Have I Got News For You?… a journalism journey
Do you ever wonder how you got to where you are now?
The way you got started. The path you took. The choices you made.
I know people who are still doing the same job they started in. Some for 10, 20 and even 30 years plus.
I have friends who set out on one path. Now they’re doing something different.
I know people who are bored by the thought of only doing one thing. So they do several things. Some call it a portfolio career.
Though I see a bit of myself in all three of the above categories I’m probably closest to the middle one.
The reason for that is this…
I started my professional writing career as a tabloid newspaper journalist.
And before you ask, no, NOT the sleazeball phone-hacking-scandal type.
This was old-school journalism – building contacts, earning trust, doing your research, getting the facts, knowing your patch, understanding your audience, giving them what they want.
When you think about it, journalism and marketing work in a similar way.
Some people say journalism is a “glamorous” profession. They probably haven’t taken one step near the trade.
Trust me, it was hard graft.
From a trainee reporter on weekly papers earning just £5,400 a year I worked my way up. To senior reporter, deputy news editor, sub-editor and ultimately a specialist writer for two of the UK’s biggest regional dailies.
And when I say newspapers, let me make one thing clear.
These were nothing like the feeble freebie rags you may get shoved through your front door by a spotty teenager today. These were the days of proper community papers. Quality papers. Jam-packed with news, feature-length articles and regular campaigns.
I was taught by the best.
My first news editor used to work on the Daily Mirror. Paula would send back your copy again and again unless she judged it ready. One time she made a reporter re-write a simple photo caption FIVE times before she let it pass because it didn’t include all the information.
That made the rest of us laugh. But not for too long. We knew it could be our turn next.
To me, Paula looked and sounded a bit like the sadly departed agony aunt Claire Rayner. Fantastic journalist but you wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. She was both fierce and fearsome.
There were exams to take, of course, but everything worth knowing about journalism I learned on the job.
As it happens it proved excellent grounding for a future in copywriting…
How to gather the right information.
How to find the best angle for the story.
How to write big powerful headlines to grab the reader’s attention.
How to insert sub-headings to catch the eye of people who like to scan or flick through the pages.
How to write such a strong opening paragraph or “intro” the helpless reader has little choice but to read on.
How to structure the story, layer in the facts and create a natural, logical flow.
How to use quotes to illustrate and support the facts.
How to write to precise length and sharp deadlines.
How to use simple words and short sentences so even a 78-year-old granny could understand the story. No room for waffle, jargon or fluff.
How to design pages with a visual punch that persuaded people to stop, look and take note.
How, where and when to use photos for maximum effect.
In a nutshell…
The same critical skills required by the expert marketer.
The same skills which helped me as a freelance journalist to write with expertise about all sorts of subjects – from property to politics, energy to environment, wine to wildlife.
The same skills applied when I moved on to be a mentor, coach, trainer and consultant across education, charity and business.
Through it all my biggest lesson was this.
The better I got at my marketing, the better my life became.
It wasn’t just about meeting the mortgage repayments, paying the bills or putting food on the table. I love to travel and earning money has allowed me to explore some amazing parts of the world. Not only in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But also places like Russia, Syria, Lebanon, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran.
The power of marketing drew me into the world of copywriting.
It wasn’t long before I realised I seemed to have a knack for it. People started asking me to write copy for their businesses. It took off from there.
Today, I work with intrepid entrepreneurs and remarkable companies. Helping them make the shift from doing well to doing really well.
My background in journalism has proved very useful in creating copy with bite.
Yes, writing for a newspaper or a magazine is different to writing an Ad or a sales letter. But the principles of grabbing attention, holding the reader’s interest, keeping things clear and providing people with what they want are the same.
I look back on my old career in journalism and am thankful. It taught me so much.
One day maybe I’ll share with you some legendary stories from my journalistic past. Stories like…
… The colleague who was held hostage. The schoolgirl who survived a Greek ferry disaster. The embarrassing incident with a former cabinet minister’s wife. The alarming Channel Tunnel secret which almost got me arrested.
My writing used to help sell newspapers. Today it’s used to serve entrepreneurs and businesses who want something more from their marketing.
I’ve helped others. Maybe I can help you?