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Behind the News: The Life of a Law Grad in Journalism

eye looking through a tunnel of newspaper

It was about 9pm when I received a call that someone had been shot. It was the second time I’d received such a call, both just minutes before the end of a shift, but obviously in such circumstances your scheduled working hours don’t really factor into your thinking. I jumped in the car and headed for the scene of what turned out to be a murder. It was an unusual night.

Of course, not every day in the newsroom gets your adrenaline flowing like that. A typical day in the life of a young reporter might involve anything from serious crime to interviewing federal MPs, or, from stories about local government to the appalling theft of an old lady’s garden gnomes. Variety there is!

Why journalism?

My interest in journalism was piqued at university. I wasn’t one of those people who started a school newspaper to lobby the principal for better handball courts. To be honest, I still don’t know exactly where my career is going. But at university I did develop an interest in story telling – and that’s what journalism is – and decided to break ranks with my law school friends to become a reporter.

It started with an unpaid internship in Melbourne. While other law students were busy summer clerking in Big Glass Towers, I was staying on a mate’s uncomfortable couch and fetching coffee for real journalists during the day (there was even a little bit of writing!). Several unpaid gigs later I finally landed a job in regional Australia (yes, you might have to go bush) and now work at a metropolitan daily.

Thinking about journalism?

Getting a job in journalism will not be easy, unless you’re very lucky. You might have read about things like this and this. But that doesn’t mean you should give up, because there are still opportunities around. A great way to start is, well, just start. Speak to people, write about what interests you and see who will publish it.

The ground is shifting. Even in the two years since I graduated, the reporter’s role has changed. We’ve moved from daily deadlines (say 5.30pm) to progressive deadlines, with stories due throughout the day. As news outlets battle for online audiences the philosophy of newspapers is also changing, from one where the best stories are saved for the newspaper to one where we publish first, online.

In this brave new world, aspiring journos would be well advised to skill up in a few vital areas like audio editing and video editing. You never know when it might come in handy. And if you can learn shorthand, that’s a good idea, too.

What is it like?

As a young reporter you will get to write about things you’re passionate about. You will get to search for the truth, make a difference, etc. You will also have to write about things that bore you senseless. Some days your job will leave you feeling inspired. Other days, you will want to strangle something with a laptop cable. It can be stressful. It can be rewarding. Hey, this sounds a bit like law!

Journalism is not a 9-5 job. A mentor of mine once said it was a 24-hour job and I now know she wasn’t lying. From speaking with much better journalists than myself it’s obvious that they are switched on all of the time. There are fun times, like writing the perfect pun-filled introduction, and there are difficult times, like speaking with family members grieving the loss of a loved one.

At some point, most journalists in bigger newsrooms will find themselves focusing on a particular area, known as a round. These could include politics, the environment, technology, transport, health, industry, law, etc. If you have a particular area of interest, your round is a chance to shine.

Journalists vs Lawyers

Here are a few things journalists and lawyers have in common:

  • Caffeine addiction

  • Occasional manic-eye syndrome caused by lack of sleep

  • Usually working to tight deadlines

  • Hours spent interviewing sources (or clients) to verify and establish facts

  • Strong analytical skills and the ability to form coherent arguments

  • They often work with people during difficult circumstances

  • Lots and lots of reading

Here are a few differences:

  • Journalists swear more out loud at work

  • Money. Yep, if you vote journalism then don’t expect to earn millions

  • Journalists love breaking stories, sometimes about lawyers

  • Generally speaking, lawyers have a more structured career path

  • Journalists spend more time hitting the streets and less time in the office

  • You don’t need a journalism degree to become a journalist

  • Suits, optional for journalists

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