Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Your unique route into journalism

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 16, 2012

How do you get into journalism?

The route above will be familiar to anyone working in broadcast journalism today as a typical career path into the industry. The sad thing is most people who want to be a correspondent will do their best to follow this track, because they assume it is the only way. And they’ll spend a career in a never ending race with all the other people trying to do the same thing, full of the stress, envy and critical comparison that comes with it.

10 years ago that was the only way to do it. But of course, everything has changed…including this.

Whatever it is you want to do with your life: be a BBC News foreign correspondent, edit a magazine, make a documentary about climate change, write a book, be an NPR producer, and every other job in our industry in-between, remember there is no single route. There is no right way.

There is only your way.

That’ll be news to some because most of us think there is a career path of some kind, as if getting your foot on the ladder with an internship is the only way to becoming an editor. But actually there are countless ways – ways that no-one has tried before, because they were too busy working on their CV, slogging it out as a junior reporter, and all of the other things we think we have to do to make it.

It’s the same reason people wear suits to work for decades, pull long hours for days on end and work for free when they really shouldn’t. What it boils down to is not living your life on your terms.

I haven’t worn a suit for near on three years now, and I don’t intend to start anytime soon. In the last two and a half years I’ve left the race to run my career on my terms – at my own speed. I know roughly where I want to get to, and I come up with plans to make that happen. Then I arrange my schedule for the week or month to suit that plan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy, and there have been lots of hiccups, false starts and outright failures along the way. But when I look back on my career so far, I know one thing: I’ve done it in a way that is uniquely me – and no-one could ever do it exactly the same way.

Most of us would probably prefer to follow the path well-trodden, because it seems safer and more sensible. But the real challenges, and the real rewards, lie in straying off the path, exploring your career on your own terms.

Whether you decide to do this is up to you. But whatever direction you take, don’t waste time competing in a race with others. Run/sprint/jog/walk your own race, at your own speed.


10 Responses

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  1. Erik said, on January 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks, Adam. I’ve found myself in that rut lately working at a small-town startup paper. I took the safe path and, while I certainly have learned more from this job than most of my classes in school, I realize I’m in a place and job field that isn’t particularly exciting or meaningful to me.

    My question: What is it like to take that leap of faith into going at your own speed for the first time?

    • Marc Thomas said, on January 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      In my experience, sometimes the best thing is to take a calculated jump rather than a leap of faith. I freelance a lot but really, I’d like to be working on my own project full time. Your probably won’t be able to do what you want straight away – there’s a lot of hard work and patience involved too.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on January 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      Yep Marc’s right here.
      I never lept straight into doing full-time what I love, that takes quite a while to cultivate. In the meantime you do lots of other things to keep the bills paid, usually creating a diverse portfolio career of different incomes.

      I wrote a more indepth blog post about this back in 2010

      But to answer your question, even taking a calculated jump is both exciting and terrifying to do for the first time, but I don’t think I’ve met someone who didn’t think it was worth it.

  2. […] PARA LER. Especialmente por estudantes de comunicação e jornalismo: Your unique route into journalism. […]

  3. profkrg said, on January 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    This is so true, Adam! I encourage students just to be driven in their journalistic efforts. They shouldn’t be afraid to apply for jobs or try new things, just because they think they aren’t supposed to be doing them yet. In today’s media market, there is no reason to assume anything. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? A “no” won’t kill you.

    Thanks for the great post!


  4. Patrick Maina said, on January 17, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Adam this is a great post,for the longest time I have been planning on how I would shift my career from core IT to journalism which is truly my passion,I have even gone for film school but still feel there is lack for me to jump right on to it,towards the end of last year and into this year,I decided to take the bull by the horns and define my own career in combined technology and journalism.Right now am driven by just passion and I know once I establish myself I can start turn my initiatives into monetary value.Talk about charting your own way forward!.

  5. Prime said, on January 17, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I admit that while I;m no journ graduate, I was one of those who followed the well-trodden career path. I started as a part time stringer and worked my way up. But that was in the 90s, in Asia, and there were very few options for a Manila-based wannabe journalist. I succeeded but it took a lot of my time and energy.

    But now, with social media, and the internet, I don’t hesitate to advise younger journos to do their own thing as there are more choices now. If you want to write or do tv reporting, get a blog, be a citizen journalist, launch your online news service on a shoestring – this is a good time to take calculated risks as you can do a lot of things quick and cheap. In fact, i’m doing just that to reinvent my own journ career.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on January 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Couldn’t have said it better myself Prime – it’ll probably never be easier than it is now.

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