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January 29, 2024 (Updated )

How do I become an investigative journalist? What do employers look for when hiring? What makes a great journalist? The list of questions you may have about entering the journalism industry might feel overwhelming. So, we’ve been asking them on your behalf.

Last year we spoke to 19 journalists about their top tips for breaking into the media — now we’re back with even more. From BBC Breakfast and Radio 5 Live presenter Rachel Burden to Dean Kirby, the former investigations editor at the i, here are some key takeaways from across the industry.

Your ‘Non-Negotiables’ Will Lead You To Your Stories

Rachel Burden is a reporter and presenter for BBC Radio 5 Live, where she has hosted the weekday breakfast show since 2011. Speaking at News Associates’ annual conference for trainees JournoFest, she recommends taking time to consider your non-negotiable needs for your career as a whole, as they will help you hone in on your audience and stories.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Perisha Kudhail, Dean Kirby, and David Collins during a panel (L), Shingi Maraike with trainees (R)

“First of all, work out what it is you love, where you want to work, the kind of place you want to work, and the kind of stories you want to cover,” she says. “Once you’ve worked that out, go and explore that organisation or that department or that area and find out who the audiences are that they are trying to attract.

“Research those audiences, look at the kind of stories they want, and then keep your ears and eyes open and look for those stories in the world around you.”

Be Proactive And Make Yourself Known

David Collins is the northern editor at The Sunday Times, an outlet he joined in 2015 as an investigative reporter. Since starting at The Sunday Times, he has won multiple awards for his investigative journalism.

He echoes Rachel and emphasises the importance of making yourself seen. “My number one tip is to work out where you want to work, what type of journalism you want to do, and then go and chase down that publication, that broadcaster, that editorial department,” he says. “Get in there and do an internship to get work experience, because that is what employers look for.”

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.

‘Stay Persistent, Stay Curious, Stay Passionate’

Perisha Kudhail is a journalist and reporter for the BBC, working across BBC News and BBC World Service. She was a fellow with the John Schofield Trust for 2023, and advises emerging journalists to “stay persistent, stay curious, and stay passionate.”

“Sometimes you can be so close to getting into where you want to be, so just don’t give up — and network!” she says. “Really build relationships with people who are in the industry because you never know when they’re going to be able to help you in the future.”

It’s something which Simran Johal, a journalist with ITV News Granada, also echoes. “Be a sponge,” she tells the audience, “try and learn as much as you can from everyone because, honestly, it will get you really far.”

Journo Resources
“Sometimes you can be so close to getting into where you want to be, so just don't give up – and network!”
Perisha Kudhail, journalist and reporter, BBC News and BBC World Service

Curate A Diverse Skill Set And Be Curious

Dean Kirby, now freelance, is the former investigations correspondent for the i and has been reporting the news for 25 years. His awards include the Medical Journalists’ Association News Story of the Year for an investigation into the PPE supply chain chaos during the Covid pandemic.

A screenshot of Dean's award-winning story in the i. The headline reads: PPE chaos: Desperate NHS trusts’ race to secure lifesaving PPE from unproven suppliers amid catastrophic distribution failure
A screenshot of Dean’s award-winning story for the i. (Image Credit: Screenshot)

Dean says: “To be a good journalist nowadays you really have to be like a Swiss Army knife. [It’s about] being a good writer, being able to interview people — but also being able to work with spreadsheets, maybe do open source style investigations, Freedom of Information requests… So, you really have to be able to do a whole range of things.”

Shingi Maraike is the North of England correspondent with Sky News and has previously worked at The Sunday Times, where he was hired as their first apprentice in 2017. Shingi recommends tapping into your local communities — because you never know where an interesting lead may appear.

Try A Free Workshop With News Associates

Students at News Associates get even more than just their course — every year JournoFest brings together some of the biggest names in journalism to give exclusive advice to their trainees.

You can see even more top tips from the journalists who attended in 2023 here. And, if you take up a course at News Associates, you could be there in person at their next conference.

Tfree journalism workshopshink you might be interested in taking the plunge but want to try it out first? The team 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

“Be super curious,” he tells audiences. “Think about things that you can cover locally or further afield. Go out and meet people and ask them questions about things that interest you, because that’s how a lot of stories start — it’s conversations, it’s meetings, it’s going out into your communities, and making sure that you get in and amongst a lot of things that are happening.”

‘Don’t Stop Trying!’

Tom Ball is the northern correspondent for The Times, covering everything from local politics, crime, and the environment north of the Midlands and up to the borders. Importantly, he emphasises the need for journalists to get used to rejection — whether they are established or fresh out of university.

“My top tip when entering the journalism industry is persistence. Throughout your career — whether it’s when you’re starting out or when you’re very experienced —you’ll have people shutting the doors in your face, ignoring your emails, ignoring your phone calls, so the key to getting a story or getting a job is making sure that you don’t stop trying.”

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.