12 reasons why you should hire a journalist

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A spectre is haunting journalists – the spectre of unemployment.

In the past decade, tens of thousands of reporters have lost their jobs. And many more will in coming years as advertising revenues slump, newspapers shut up shop and journalism becomes more automated.

This may be bad news for journalism, but it’s good news for many other professions, which will benefit from the wealth of skills and experience reporters bring to the workplace.

Here are some:

They get to the point

In a world drowning in data and flooded with information, journalists have an almost unique ability to cut through the crap and get to get to the heart of the issue. Give them a 100-page report and within a few hours they’ll be able to find the most important and interesting information and condense it into a 300-word news story or 30-second piece to camera. Enemies of pomposity and long-windedness, they also favour concision to verbosity – making them masters of soundbites and social media posts.

They make the complex clear

Journalists hate ugly jargon, turgid technocratic texts, impenetrable legalese, academic posturing and all forms of writing designed to obfuscate rather than inform. They can explain complicated issues quickly, clearly and succinctly because they know that the only way to overcome the ‘curse of knowledge’ is to “explain, simplify, clarify,” in the immortal words of Daily Mail founder Alfred Harmsworth.

They’re adaptable

Journalists are used to switching beats. One day they’ll be reporting on terrorist attacks in Paris; the next day they’re writing a feature on plummeting foie gras sales. This makes them quick to adapt to new roles in an organisation – whether swapping ministerial briefs in government or switching from speechwriter to spokesman for a big business.

They can handle pressure

Journalists are used to deadlines – and always hit them. They don’t prevaricate and postpone because they know they’d be out of a job if they did.

They ask the hard questions

“They have a great BS detector system so when something is drowned in hyperbole and adjectives (‘This innovative, step-change holistic product will revolutionise…’) they can see straight to the heart of the matter,” says Adrian Hiel, a communication advisor who was previously a journalist. So if you want someone who’s made a career out of asking awkward questions, hire a journalist.

They’re quick learners


Many journalists begin their days like the ones in the cartoon above – not knowing what they’ll report on but knowing they’ll have to bone up on the issue quickly. They do this by being champion speed readers, expert copy-and-pasters and genius Google searchers. But they also know what type of questions to ask – what’s new, why does this matter, what will it change, how much will it cost – that will tease out the most important information as quickly as possible.

They’re natural salespeople

You want someone who can sell? Journalists do it every day. If they are employed, they’re constantly pitching potential stories to editors. And if they’re freelancers, they’re flogging stories for a living in the same way others sell double-glazing or pension plans. Either way, they’re busy building their own journalist ‘brand’ through blogs, tweets and TV appearances.

They’re great storytellers

Is it any coincidence that George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Gabriel García Márquez were all former reporters? Journalists may not realise it but they are natural storytellers. So if your organisation is looking to tell its story in a more engaging way, hire a hack.

They’re persistent

Journalists don’t take no for an answer. If they don’t get the information they need they’ll keep asking. “You can never come back from an assignment empty-handed,” says Jo Gill, deputy Brussels bureau chief for Euronews. “Or in business speak we’re ‘results driven.’”

They’re natural communicators

You can’t do a live 20-second piece to camera unless you can think on your feet. You can’t ask a question to a president in front of unsparing colleagues if you’re a shrinking violet. And you can’t tease out answers from hard-nosed interviewees unless you’re a natural people-person. Little wonder then that many former hacks become spokespeople and spin-doctors.

They can write fluently, quickly and accurately

Not all reporters are great writers, but most are. They don’t try to show off by using the longest words and sentences possible, they loathe off-putting jargon and awkward acronyms and rarely make mistakes. “They don’t make stupid typos. They can write a header that people want to read. They proofread like no one else,” says Kathryn Sheridan, a former journalist-turned-entrepreneur.

They’re good fun to be around

It’s easy to hire people with multiple degrees and bags of experience. But do you really want to spend eight hours a day with them? If you’re looking for a colleague who is curious, gossipy and self-deprecating, has oodles of anecdotes and is usually up for an after-work pint, a journalist is unlikely to disappoint.

Of course, journalists aren’t perfect. “They are statistically more likely to run off with your married daughter, drink too much and smoke when everyone else has given up,” writes BBC Foreign Editor John Simpson in ‘News from No Man’s Land.’ They are itchy, impatient and tend to have inflated egos. They are often highly opinionated, take a perverse pride in being irresponsible and sometimes play hard and fast with the truth. No wonder they languish near the bottom of most league tables of trusted professions along with politicians and second-hand car salesmen.

Journalists know they’re not angels and are often the first to disparage the trade they practice. British broadcaster Andrew Marr called it a “strange apology for a proper job,” while former Sunday Times correspondent Nicholas Tomalin once said the only qualities needed to be a successful journalist are “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.”

Both were being far too modest. In reality, most journalists are highly educated, are great storytellers and communicators and have the sort of skills that are essential in the 21st century workplace.

So the next time you see a headline about journalists getting laid off, don’t feel too sorry for them. Instead, make them a job offer they can’t refuse.

About Gareth Harding

Gareth is the Managing Director of Clear Europe and head of the Missouri School of Journalism's Brussels Programme. He is a former journalist, speechwriter and political advisor.

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