Top Tips For Getting Into Journalism By Muslim Journalists05 Jan 2021
Journalism is an industry where Muslims are highly underrepresented. According to The Independent, less than 0.5% of journalists in the UK are Muslim. However, the best newsrooms are those that have diverse staff, which makes for more accurate and representative stories being told. This is particularly important to counteract the misconceptions and negative coverage of Islam in the mainstream media, which only serve to fuel Islamophobia. In a study by the Muslim Council of Britain, 78% of stories by the Mail on Sunday featured Muslims in a negative light. So, if there are more Muslim correspondents, producers and editors taking ownership of stories, then this may help eradicate negative and harmful stereotypes about Islam, which will be beneficial for the global Muslim community.
In April 2020, the Centre for Media Monitoring presented written evidence to the House of Lords to investigate the relationship between Muslims and the media. Their findings ultimately concluded that newsrooms need to acknowledge that there is a problem, while also recommending a whole host of suggestions for improvement. These recommendations include:
- increasing the diversity of programming and print content with stories that minorities would want to read and watch.
- working towards the normalization of Muslims in the media, so that Muslims are given the opportunity to talk about issues beyond their faith.
- bridging the mistrust between the media and Muslims and encourage participation of the latter in the former.
Here are some tips for Muslims looking to enter journalism:
- Get work experience
Work experience is crucial for getting your foot in the door in such a competitive industry. If the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting your access to physical work experience, be assured that some newsrooms and media organisations are offering virtual placements. Check whether remote work experience might be an option; you will get to work from home, which is ideal, right? When the world is safer, work experience opportunities will soon open up again. Major players like the BBC and ITV offer work experience placements throughout the year, so keep an eye out for their official schemes. Don’t be afraid to call your local newsroom to enquire about work experience. Once you find a work placement, shadow the staff to see what kinds of work they carry out. Offer your input too to make a lasting impact. Upon completion, make sure you get a good reference, as this will be your ticket to further opportunities.
“Get as much work experience as you can to see how the industry works. Ask a million questions and feel no shame for doing so. It’s how you learn! Get as many names and emails as possible. Introduce yourself to everyone. You don’t know what opportunity could come knocking at your door.” Sabah Haneen, Sky News reporter. Twitter: @sabahchoudhry
- Networking is your way in
Networking is the key to getting access to contacts. Look up your favourite journalists on LinkedIn, Twitter or even Instagram. Once you’ve done so, contact them and politely ask whether they are available for a coffee or a quick Zoom chat. If they do manage to schedule you in, ask them any burning questions you may have. Use this advice, and who knows, when the time comes for them to recommend candidates for a job or opportunity, they could choose you. Make a spreadsheet of all your contacts to keep track of who is who.
- Stay informed of the news and current affairs
Do you know your Chancellor of the Exchequer from your Secretary of State? If you are serious about journalism, it is important to be aware of what is happening in the news. Don’t just consume news in one way: it is better to get a variety of perspectives by reading different newspapers and listening to more than one radio programme or podcast. One great podcast that examines world issues is The Daily by The New York Times. As well as following events and developments across the globe, you should also have a good understanding of what is going on in your local area. It might be worth setting up Google alerts for the issues you want to stay updated on.
- Pitch articles to editors
Pitching articles to editors is a great way of finding your voice as a writer and getting your name out there. There is absolutely no shame in pitching to publications for free whilst you are just starting out. You will get to build your writing portfolio and start attracting an audience. If you are lucky, you will also get feedback from editors, which is really useful for moving forward.
“Learn how to pitch and what makes a compelling story. This way, you can email editors with potential ideas and get paid for it.” Sabah Haneen, Sky News reporter. Twitter: @sabahchoudhry
- Be open-minded and professional
As a journalist, you have be unbiased and neutral in your reporting. So, you might have to separate your personal beliefs from your work. For reviews and feature articles, giving your opinion could be acceptable. However, for news stories, you must not insert yourself into the narrative. Always abide by the rules and values of the publication or media organisation that you are working for. Remember, journalism is about finding and reporting the truth and holding power to account.
“Be open to writing about a whole host of issues, even areas you may not be comfortable with or disagree with on a personal level. As a journalist, it’s important to gain the trust of people – who form the heart of our stories – so be open-minded and report the various perspectives involved.” Sabah Haneen, Sky News reporter. Twitter: @sabahchoudhry
- Get to grips with technology
If you are interested in broadcast journalism, you have to be comfortable with using technology to report stories. Due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many working journalists have been using mobile journalism to cover stories. Don’t underestimate how easy it is to tell a story using your smartphone. There are tons of apps on the market which you can use for shooting and editing, such as Vocaroo, Snapseed, VSCO and Adobe Photoshop Express. Experiment with your story-telling and see what works for you.
- Be persistent and patient
Every journalist or writer has to get used to rejection. Try not to be put off when editors tell you “no” or do not even bother to reply to your pitch. Use it as an opportunity to improve. Quite often, editors are too busy to read every pitch. Even if they have read your pitch, not every editor is going to love your ideas, either. Just keep brainstorming and pitching your articles. Someone will realise your potential.
“Do not ever listen to the voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough. I mustered up the courage to submit an article to Lacuna Magazine, which went on to be quoted in a parliamentary debate. If you’re terrified of hitting that send button, feel the fear and do it anyway, because sending that single email has the potential to change your life.” Deenah Al-Aqsa, writer for Lacuna Magazine. Twitter: @DeenahAlAqsa
- Make your own opportunities
Rather than waiting for opportunities to come to you, why not make your own opportunities? Start a blog. Offer to report on your local football team’s matches: all you have to do is attach a GoPro to the goalpost (with permission of course) and away you go. Volunteer at your local radio station. If you are interested in podcasts and you spot a gap in the market, why not create your own?
“I didn’t have any contacts in industry, so I forged my own path. I started a weekly school news bulletin when I was 15 years old. It started out as a simple ‘camera on tripod’ set up – and morphed into something bigger, as my school realised journalism was something I was really passionate about.” Raheem Rashid, Trainee at ITV News. Twitter: @RaheemRashid