Writing as a trade: life after journalism

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Written By Joel Keep

 If you’re leaving the news game for good, copy writing is a great avenue for exercising the journo within, and putting established skills to new use. Here’s a brief primer on how to get started.

Get a portfolio together 

First thing’s first: any employer or future client is going to want to see what kind of writer you are before they hire you. Get together three to five samples of your best work, preferably a mixture of features, straight news and something else. This does not necessarily mean the best reportage, or the biggest scoop you’ve got – what matters is how you deal with words on a page, not how you dig up dirt. Newsgathering and the writing process are two entirely different things, as any experienced journalist knows. It’s a rare thing to find an excellent reporter and writer in the same person; one does not necessarily lead to the other. So show that you can do both. 

Get out of the news mindset 

The news cycle can be all-consuming, and – in a secret irony much appreciated by media people – can leave a journalist with little time to write. Anyone who has worked in a daily news environment knows that the beast can be very difficult to escape once it has sucked you in. Furthermore, the straight news genre is quite a narrow one. Copy writing demands that you are flexible in thinking, so that you can work across forms that might range from grant writing for community organisations to blogging for corporates. Read widely (including fiction), and don’t let your writing hand get hemmed in by the daily news formula. Try out some creative enterprises in your own time. An imaginative flair is what will make you a more versatile writer, and therefore more appealing to a wider range of audiences.

 Get out there 

Nobody gets work by sitting around at home – unless, it seems, if you are sitting around at home and putting yourself out there on the net at the same time. Building a personal website with your own work on show allows employers to see what you are interested in and capable of. But there are still limits to what can be done virtually, and many more opportunities will come by in the real world. You’d be surprised by the number of businesses looking for copy product. Boutique restaurants, nursing homes, multinationals and a whole host of unseen organisations all seem to need people who can deal with words, and they are willing to pay for it. So get out on the street and meet people. The copy world awaits you.