Training tips

Applying for a job in journalism? Then read this...

I have just finished interviewing for the Daily Mail reporters' training scheme at Northcliffe House  ... more than 900 applicants whittled down to 40, then 14 and finally 7. My colleagues have also finished recruiting for the sub-editing scheme and have selected five would-be Mail subs. Congratulations to all. I will see them all again in August and September when the training schemes begin at Press Association Training's Manor House in Howden.
One thing that struck me through the recruitment though, was how many people fall short in their CVs and even in their interviewing techniques. So, I thought it might be useful to share some do's and don'ts when putting together your application.


Follow the instructions on the advert
If it asks for a CV, six cuttings and a short article, then that's what you should send. Not ten cuttings and no article. If it asks for an email, don't send things by post in the vain hope they might get there.

Have a substantial amount of newspaper/magazine work experience if you are applying for a national paper
They won't even consider you without it. If you are applying for the paper, make sure you read it and the website. If you are applying for MailOnline make sure you read the paper too.

Check the spelling on your CV
It is a driving licence not license; it is QuarkXPress not QuarkExpress. Watch out for jargon and gobbledegook too. Ask someone articulate and critical to proof-read it. The subs had to apply to Mike Watson ... and some even spelt his name wrong. How can anyone misspell Watson? What's on, perhaps.

Put relevant journalistic experience and qualifications first
Not your drama degree or Saturday job at McDonald's.

Think about the necessary skills
For reporters, shorthand, a driving licence and a post-grad qualification will be high up the essential requirements. If you haven't got them make a commitment or a start before the interview.

Bring a portfolio of your best work to the interview
Even if it isn't asked for. Make it neat so that the cuttings can be read without spilling all over the desk or having to be removed from plastic wallets.

Bring a copy of your CV
Just in case.

Think about what qualities the interviewers are looking for
The interviewers will want evidence that you can write, bring in stories, develop ideas, that you have good knowledge of current affairs and that you are robust enough for a national newsroom. You will say you have all of qualities ... but they will want evidence and examples. Be prepared.

Expect to be tested
On your spelling, knowledge of current affairs and that day's newspaper.


Include badly written cuttings or ones with errors
They won't get you past the initial filtering stage.

Try to rearrange the interview date
Unless you really do have a compelling reason. It comes over as lack of enthusiasm.

Be late
There will be a tight timetable and you won't be popular if you knock it out of kilter. Dress appropriately too (watch the short skirts and cleavage girls, you won't be impressing anyone) and turn your mobile off.

Be economical with the truth
... about which papers you read or your level of newsroom experience. You will get found out.

Ask irrelevant questions to which you already know the answer
You are meant to be able to do your own research. Ask intelligent questions, but don't make it sound as if you haven't read the brief.

Fear the silence
... and fill the gaps by gabbling on. Answer the question and then wait for the next one.

Say I don't know or can't remember
When asked about your cuttings. They won't believe you.

Put yourself in the interviewers' shoes. They will be seeing a lot of people who will all have a CV that is good enough to have got them to the next round. So what will make you stand out? Good personality, articulate answers, evidence that you have the potential to do the job (writing skills, ideas, toughness),  excellent cuttings, the ability to talk intelligently about journalism, enthusiasm and motivation. Easy. So why do so many fall short?

Ways journalists should use Facebook and Twitter

Finding leads, finding sources, reaching audiences, building communities, finding facts. Some useful tips here and here.

Bill and blurb writing

Is the art of bill-writing dying? The nationals don't bother with news bills any more and I have lots of examples of bad local bills, suggesting hard-pressed newspaper staff don't have the knowledge, time or inclination to do them properly. But why not? What other industry has the opportunity to get a different message on the streets every day? Research by Press Ahead shows clearly that people were influenced by bills, particularly those with local news stories.

