It is often said that good journalists are born and not made. We can always learn the skills and take over from those with the gift.
There are many careers in writing with different values. A good writer does not mean a good journalist. Learning how to write very well is one of the skills of journalism.
To be a good journalist, one has to learn to serve the public, so if one values serving the public interest with fairness, transparency, accuracy with responsibility, then consider journalism as a profession.
If one values manipulating the public perception to sell someone or something to them, then you are not a journalist but a public relations officer.
If one’s primary aim is to entertain, then be a fiction writer or entertainment writer. These are all careers that need good writers but each is influenced by different values.
In my studies and research, I have found out that to be a good journalist, one has to always explore new avenues to get enough materials for the story one is pursuing. Resourcefulness is an important value of a good journalist. Always find the ways and means to come up with a good story devoid of blackmail, smearing and PR.
Another condition is one has to be strongly committed to the task ahead. A journalist doesn’t have a nine to five work schedule. This profession has a round the clock responsibility and one must be willing to sacrifice certain aspects of life to fulfill that responsibility.
Thirdly, direction and focus is necessary in journalism. Don’t complicate matters, but learn to sort information. Don’t overwhelm your writings with too many ideas and avoid clutter (untidiness). Make sure you tackle one idea at a time.
Also time is very important if you want to be a good journalist. Whatever one does or write, work with time. Always try to beat the deadline by preparing your story speedily, no matter how tight the deadline. Keep your details as accurate as possible and try to get used to working around your schedule.
The fifth point is we should always have a direction and focus on what we are doing by sorting our information.
We should always make our writings very clean or pass on clean copies to the editors as it makes the task easier for them. If you write without clarity, the chance for your story to end up in the dust bin is greater. Present day journalism is easier as most reporters can use the computer, but one should make sure the copies submitted are free of error, spelling mistakes, punctuation and/or grammar.
Priority is very important in journalism. Working on a tight deadline, you have to check your workload, and rank them in order of preference or priority. It is always dangerous to do everything at the same time because you end up with plenty mistakes and risk losing out for the day.
The seventh point I consider is make sure the language used is simple. Don’t use big words when a small word can easily convey the meaning. Make sure you learn to use the three C’s of clarity, conciseness and coherence.
Another point is to always try distinguishing opinions from facts. Make sure your readers are clear as to what is your opinion as against the facts. Infact we should always stay away from being too opinionated and stick to the facts.
The ninth point is always developing your people skill, this means try to be able to get your story or straighten the facts. We always have to be in communication with certain people to get information. A good journalist knows how to get the required information needed from the right people with a high degree of trust.
Another point is that there is no short-cut for responsible journalism. Hard work and devotion of time and effort comes up with good stories. A good journalist must sharpen his or her writing skills and must be able to write different formats. It is common to read a story and tell the writer even without a byline.
A good journalist always establishes good relationship with people. The readers should always find your writings worth their time and they should always be anxious to read your stories.
We should have genuine love and interest in people, places and events. This makes a good journalist love the job and commands respect and makes his/her writings very interesting.
A good journalist is a public servant by serving the readers interest than self. Quality goes down as you begin to work for other interests outside that of the larger human society. When a journalist serves the interests of business or politicians by sensationalizing news, the interest of the public becomes secondary.
The inception of the Mass Communication department has helped a lot of young journalist to be more prudent and responsible in their writings. The problem most journalists face is the condition of service.
Most of the media houses in the country are not viable with no structures in place, which gives rise to many journalists engaging in PR to meet their monthly financial demands. It is pathetic for someone who has spent his resources and time to improve his education and when he starts practicing, he or she will be paid by stories or through PR. This is the main reason that affects Sierra Leonean journalists and we hope that the new executive headed by Umaru Fofanah will be able to bridge the gap.
Good journalism is a simple matter but difficult to achieve, because trying to obtain the best attainable version of the truth, and the best way of doing that is being a good listener and listen to source after source, and knocking on doors and wearing our shoe leather.
Finally to be a good journalist is never easy, but learn everything you can to become one, as journalism is a continuous learning process, but it’s definitely worth the time.
By Austin Thomas in China