Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

How does a journalist make a name for him/herself? Part 1.

with 6 comments

Patrick Kingsley (left) is a 25-year-old journalist, currently Egypt correspondent for The Guardian. His rise has been precipitous.

Some journalists and writers seem to rise out of no-where, their names shared around all of a sudden. Laurie Penny arrived after being noticed for blog-posts about politics. Owen Jones arrived in similar fashion, helped along with the publication of his zeitgeisty book.

Some have a dizzying ascent, characterized by bravado and a ferocious intellect. But a rapid fall can also occur: Johann Hari, Jonah Lehrer. Say what you will about Hari but he made his name with a series of columns – one in which he seduced a homophobic neo-Nazi – that were breathtakingly audacious.

On this blog you can find posts with interviews and profiles of journalists who’ve ‘made it’. Their paths to success can be determined or rather fortunate. But we all like to know other people’s ‘secret’ to success, so that we might copy the route.

It’s certainly something I like to ponder. But having vaguely defined goals or even closely set markers of achievement may not be enough. There has to be a system.

Of the journalists whose bylines are worth remembering, there seems to be 3 underlying factors to their success:

1. The Precocious Upstart

They write a book, an article (or series of), or start a blog which either catches some part of the popular imagination, or comes to the attention of a few influential editors, writers.

Examples: Owen Jones, Caitlin Moran

2. The Master Craftsman

After many years refining their craft, they ‘break out’ with sensation-making articles, noted for either their writing style, depth of reporting and story-telling skills, or innovative choice of subject matter.

Examples: Malcolm Gladwell, David Grann

3. The ‘Lucky’ Student

These are those who are given an opportunity – work experience at The Guardian say, or who got a chance start at a national newspaper or magazine, and then proceeded to impress with their originality, cleverness or diligence.

Examples: Patrick Kingsley, Helen Pidd

**

Getting your name recognised and winning a certain level of renown is not simply down to you of course. Other people have to be talking about you, discussing your work and wondering about the person behind it. Maybe they admire your way of thinking or your audacity. It is not a science.

To get to that stage, it should go without saying that doing good work, showing originality and verve in your work is requisite. But plenty of freelancers or even seasoned journalists do this. What separates those who do good work but remain relatively anonymous, their bylines not expected with a certain drool-worthy eagerness, from those whose writing and reporting commands attention, higher fees and reader loyalty?

Over this spring season, I’ll be analysing just why in this series. Look for the ‘How to make a name for yourself’ blog titles.

**

Journalists mentioned in this post and articles about their rise:

Patrick Kingsley, Egypt correspondent for The Guardian – Patrick Kingsley is one of life’s overachievers: Guardian feature writer at just 23 and voted by MHP Communications as one of the top five young journalists to watch in 2012.

David Grann, staff writer for The New Yorker – The Storyteller’s Storyteller: No journalist working today spins a yarn quite like The New Yorker’s David Grann

Helen Pidd, northern editor of The Guardian – How hairy armpits can get you a job at The Guardian

Malcolm Gladwell, acclaimed author and staff writer at The New Yorker – Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell’s Success Story

This is a continuing series exploring the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Parts two and three in the series can be found here and here

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6 Responses

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  1. I imagine in most cases you need a dash of luck too! Very interesting topic and I look forward to reading more in the series.

    Abby

    January 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    • Indeed so Abby! Luck plays its part for sure, but we’ve gotta do the best we can to maximize our chances! Thanks for reading.

      Lu-Hai Liang

      January 6, 2014 at 3:48 pm

  2. […] How to make a name for yourself as a journalist pt. 1 […]

  3. […] 4. How does a journalist make a name for him/herself? Part 1.  […]

  4. […] the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Parts one and two in the series can be found here and […]

  5. […] exploring the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Part one in the series can be found here – and here is the previous […]


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