If I had a pound for the amount of times I’ve heard that a journalists address book is their most important tool, I’d have at least enough for a (modest) Topshop spending spree. Want your job application considered, article pitch read or find that lead for a story? It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know.
Before I started my journalism apprenticeship, the journalism industry felt like a member’s only club. And the only way to get in was if your dad/auntie/cousin had a fully-fledged-gold-plated-VIP membership. But as it turns out, this club isn’t as exclusive as I feared. And after months of coffee meetings, networking events and some good old tweeting I feel my membership is almost secured.
So a contact isn’t necessarily someone you’ve declared your Best Friend Forever after a few martinis. It’s actually far simpler than that. They could start off as someone you sparked up a conversation with at an event or exchanged a few tweets with over twitter.
The way my freelance boss went from being ignored to gracing the pages of national newspapers was to take the editors out for coffee who hadn’t been replying to her pitches, ask where she was going wrong and get some advice. Another journo said if he wanted to work for a specific magazine or newspaper, he’d find out where the staff go for drinks after work, go down and get talking to some of them.
From my experience, a face is always better than an email. Journalists are busy and rarely have time to reply to out of the blue emails from people they’ve never met. So meet them. Go to events and conferences and get talking to people. Join a journalism forum, interact with users and go along to drinks.
It’s not weird to meet work contacts online (although I would advise public meeting places…just in case). Generally, journalists are very sociable and meeting strangers is an everyday occurrence. Most of them came into the profession because they like talking to new people.
Work experience is another perfect opportunity to make contacts. Keep in touch with the people you worked with (this is very easily done over twitter). Or gone for an interview and got turned down? Ask for feedback afterwards to find out how you can improve and stay in touch with the interviewer, if you’re still on their radar you’re far more likely to be considered for opportunities that may arise in the future than someone who isn’t.
Journalists rely on each other for favours whether it’s being recommended to a friend’s editor for a job, getting some legal information from an expert or even proof reading each others work so knowing other journos is really important.
But it is all about tit for tat. If a journalist has helped you out with an article, pitch or contact perhaps you could use social networking to share their work with people you know or offer to buy them lunch. And if you seem approachable and willing to give people help who ask for it, you’ll find it much easier to get.
But most importantly, remember that it is okay to ask for things, one day they might need you for something. If you don’t ask you don’t get and there really is nothing to be scared of. What’s the worst that can happen? No reply? Don’t take it personally.
The ability to network and make contacts is a journalistic skill that runs alongside being able to write and interview well, so the more you practice the easier (and less awkward) it will get. It’s what will make your potential as a journalist first class so start NOW.