5 Important Skills My Journalism Degree Didn’t Teach Me

"My journalism degree taught me a lot about writing. But when it comes to selling that writing, there’s a lot I learned on the job."

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When I started my journalism degree in 2013, I thought I would learn how to write a cracking yarn, film a great TV story and record a podcast like a pro.

But while it taught me the basics, there are five things it didn’t teach me.

#1 How To Write The Perfect Pitch

You might have the best idea for a story, but you won’t get it in front of eyeballs unless you know how to sell it. Editors want to know what the piece is about, why they should publish it, and why you should be the one to write it. Cramming all of that into 100 or so words is hard. But better pitches = more commissions = more moolah.

Another thing: don’t get disheartened by a lack of reply, or outright rejection (way, way easier said than done, I know). Editors are busy and even if they do give you the green light, they may want to reshape the pitch. Be flexible. Shop around the pieces you’re passionate about if they’re not the right fit for a particular publication. And don’t be afraid to pitch again to an editor who’s rejected you – your next idea might be right up their alley.

#2 How To Approach The Editing Process

The editing process is just as important as the writing process. First and foremost: deadlines. Get. That. Damn. Piece. In. On. Time. And remember that this isn’t a uni assignment with a 10 per cent leeway: editors don’t take kindly to their word counts being ignored.

Equally important is knowing what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on. You’ll get the hang of when to push back a little, and when an editor’s changes elevate your piece, even if it means deleting that one sentence you really loved. They’re reading it with fresh eyes, they know their audience, and they know how to polish your words so they shine as brightly as possible.

#3 How To Find A Support Network Of Other Writers

Writing can be lonely. It’s just you and your keyboard and a blank Word doc. Connect with people whose work you enjoy in journalism classes. Swap drafts with them, join a writing group. Personally, I’ve found Facebook groups to be a safe space to share work, tips and jobs, and ask for advice from people who get it.

#4 How To Figure Out The Legal Stuff

My journalism degree never addressed media law, even though journalism is a legal minefield. Luckily for me (not so lucky for my HECS debt) I combined with law, and chose to specialise in relevant areas like intellectual property (such as who owns your copyright in various publishing situations) and defamation law. Get across the basics, and check your writing against those standards – editors will love you for it (and it might just get you out of trouble).

#5 How To Survive As A Freelancer

Freelancing means running your own business. How do you chase up that unpaid invoice? How should you track pitches, job applications or the commissions? How do you organise your invoices and receipts to make tax time easier? How do you even do your taxes? What deductions can you claim? Knowing the answers to these questions will save you a whole lot of time. And as a freelancer, time = money.

My journalism degree taught me a lot about writing. But when it comes to selling that writing, there’s a lot I learned on the job. Pitch hard, pitch well and figure out those damn taxes. You got this.

(Lead image: Gilmore Girls/Warner Bros)