Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘how to make a name for yourself as a journalist

How To Make A Name For Yourself pt 4: Defining Your Own Path

with one comment

As a guiding principle life shrinks and life expands in direct proportion to your willingness to assume risk.

Casey Neistat, filmmaker

There is a huge difference between making it within a system, and making it on your own terms. 

Jostling along the path of freelance journalism, I’ve increasingly found that the clutch of bylines I’ve accumulated count for very little. All it means is that when I pitch or when I get emails out of the blue, from editors, I just have that little more cache.

It affords me more freedom; the ability to take up stories that really interest me. And take punts on travel.

But you will never make it.

Not as a freelance journalist.

But you may do as a bonafide writer. Or some other high-powered creative.

So how do you break out of the tiny little achievements that you get as a freelancer? By focusing less on the litany of tasks that require urgent deadlines, and focusing more on the slow long-term creative projects that once produced and completed will be of higher value.

Why?

Because that kind of work is hard. And harder to replicate.

That is how your define your own path.

This is a continuing series exploring the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Part one in the series can be found here – and here is the previous entry

Advertisements

Part three: How to Make a Name for Yourself – As a Journalist

with 5 comments

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

Christopher Nolan is a film director with great power in Hollywood. He’s known for producing blockbuster movies – like his Dark Knight Batman trilogy – under budget and before deadline. Recently I read a brilliant profile of the British filmmaker written by Tom Shone; it’s an excellently reported piece.

What makes the article special is its description of Nolan’s commitment to his craft, emphasizing his abilities of focus to art and craft.

*

Cal Newport’s blog focuses on how people achieve success by continually bettering their skills. It’s a must-read blog for me. One of his mantras, culled from comedian Steve Martin’s memoir, is: “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. Newport emphasizes that to be not just good, but truly great, to rise to the top where the best get unduly rewarded, you have to focus not just on improving your skills – a given – but to concentrate your efforts on projects that will generate massive returns.

Needless to say, this can be quite difficult.

Read the rest of this entry »

Great journalists and great journalism: How to make a name for yourself pt. 2

with 5 comments

I spend a lot of time reading. I like to consume and devour long articles and essays especially, like the ones found in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. I also like to read about the lives and careers of rising stars in journalism.

I had the opportunity to interview Nicole Tung in September. Tung is an American photojournalist and a war photographer. She went to Syria where she smuggled herself into the country, hung out with rebels, saw mercenaries from Libya and Oman, and was a witness to bombing and carnage.

Her first experience of war came a few years earlier. Here is someone who took herself to Libya, without assignment and of her own accord. She was 24 and barely out of college. She went for the experience.

Quite a lot has been written about the amount of photojournalists, green and sometimes shooting with iPhones, who made their name during that conflict. And the dangers are very real. Everyone needs to start somewhere.

During that interview with Nicole, I was intimidated. Here is someone who is fearless, deeply concerned about the plight of those caught in conflict, but also someone deeply ambitious.

Or consider Michael Hastings. Hastings died in a car accident at the age of 33. He was a Rolling Stone writer and a senior reporter for BuzzFeed. A hard worker and tenacious, he wrote a profile of General Stanley McChrystal, a NATO commander, that, through his patient and intimate reporting, led to the General’s resignation. Here’s someone who worked extremely hard and has the bravery to challenge those around him.

Or consider Paul Salopek who is spending seven years walking. Walking over 20,000 km around the world, covering early humans’ migration out of Africa, for the National Geographic. Sometimes, the best journalism is slow journalism.

These are people who take risks. It is not the only way. Brilliance flourishes in quiet, unassuming ways too. But ambition speaks. The willingness to work hard speaks. But perhaps the desire and the effort used to take yourself out of your comfort zone matters most of all.

***

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

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