Sponsored Partner Content

August 17, 2023 (Updated )

What is the best way to get journalism work experience? How should I format my cover letter and CV? How can I use TikTok as a journalist? These are just some of the most frequently asked questions about breaking into journalism. 

Navigating the world of journalism and media isn’t easy — so we decided to ask the experts how to get your break. From BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire to Financial Times artificial intelligence editor Madhumita Murgia and NCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher, here are a round of top tips from journalists across the industry.

Derbyshire: ‘Find Out What You Can Bring To TikTok’

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Victoria Derbyshire (L) and Kamal Ahmed (R)

Victoria Derbyshire, a BBC newsreader and broadcaster, is a huge advocate for journalists using TikTok. After setting up her own account in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, she now has almost half a million followers.

Talking to trainees at News Associates in London, she said that a changing media landscape means that TikTok is a great place to tell stories and build your platform as a journalist.

“Young people have so many tools for telling stories at their disposal. Be yourself and find out what you can bring to TikTok that other people aren’t doing,” she explains.

“What information can you bring that others aren’t offering on the platform? Remember to use viral sounds and post regularly because that’s when the algorithm kicks in.”

It’s a sentiment also echoed by Nikki Akinola, the NCTJ’s senior diversity and inclusion coordinator. “Don’t be afraid to tell a story that you feel is out there,” she tells Journo Resources, “everybody has a story that they can relate to.

“Get involved with your blogs, get on social media, tell what you want to see out there — because you never know who’s going to pick up on that, you never know who’s going to see it. It’s that determination and that drive that will actually get you noticed and push you further into becoming a great journalist.”

Study For Your NCTJ Diploma With News Associates

All the advice shared in this article was delivered firsthand to trainees at News Associates, who run the UK’s number one journalism course. As well as hearing from inspirational speakers, trainees can learn in a range of flexible formats depending on their circumstances:

Fast Track Multimedia Diploma In Person: Complete your NCTJ training in just 22 weeks, studying at either their Manchester or London campuses. Intakes start in both September and February and in addition to their award-winning training, you’ll also complete a guaranteed placement to hone your skills for the world of work.

Part-Time Multimedia Diploma In Person: Offered at both their Manchester and London campuses, you’ll complete the course in just 40 weeks. Depending on where you study, there are intakes in October and February. Lectures take place on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with all sessions taught by an experienced tutor.

• Part-Time Multimedia Diploma Remotely:For those based elsewhere, the remote course can be taken entirely from a location of your choice — although their facilities and campuses are open to you if you’d like to use them. You’ll study every Tuesday evening and every other Thursday, with the programme taking 18 months to complete. All sessions are taught live by an experienced tutor.

As well as putting yourself out there, a recurring theme from our interviewees was curiosity and the ability to understand what your audience wants from you.

“Always think about who your audience is and who tells the story most powerfully,” says Kamal Ahmed, the editor-in-chief of The News Movement, a social-first news platform that focuses on a Gen Z audience.

“Be curious and remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the people whose stories you are telling.”

Similarly, Ian Herbert, the deputy chief sports writer at The Daily Mail tells Journo Resources: “Be curious. If you’re in a room of 20 people, speak to all of them — you never know where a story is.

“Make sure to worry about what you’re doing — rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing.

“Follow your own path and have fun! Enjoy every moment, it’s a brilliant job, doing extraordinary things — most of all, make sure to enjoy it.”

Number One: Believe In Yourself

When it comes to actually finding a job, Mhari Aurora, a politics and business correspondent at Sky News, says the first step is believing in yourself. “Number one, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t believe you can do it, no one else is going to believe you. So it’s essential if you want to try and make it in journalism.

Journo Resources
"Be curious. If you're in a room of 20 people, speak to all of them — you never know where a story is."
Ian Herbert, Deputy Chief Sportswriter, The Daily Mail

“Make sure you work hard and pay attention to detail. Detail is so important — spell people’s names right, and make sure you know the basic things about them as it really makes a difference.

