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How to get your first job in journalism


How to get your first job in journalism

Picture of Paula Montañà Tor
Paula Montañà Tor — Project Manager
March 18, 2019

Five editors reveal what makes a candidate stand out in a competitive and ever-changing industry

When I started my bachelor in journalism almost a decade ago, we were often told that we had chosen the wrong profession if we were wishing for a stable and well-paid job. We were also told that it was a competitive industry and that we would have to give it all if we wanted to build a career in a newsroom.

All of that was and still is, true. While the journalism industry has been changing rapidly and new skills are required, the core of the profession is the same, and breaking into the field remains a difficult task.

To help students and recent graduates kick start their careers in journalism, we launched the Google News Initiative Fellowship in Europe, a scheme designed to help students and recent graduates to kick start their career in journalism through paid summer placements and more.

Because making your first steps into any newsroom is hard, we approached five experienced editors from participating organisations to get their advice.

They are Christine Bohan, editor at (IE); Christina Elmer, Editorial RnD at Spiegel Online (DE); Antti Hirvonen, head of youth media of Yle Kioski (FI); Ashley Kirk, senior data journalist at The Telegraph (UK); and Lies Lecomte, head of digital at De Standaard (BE).

Here are six tips on how to make yourself stand out.

1. Gain practical experience and learn from it

Christine: “Each job in journalism will teach you something. Soak up the experiences, ask questions and put your hand up. You’ll get there.

My first work was at a Sunday newspaper, where editors ignored the fact that I was green and treated me like any other reporter, which was brilliant. I ended up freelancing for them and learned three golden rules of journalism: how to write both quickly and well, how to meet a deadline (most of the time), and how to do exactly what your editor wants every time.”

Ashley: “By getting real-world experience of pitching and producing stories for publications, you will better understand the best ways of using data to deliver brilliant stories. If you can get your data-led stories published, it shows that you can crunch data to deliver high-quality journalism. Such stories and experience are factors that would impress in any application.”

2. Bring a non-traditional skill-set

Ashley: “We look for candidates who possess the news reporting ability of traditional journalists as well as skills relating to data analysis and visualisation. Nowadays being able to perform basic Excel functions and use third-party chart builders is a given, and knowledge of programming languages such as R would be the thing to set your skillset apart. But despite the required skills changing, having good ideas is still the key.”

Christina: “Bridge roles and project management skills are becoming increasingly important — people who can work between the editorial department and other areas such as IT and product management. But one still needs a clear understanding of the journalistic challenges and relevance criteria.”

Lies: “We’re in need of multi-skilled people: good journalists with technical skills or interested in business development; developers with an interest in news. And today, knowing how to bring a story to the reader at the right moment, through the right channel, with the best wording is an invaluable asset.”

Antti: “At Yle Kioski we’re also looking for people with marketing and analytics skills, occasionally we need professionals who can use programming languages as well. A good audience understanding is also really important when you work as a journalist in any newsroom.”

3. Creativity and social intelligence go a long way

Christina: “We are always delighted when a fellow drives a project forward with enthusiasm and a certain degree of personal responsibility. Of course, we offer the necessary freedom for this, as well as support from the entire team.”

Lies: “A passion for news is key. But besides we need this rare combination of being creative and able to think out of the box, yet being meticulous detail-oriented in the execution. Also, you should be open to experimenting and not afraid of change.”

Antti: “Creativity is the most important skill if you want to work in a place like Yle Kioski. We publish almost everything in video or picture format, so you should know how to turn complex and important subjects into something interesting and engaging, even funny.”

Christine: “We’re looking out for soft skills too: people who have potential, who take feedback well, who don’t have a huge ego and who want to learn. A news website is essentially a team sport so I want candidates who can support their colleagues.”

4. Understand that the story is king, but so is your audience

Christina: “Hold on to your basic journalistic beliefs — but be ready to bring them to life in ever-changing contexts. And always think from the perspective of your audiences. They decide which content will be heard.”

Ashley: “Focus on stories, and continually be led by them. Skills and programming languages alone don’t make a data journalist. We need candidates who understand what makes a good story for our audience, and have concrete ideas of how to use their skills to deliver such stories.”

Christine: “There is always going to be a place for original stories, strong breaking news and long-form reporting in newsrooms — the only thing that’s changed is the way these stories are told. We need journalists with strong core news reporting skills who can also think digitally and understand where their audiences are.”

5. Stay curious and keep learning

Antti: “Be ready to do everything and to question everything: methods, formats, a tone of voice, any information. Don’t make obvious content. The first version is never the best one. Keep learning from yours and the work of others.”

Lies: “Don’t limit yourself to the topic of your education, break out of this bubble.”

Christina: “Technological skills will probably be even more important in the future than they are today. And one should be prepared for the fact that learning never stops and one’s own profession is constantly changing. It will, therefore, be a central ability to anticipate this change and become a professional in learning.

6. Be adaptive and don’t give up

Lies: “Grab every opportunity you can get to build experience in a newsroom, through internships or similar. And once you got in: give it your all. Those that are nicely abiding orders will hardly be remembered.

Those who show initiative, who suggest topics or formats and go the extra mile, are much more likely to be offered a job.”

Christine: “This is a really, really great time to be a journalist and there are so many more jobs than there used to be. I don’t think students are told either of those things enough. Older journalists all remember what it was like to start out and are almost always willing to help and give advice if you just ask them.”

Apply now for a paid summer placement in a top European newsroom

Yle Kioski, The Telegraph, De Standaard, Spiegel Online, and many more news organisations are taking part in the Google News Initiative Fellowship programme. The successful fellows will get a paid summer placement in a renowned news organisation, allowing them to boost their skills and build a professional network.

If you are a student in any of the eleven countries where the fellowship is available, you have the opportunity to make your first steps in the industry, gaining practical experience and learning about data journalism, product development, fact-checking and digital storytelling.

Deadline to apply: 1 April 2019 (midday, CET/CEST).

Eligible countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Sweden Switzerland, The Netherlands and the UK.

Questions? Email us at

Important links

  • Google News Initiative Journalism Fellowship
  • Connecting young talent with leading news organisations


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