Learn, and create a mold. For the aspiring journalist, high school and college years are the best times to absorb, produce, find a writing niche and persist.
Print and digital journalism are two of the most difficult fields to establish a career, especially in an environment that’s been forced to suffer severe cutbacks and resort to skeleton crews, in conjunction with a population that no longer trusts certain media sectors.
Rejection is plentiful. But don’t give up. The phrases, “We’ll pass” and “Sorry, that doesn’t interest us” will constantly frustrate and boggle anyone trying to establish byline status.
It’s best for journalists-in-the-making to begin writing as early as possible. Experience and development are the keys to separating mediocre journalists from those who display a great sense of near-mastery.
Absorb: The best way to learn is from those who are better and more advanced writers. Listening to veteran journalists, who have written for a wide variety of publications, will help develop a comparison between various writing techniques. Also, taking note of editing changes will assist in answering specific questions about grammar, style and method. The most enthusiastic writers will examine editing and find out how to correct mistakes in previous pieces and transfer that learning into future creations.
Produce: Write over and over, encompassing many different types of works — hard news articles, columns and features. Great writers aren’t shaped from occasionally sitting in front of a computer screen and typing a few paragraphs. Above-quality writing standard is developed over time, after a continual scribing effort is put forth. This consistency helps progress a choppy writer — with lots of mental word and sentence blockage — into a fluid one.
Find a writing niche: All writers must develop into their own unique journalist and find a particular system fitting their persona. No two journalists are exactly the same. Sculpting a personal style is extremely important in creating a comfort zone, helping less confident writers develop more structured stories with balance and detail.
Persist: Don’t be afraid of rejection. When a media outlet says “no,” find a reason — and show them — why they should say “yes.” The only loser in a battle of writing rights is the writer — most quality publications have an abundant pool to choose from.
Stay real: Journalism tends to be a competitive, cutthroat industry, where some will use any type of advantage to get above others in the field. But hold your own. Stay true. Be real. Reach the top of your craft by using skill, personality and uniqueness.
The more integrity you have, the more trust you will develop by both your journalistic peers and those who are the subjects of your work. If there are others in the field who attempt to trip you up, let it be and allow them to share your ideas. It’s OK to be a bit cocky and show them you’re a better journalist by writing a product more powerful, adding an element that only you can develop. Competition is good — it helps build character.
In journalism, it sometimes appears no hope is in sight. But don’t look the other way. Keep writing. Make an impact.
Brian T. Dessart, a former Herald sports preview editor and director of marketing, now contributes to Sports Illustrated, covering performance, fitness and action sports. Twitter: @briandessart