“Network. Make sure you make good connections with people, make people like you, make people want to be around you. You’ll see how valuable that is when you get into this industry.”

Nitya Rajan, a correspondent at Good Morning Britain, echos this: “My first top tip for getting into journalism and staying in journalism is hard work – nothing beats hard work.

“[Also], preparation. And, if you are wanting to move on in your career, make sure you badger people as much as you can. Find out the right editors to talk to and badger them as much as you can because everyone has to start somewhere.”

John Witherow, former editor of The Times and now Times Newspapers Chairman, agrees. He told News Associates trainees: “Be absolutely determined. If you get rejected from a job, go back to them and ask them why, and say you would still like to be considered [in future]. And, if you get that job, show ambition. Try and get promoted internally.

“Learn from your colleagues. If anyone asks you to do it, just do it — editors love that. Be there, be ambitious, be determined, and be fun. Journalism is fun and you should enjoy it.”

‘Read As Much As You Can’

David Wooding, editor of The Sunday Express, also advises those looking to break into the industry to read widely. “Make sure you read newspapers thoroughly every day, particularly the leader columns, as that will help you develop your writing skills for starters, but also improve your knowledge bank.”

@newsassociates_ Sunday Express editor David Wooding’s top tips for journalists ✍️ #TopTips #NewsAssociates #PostgraduateJournalism #Journalism #JournalismDegree #SportsJournalismCourse #NCTJ #DavidWooding #SundayExpress ♬ ALMOST HOME – Mad Adix, Marc Steinmeier

It’s advice another David shares — this time David Woode, crime correspondent at The Times. He tells us: “Read as much as you can. Read your favourite journalists, read journalists that you don’t agree with. Look at the way they write, how they form sentences, how they put their stories together.

“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. Sometimes it’s making that call and asking to be put in touch with somebody, they might tell you something that might lead you to someone else who can become a really key source or contact in the future.

“Don’t be afraid to knock on people’s doors. Sometimes they won’t answer you, they might slam the door in your face, but it’s that one person who opens the door and invites you in [where] you might just get the story that launches your career.”

Journo Resources
"If you get rejected from a job, go back to them and ask them why and say you would still like to be considered. And if you get that job, show ambition. Try and get promoted internally.
John Witherow, Times Newspapers Chairman

Jane Moore, a panellist for ITV’s Loose Women and a columnist at The Sun, also advises journalists starting out to be flexible, as you’ll sometimes need to work out of hours.

“Be curious about the world around you and be prepared to work incredibly hard,” she explains. “Stories do not always materialise between the hours of nine and five, [but] just have a lot of fun. Journalists are the best people in the world.”

Andrew Gamble agrees. He’s a sports journalist across Reach’s outlets such as The Mirror and The Daily Express.

“Be enthusiastic about everything that comes your way. It might mean you do some really rogue stuff and some things that you might not want to do, but people feed off your enthusiasm and more opportunities will come from that.”

Hard work is crucial — but so is passion. Joanne Butcher, the chief executive of the National Council of the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), advises all aspiring journalists to “make sure that this is the career for you”.

“Make sure that it’s something you feel passionate about and that you have thought through what makes you excited.”

Consider Starting Out On A Local Patch

Inzamam Rashid started his career at BBC local radio, before transitioning to the world of TV, now working as a Sky News correspondent in the North of England, covering a range of UK and international stories.

Starting at a local level can be a great way to get hands-on experience and hone your skills. Rashid recommends contacting your local TV, radio, or newspaper, as well as local press offices, such as at the theatre or sports clubs, to get experience in the press office. He explains: “That will really help you get an understanding of how journalism at a local level works.

“I’d also suggest that you have good knowledge of your patch — from understanding who your local MPs are to understanding who the local council leaders are, and what the political divide is in your area.”

He also suggests trainees take time to “build up a big book of local contacts” such as local charities. “Get an understanding of exactly who you can get good stories from.”

