This article first appeared in Press Gazette
Last month marked fifteen years since I became a media headhunter. Much of that time has been concerned with careers in journalism. Which begs the question: what, if anything, have I learned in that time? Here are some things I didn’t know back in 1996:
- Journalism is not a career for wastrels. You can make money – and good money – as a journalist if you work hard, focus your career, and develop expertise in the right areas. (If I had known this in 1996, I would never have become a headhunter at all.)
- Despite that, there are plenty of wastrels in journalism. Avoid them. Learn instead from the driven, smart journalists – of whom there are also plenty.
- It is partly what you know and partly who you know. Making good contacts is important for your career; but if you haven’t got the basics right, goodwill will run out pretty quickly (unless you are Johann Hari).
- Journalism will survive and thrive through all the changes in media; journalists just need to equip themselves with the tools to create content in the new environments.
- Getting your CV right is really, really important.
- Journalism is not all about purity and living in an ivory tower. It is affected by real-life economics, and journalists have to be commercially astute. This doesn’t mean “selling copy”; it does mean working with the commercial side of the business as required.
- Editors are pretty human – mostly.
- Publishers and proprietors are pretty human. Often.
- Advertising sales people aren’t. They can’t afford to be.
- It is perfectly possible to mess up great businesses and publications by poor management.
- The media industry, as a whole, is very bad at knowing when to stop flogging a dead asset and to shoot the poor bloody thing.
- That thing they always said about treating people well on your way up because you might need them on your way back down is really true. I can think of a number of people who struggle to get work because they burned so many bridges in the past.
If this looks like a pretty poor return in wisdom gained for fifteen years’ hard work, I apologise; I’m a slow learner. Who knows? By 2026 I may have learned something useful.