1. READ – Language mapping research indicates that we speak and write like the five sources we read and hear the most frequently. If you want to be a sports writer, read as much and as many as you can. Find your favorites. Think about how they do their craft well. And then read lots more – read literature, contemporary and classic; read non-fiction (I’m loving Bill Bryson right now); read blogs and magazines. Just read.
2. Build a clips binder – Get yourself published anywhere you can, and compile your published writings into a professional-looking portfolio so you will have it ready for interviews. It will grow faster than you think. Places to get published? Your high school newspaper, yearbook or literary magazine; your local community newspapers who are happy to have free writers; tons of online publications aimed at high school students. Think outside the box and be proactive. One of my journalism students is a swimmer and contacted the local website that tracks high school swimming. She offered to write for them and they took her up on it.
3. Establish contacts – Every time you make ANY kind of contact in the professional world of journalism, get their information. Ask if you can keep in touch through email. Keep these contacts in a safe place and then do keep in touch. Ask for feedback, ask for other contacts, ask for guidance. The world works on “who you know” so get to know some people.
4. Attend trainings – Find courses and seminars you can take at your local college or community college, or through the closest community newspaper to you. Many sessions are free and you will always get something out of it – a contact at the very least. Go introduce yourself people at these workshops. Ask a thoughtful question. Ask for contact information.
5. Join clubs – Meeting people through clubs and activities at your school will teach you so much. Journalists are storytellers. Go meet people and learn their stories. You will have content to write about in your newspaper, both people and activities. You will push yourself to try new skills. You will get more comfortable in situations where you don’t know people at first and where you don’t know how to do things. This can be scary, but bravery is an acquired skill you strengthen through practice.
6. Seek out feedback – Ask anyone you can to look at your work. Listen to their comments with an open mind. Filter out what’s not useful to you, and use the rest to improve. It’s hard to hear negative thoughts about a piece you worked hard on, but developing that tough skin journalism requires takes time. You will eventually take it less personally and be able to smile and say thank you sincerely.
7. Teach others – Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well.” Teaching what you know to others will help you understand your craft better. Offer to tutor; become an editor; ask a teacher to let you mentor others. Provide feedback that is helpful and also kind. Remember the first rule of editing: Don’t make a change because you like the way you say it better – only change something that is wrong.
8. Follow Humans of New York – The world is full of people very different from us. The better you understand people, the more empathetic and open you will be to the stories they have to tell. Brandon Stanton’s photoblog offers short snippets about people who will surprise and inspire you. Find HONY on facebook, twitter or online at www.humansofnewyork.com.