carried away and end up late!
While you are exploring you should:
At one interview, an editor joked: “thanks for buying the paper, it’s helped our circulation figures.” All of the editors I met were impressed that I had not only increased their revenue but increased my knowledge of what the job would entail.
Most local papers cost under a pound and that could cost you a job. Buying the paper isn’t enough though – you also need to actually read it. It’s a good conversation starter, it can give you follow-up ideas, but most importantly – how can you expect to understand the organisation if you haven’t read the content they have produced?
Like reading their newspaper, reading their website is essential. Working at a weekly paper no longer means holding onto content until the week’s deadline, it also means keeping enough content to fill a website.
I really liked one paper that I went to for an interview but turned down the job because of their lack of online content. Local newspapers still rely on their paper sales but in this digital age, a newspaper without a website didn’t appeal to me. I want to start my career in a paper that embraces the times, not hides from it. Also I enjoy multimedia content, so it was a deal breaker for me.
Before my first interview I was told by my tutors at Brighton Journalist Works that I should always turn up with at least 3 ideas. One breaking hard news (which is really hard to find when you’re not in the area), one soft piece about animals or families and one piece that’s a follow-up from another story.
For most of my interviews I had come prepared with around five story ideas. I sourced them through Twitter, local council websites and their online and print content. This made me stand out from the crowd and also meant I could work from the word ‘go’ if they employed me.
One other source of local news is national news. I went into my interviews, having made sure I had looked at the national newspapers and broadcasters, to find national news with a local angle. Also nothing says: “I want to be a journalist” than keeping track of what other journalists are reporting.
After all my research and trawling through the internet, I would put all this information on post-it notes. At first this was just an exercise to see what I had found out but it also became a talking point in many of my interviews. If you have something that makes you stand out among the rest – it could get you a job.