Try A Free Workshop With News Associates

Tfree journalism workshopshink you might be interested in taking the plunge but want to try it out first? The team at News Associates offer a range of remote and in-person journalism workshops to give you a taste of their teaching and lecturers.

News journalism workshops will see you tackle a breaking news story and receive individual feedback on your work, while sports journalism workshops are delivered alongside Sportsbeat, the UK’s leading sports news agency.

The team also run occasional panels, discussions, and Q&As about your route into the journalism industry.

Sign Up For Free Journalism Workshops Here

Dharmesh Sheth, who works as a presenter at Sky Sports News, agrees that building contacts is crucial. He says: “The best bit of advice that I was given — and that I say to everyone — is [build a] contacts book.

“Wherever you go, whatever shoot you go on, make sure you get a number because you never know when you’re going to need it.”

‘Never Produce Anything You Don’t Believe In’

Once you’ve got your foot in the door, doing your work well is vital, with several of our interviewees stressing the importance of credibility.

Ian Ladyman, football editor of The Daily Mail stresses: “Be credible. Reputation is everything in journalism. If you’re trying to take shortcuts, the chances are you will get found out.

“Be credible, be reliable, and never produce anything that you don’t believe in.”

@newsassociates_ Football editor of the Daily Mail Ian Ladyman shares his 3 top tips for being a sucessful sports journalist 🙌 #DailyMail #NewsAssociates #NCTJ #SportsJournalism #SportsJournalist #SportsJournalismCourse #SportsTikTok #DailyMailSport ♬ original sound – .

Gerard Brand, digital output editor at Sky News, has similar advice. “Balance your speed with your accuracy and balance your strong opinions on one side, with statistics and opinions from the other. And, in the workplace, balance your positivity and your ideas with your challenging of others.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the audience and not necessarily of a journalist. Don’t always assume knowledge. Explain what you are talking about. Less is more. Tight writing is a skill and journalism is not a duplication of your university dissertation.”

‘Everyone Is Looking For Good Ideas’

So, you’ve come to work with enthusiasm and high standards? What else? According to Madhumita Murgia, the artificial intelligence editor at The Financial Times, the key is ideas.

Journo Resources
"The obvious answer is always there in front of you  but if you push a little bit or ask more questions, you're always going to find the thing that people don't want to tell you."
Madhumita Murgia, artificial intelligence editor, The Financial Times 

“Always come in with loads of ideas,” she tells Journo Resources. “It doesn’t matter if they’re [not] the best ideas because there’s always a way to learn.” Even if it’s a bad idea, she explains, you’ll then “understand why it doesn’t work” as a result of pitching it.

“I think every time you try pitch anybody or get face time with a journalist — [remember] the one thing everybody is looking for is good ideas — so hit them with as many ideas as you can.”

She adds: “When you’re trying to look for stories, the obvious answer is always there in front of you — but if you push a little bit or ask more questions, you’re always going to find the thing that people don’t want to tell you… Which is the thing that ends up being the great story.”

@newsassociates_ Financial Times artificial intelligence editor Madhumita Murgia shares her top tips for aspiring journalists ✍️🤩 #NewsAssociates #TheSchoolOfJournalism #FinancialTimes #Al #JournalismAdvice #JournalismTips ♬ cruel summer nightcore – dani (taylor’s version)

Becky Callanan, staff manager at The Times and The Sunday Times, has practical tips for applying for journalism jobs. She tells News Associates: “My top tip is with your CV and cover letter. Put your cover letter above the CV with your CV following in one document. Don’t use links to your writing examples. Put the text in your application as it just makes it easier for us to read.”

Jo Wilson, a presenter at Sky Sports, sums up: “Work hard and take on any opportunities that come your way because you absolutely never know where they’re going to lead. Hard work pays off eventually.”

News Associates
News Associates

News Associates are proud to be the UK’s number one NCTJ journalism course — and they do things differently. You’ll be treated like a journalist from day one, with an innovative and experienced approach to teaching.

They offer a range of part-time and full-time courses, with locations in London, Manchester, and remote learning.

Find out more about their courses here.