The sole purpose of the bill is to persuade a casual reader to walk into a newsagents and buy the paper. So, here are some tips for the bill writers:

  • Tease the reader
  • Don't give the whole story away
  • Target particular locations - schools, football tournaments, garden centres
  • Use place names
  • Boring bills have a detrimental effect
  • Think bills all the time - every story you handle, ask is it worth a bill?
  • Keep them short - but remember that five boring words on a piece of paper won't sell a single newspaper
  • Include non-editorial material - readers' offers, competitions. money-off vouchers
  • Keep it fresh
  • Ask How and Why
  • Names can sell papers
  • Use words that build pictures in the reader’s mind
  • The promise of a picture can work wonders
  • Don’t give the game away on Page 1
  • Don't be cryptic
  • Don't write bills as headlines
  • Don’t con the reader
  • Be safe

Just about every newspaper uses a blurb (or sky box or promo panel) but some do it really badly. The sole purpose of the blurb is to sell the paper; to tease the elusive non-reader to pick it up. How many times do we see the opportunity wasted? Common words in newspaper blurbs are ‘plus’ (often in red caps) and ‘inside’ (where else would it be?). When the designer has limited space to sell the content of
the paper, why use such dead words? I have seen newspaper blurbs that say ‘Meet the new Lord Mayor’, ‘The staying power of books’, ‘Free doormat offer’, ‘Door slightly damaged in Post Office raid.' Slightly!! I wonder how many extra copies they sold? Some regional newspapers also seem to be obsessed with the number of pages they are offering – ‘16 pages of motors today’, ‘32 pages of property’, ‘48 pages of ink and newsprint’. Do they believe readers want width rather than quality?
When the non-reader is in the newsagents buying 20 Silk Cut and packet of Polos, the blurb's job is to make him or her say ‘oh, and I'll take a copy of this too.’ And, as there are more publications on the shelves than ever before, this will never be achieved by merely filling space. Here are my tips for the blurb writers:

  • Its sole purpose is to sell the paper
  • Can a man on a fast horse read it?
  • Don’t use too many items (one or two best on a tabloid)
  • Tease the reader to buy the paper
  • Page numbers are the least interesting part - use them smaller
  • Use legible type and colours that reflect the brand
  • Don’t use dead words such PLUS, ALSO, TODAY
  • Don’t use small detailed pictures or reduced front covers

Pictures on a page
There was no doubting the picture that dominated American newspapers this week. Lindsey Vonn, photogenic at the best of times, was captured in a moment of elation as she crossed the finishing line to win Gold in the Olympic women's downhill. The first American woman to do so. Not all the papers chose the picture - some opting for a flag waver, others for an action picture. Those who chose this iconic image surely made the right choice but it's not just selecting the picture but how you use it. Here we look at 12 different front page approaches.

1. The most common and logical crop. Leaves enough snow in the frame to give the feeling of movement. Good, high position. It helps that it is surrounded by text, not other images. Could have been a column bigger.

2.  Almost identical size and crop, slightly tighter on both sides. White space helps projection. A bit lower on the page - a problem with hamper leads on broadsheets - but her face, the main focus, is still above the fold.

3.  Bigger and with more impact. Her face is in the top left of the page - where the reader's eye naturally falls.  The green bar and other pictures are a distraction though.

4. Too small and the tight crop makes it squarer, rather than a dynamic vertical. Cropping the helmet leaves the picture slightly off balance and the images to the left are too big and a distraction.

5. Going horizontal ... concentrating on the face. But the crop loses a lot of the movement. The speed skater, not in the same league, is practically the same size. Three pictures of similar weight on a page rarely work. 

6.   A slightly different shot with the pole pointing outwards. It lends itself to a horizontal crop but I would have come in tighter on the pony tail and pole end - and might have been tempted to use it at the top of the page (even though the lead headline is certainly compelling).

7. Which is exactly what the Pioneer Press did. Subtle cutout helps the movement.

8.  Needs a tighter crop all round - up to the glove, down to the helmet, to the ponytail to the left and the pole-end to the right. The layered headlines and  pictures below serve to distract and her face is lost in the melee.

9.  Better - but crop could be tighter still.

10. This is a different shot. If the other was available, it is an odd choice. Still a great expression but leaving in the sign is pointless. It reminds me of old advertising-feature pictures where the name of the company had to stay in. Everything to the left of her elbow and above her helmet is a waste. Vonn's face has become secondary to the sign.

11.   You can understand the temptation - three gold medal winners, let's use them all the same size. It's a design device that rarely comes off - and the Vonn pictures certainly loses its impact as a letterbox.

12.  Back to the vertical - and our favourite. The reader sees her joy and the movement of the picture before anything else on the page.  Strong crop, good size, subtle cut out, perfect positioning in the top left. Simple. 


  1. Yes, what a good looking page from The State, even if the titlepiece is in danger of disappearing. And, overall, what an amazingly dull set of headlines or such an upbeat story.

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