How To Be A Journalist

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

If there is anybody out there interested in the nosey business, I’d suggest to him to first of all read, and when I say read I mean peruse and scan Jeffrey Archer’s The Fourth Estate. That book ensures that you realize that you walk on a minefield with your eyes wide open rather than with a blindfold. The focus of The Fourth Estate as I saw it after having walked in a minefield blindfolded myself and got blown to bits is that no matter who you are as a journalist, you are very, very dispensable. And because of your dispensable status quo, you find that you may have to change jobs every now and then.

  • That book presented the business of journalism as a sea fraught with man-eating sharks. Competition is usually very fierce and fearsome within and outside the publishing houses and only the doughty survives the shenanigans of the industry. From my experience in ‘mainstream’ journalism you would have to wear a coat of Machiavellian mail to be able to survive the onslaughts of the sharks in that sea and swim ashore successfully.

  • You should be prepared to absorb some of the prevailing ‘discriminations’ in the system. Those who see themselves as journalists tell you that you are not in the ‘mainstream’ if you’ve not had some kind of formal training. Not to blame them though: the globe is geeing up close and closer to be professionally minded and would you say there’s something cocky or discriminatory in a medical guild’s insistence on relevant training for its wannabe members? But what you may find a little annoying is that whether or not you’ve been published in the New York Times or that you won the Pulitzer, you’re hardly seen as a journalist until you rise through the ranks. For me, I thought it a bit untidy that the number of years one spent in studying for a degree and specializing either in Engineering or Economics or whatever is barely considered. That is why I must ask you to study for a diploma either in Communications or Journalism to back up your clout.

  • Another thing about being a journalist is that you work ‘unholy hours’. Sometimes this depends on the department you work. Take for example the journalists who work in the newsroom. They don’t keep to the nine to five regimen. They come in whenever they’d completed their assignments outside and they must meet production deadlines. And if meeting deadlines mean that you finish when the news break at about 1 or 2am, I don’t expect you to begin to head home right away. Sleep on your desk. But attempt to drive home that late and you’ll play into the hands of robbers or hired killers or the police. But those in the Editorial Board have their ‘news’ coming to them via email or the galley.

  • Please get married before you begin your work as a full-time journalist. The nosey business suctions you. If you’re a spinster and a newshound your job is no better that that of the Marines. Today, like Amanpour you could find yourself in Katikati in Australia, tomorrow in Agenebode in Nigeria or today in Bursa in Turkey.That is why I don’t see how a ‘full-time’ housewife combines with the job of a ‘full-time’ journalist.

  • Of course there’s glamour on the job. Your face is always on television or the papers and your voice is on air. But you’re a marked man or woman especially in environments where the journalist is seen as a pest. Recently the Chair of the editorial board of a local paper in Nigeria was killed by people suspected to be government people.

  • Be prepared for the hazard. Oh yes, every job has its hazards but most of the time, journalists get killed in the Americas, Africa and in the Middle East. Your job involves trying to prize information that would otherwise be suppressed either by the local mafia or the government. If either one of these organizations come after you, you better get out of town or die being a Spiderman. After that, your paper gives you an honourable mention and life goes on. I’d advise you live like a rat, having two holes under the ground – the other unknown route being your Houdini route.

  • Journalists aren’t usually rich people. Well I concede that some of them like Larry King and Oprah are but how many other Larrys and Oprahs are out there? A journalist is a dog – whether Doberman, Elkhound, German Shepherd, Ridgeback, Dachshund or a Basenji. And like most dogs you should be content with eating the bone while all others will have tea and eat the Christmas turkey. While some journalists have a bark and a bite, yet others get flogged for barking at the wrong tree.

But in all of these, it depends on who you are and from whatever country you choose to ply your trade. Conditions for journalists vary from country to country mostly if we take into account the political system on ground. What makes an American journalist a celebrity in his country may get him killed either in Iraq or Sierra Leone or Colombia.

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1 comment

poshnubian April 2, 2007 - 5:09 am

This is a refreshing article,I'm about to clock the big '30' with just a secondary school education and want to veer into journalism.I'm going for an online journalism course and looking forward to it very much.Reading about journalism from foreigners is quite interesting.But to actually read about it from a fellow Nigerian is awesome.I hope to cut my teeth in pretty soon.Keep up the good work and thanks for the tips.


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