As if the prospect of encountering Christopher Pyne on campus didn’t terrify university students enough, this month they awoke to the news there were more people studying journalism than there are working journalists.
It’s a grim statistic so in order to offer a fleeting burst of hope, I would like to share a few journalistic secrets on what employers are looking for.
The first tip is based on one of Australia’s most beloved literary devices, the cultural cringe.
Like a brunette having her name remembered by the coolest guy in school, nothing makes the Australian media’s pulse quicken like having America acknowledge our existence.
For example, that high pitch sound echoing across the country last month was journalists collectively climaxing when the Australian election was mentioned on The Daily Show.
After a post-coital cigarette, an unnamed Fairfax employee then wrote a story recording this singular honour.
And when I say “wrote a story” I mean “repeated all the jokes from the segment” much like your cousin who reads Calvin and Hobbes comic strips aloud during breakfast.
I know I never fully understood how important Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was until AAP informed me that it was covered by The New Yorker and you can guarantee Perth newsrooms were giddy with delight when The Huffington Post ran a picture of a quokka.
To be honest, there doesn’t even need to be a local angle. The fact something is newsworthy is newsworthy in itself.
Any cadet can string together a few sentences about the royal baby being born, but it takes a true media professional to write a story about the story .
The trick is to get your photographer to photograph rival photographers crowding outside the hospital and then use the phrase “media frenzy” n your opening sentence.
This is a popular type of story because it involves a section of society journalists find utterly fascinating, other journalists.
It is also helpful when a potentially juicy story has legal complications.
A venerable publication like the Sydney Morning Herald would never dream of outing Rolf Harris as the celebrity arrested for sex abuse.
However, if a trashy rag like The Sun were to name him then it would be perfectly fine to repeat the claim as long as it contains the magic phrase “Fairfax Media has not been able to independently confirm the arrested man’s identity”.
Unfortunately this type of meta-journalism will only get you so far. If you yearn to reach the media apogee of appearing on an ABC panel show you will have to eventually provide new content to your employers.
This is where journalism students should take a lesson from their business school counterparts and start outsourcing.
Every year the Oxford English Dictionary produces a press release listing the new words to be included in future editions.
Everyone benefited from this arrangement.The Australian got a click-baiting story featuring Miley Cyrus, the business got it’s name mentioned without having to pay for an ad and readers were spared from some the more unsettling events which happened that day.
It’s not just the OED that can help you out. Market researcher Roy Morgan was only too happy share with the Herald Sun its stunning discovery that Fremantle Dockers fans are “environmentally conscious, fun-loving and optimistic” while bookmaker Paddy Power gladly revealed the four favourites for the royal baby’s name.
But the ultimate tool for any aspiring Woodward or Bernstein is social media.
“Yes Ben,” I can hear the journalism students reply. “We already know Twitter and Facebook are good ways to find potential interview subjects.”
Wrong. The last thing a successful journalist should do is waste time trying to arrange an interview.
People don’t answer their phone or their secretary claims they’re in a meeting or they want privacy because their daughter’s corpse has yet to be recovered from the shark’s mouth. It’s just a nightmare.
So remember, news is always newsworthy, outsource your news gathering and don’t waste time on interviews.
If journalism graduates work hard and follow this advice they will be on their way to eventually being made redundant from the metropolitan newspaper of their choice.