Most journalism students are attracted to the profession by the glamour associated with successful journalists. Others want to be the big voice on radio. But many student journalists lack the skillset to be useful in the newsroom.
I have struggled to appreciate what I need to do to be relevant and employable even while in school. In an interview with the host of Morning Starr on Starr FM, Francis Abban, he made it clear what every young journalist must do to be successful in the media.
Mr Abban started his professional career while still pursuing a degree in Communications at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He volunteered for two years at Skyy Power FM in Takoradi, before and during his time at GIJ. During our conversation he underscored how his interest and willingness to learn coupled with his ‘output’ gained him a place at the Multimedia Group Limited in 2012.
He advises aspiring journalists to start out their career driven by passion and not money. ‘Because if you chase money you won’t grow. Your value won’t mark up.’
In a generation with a taste for immediate success, but minus the effort to achieve it, Mr Abban insists: ‘For the first two years you must be determined to understand how your job works, where the opportunities lie, [and] how you build yourself to meet these opportunities so that by the end of your 24th month you are primed and ready to sell your value anywhere and get what you need.’
Ghanaian students are enjoying their summer vacation now. Most journalism students are waiting for their mandatory internships before they take action to build their capabilities. But the essence of journalism is doing. Mr Abban said, ‘volunteerism and internships [are] for me the cardinal things that every aspiring journalist must aim for. He contends that when students get the opportunity to intern with media firms they must ‘Not show up and look at people’, but they must ‘make themselves relevant.’
My three years at the university and a short internship with EAA Media Productions have markedly drawn the vast line between journalism education and practice. Our inability to apply the heavily laden theoretical work on the field can make us almost irrelevant to employers. Mr Abban re-echoed what I realized in my first three weeks with EAA Media productions. He says ‘a lot of what employers expect now is not just the book knowledge.’
He adds that, ‘You can have a master’s degree in journalism but if you can’t write a story, if you can’t identify a news angle, if you can’t write to meet your audience, you can’t meet the standard.’
He said what set him apart from his colleagues was he ‘sought the practical experience first before the paper knowledge.’ This luxury has eluded most of us already, although the school’s radio station, publication and other outlets afford us the chance to practice what we are taught.
Unfortunately, many journalism students do not use the on-campus publications available to them. It is time for some of us to wake up and rethink. These facilities are available for us to hone our skills. No commercial media outlet has the time for the kind of inaccuracies and ineptness we showcase because we can’t apply the journalistic principles.
Mr Abban disclosed in our conversation that ‘The first thing anyone who wants to be a journalist must do is to understand how it works.’ From my little experience, the only way to understand journalism is to do it. And the best place to do it is to ‘learn on the ground.’
With a little over a decade experience in the Ghanaian media he says ‘If you have the relevant skillset that the company needs, they will pay top dollar for you.’ He adds that ‘Theory is great but if you have the practical know-how people will chase you for what you have. If you don’t have that, your power of negotiation is weakened from day one.’
What journalism students must know is that our profession rewards diligence and abhors mediocrity. The competition in this space is intensifying as the clock ticks.
By: Kofi Boateng