The journalism industry can sometimes feel like a secret society that you need a special key or password to get into. The old adage ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ is an undisputed fact, and especially depressing if you don’t ‘know’ anyone on the inside. I know how disheartening it can be to have all this passion and talent and no platform from which to share it.

The walls of a newsroom or magazine publishing house can seem impenetrable.

 You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t really get experience without having had experience before that… and so the story goes. It’s almost as if a new journalist is a hot potato that gets passed around from publication to publication; and somewhere along the line, if you’re lucky, some kind editor might decide to throw you a bone, and so your career begins. But what if you have no such luck? Where does that leave you, the aspiring journalist still desperate to gain entrance into this ‘secret society’?

Shift your approach

It’s very important to train yourself not to think traditionally when it comes to journalism. Today, the general approach to building one’s career (in any industry) is very different from the way it was 50 years ago. Back then you were likely to hop off the graduation train and straight into a company that you’d remain loyal to until retirement. Today, however, it seems that graduates have to adapt to a more ‘deviant’ approach to career development. What I’m getting at is, your particular career path might not start at the front door, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can get a bit crowded when everyone is heading in the same direction!

No one said you have to go through the front door though. Now, more than ever, there are plenty of back doors to choose from, particularly the online one.

Online exposure – the trusty back door

Even if you aspire to break into good ol’ fashioned print journalism, the reality is that everyone is online, be it socially or professionally.

So if you remain diligent about maintaining an online presence, even if you’ve set your sights on print, there’s already a better chance that people could seek you out instead of the other way around. Update your blog religiously (and make sure you have one in the first place!), make sure your I.D’s and biographies on all your social networking sites are in sync, and be smart about your online presence. Follow the right people on Twitter, comment on other people’s blogs, and generally schmooze about on the right sites as if you’re doing the rounds at a cocktail party. If your work is posted somewhere online, and you do your best to gain people’s attention in this way, there’s a good chance that someone’s curiosity will eventually get the better of them, and they’ll seek you out to see what you’re all about.

However, it is very important to remember that your loyalty towards your work, and your professional integrity as a journalist, comes first. You cannot start marketing yourself until you are confident that the work you display online is top notch. Still, the two go hand in hand. So if you are confident about your writing, and want people to notice, use online platforms as a starting block and create your own luck.

Keep your chin up

Your career in journalism is bound to be unique – different from any other aspiring hopeful’s. Not every new journalist is a young bright-eyed fresh-out-of-varsity graduate either. People, and their dreams, come in all shapes and sizes. So acknowledge what situation you’re in. Are you perhaps a bit older, having chosen this career path later on in life? Do you not have the ‘right’ qualification? Wherever you find yourself on your journey, the journalism industry is wide and varied enough to include us all.

So as long as you continue to write – even without any expectation of being published – and properly utilize the Internet as a platform for your work, you will already start to open a door for yourself, even if it isn’t the front one.

In my next instalment (Part II of II) I will be looking at what you can do as an individual to break into the journalism industry, and how you can burn your own path to a unique career.

About the Author

Samantha Moolman is a freelance writer and editor who is currently responsible for the Family Life articles in Your Baby magazine.

Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.

Photo credit: flickr.com_HASLOO