Journalism skills for freelance writers

Boost your research and writing talents with these soft skills.
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There’s an old belief that goes something like this, “Journalists, reporters, and storytellers are born and not made.” There’s also the old saying, “There’s an exception to every rule.”

I don’t believe I was born to be a journalist, and I never thought I had the brass to interview the person on the street. But a phone call from out of the clear blue sky shook up my introverted world and taught me I could find my brass by just looking deep enough.

When the City Editor of West Hawaii Today asked if I would consider freelancing for the newspaper, I felt entirely outside my comfort zone. Interviewing software developers and writing step-by-step instructions were more my style. I didn’t know a thing about interviewing community leaders and writing their stories.

The City Editor told me I had what it took to do the job, and he wasn’t talking about my writing skills. Instead, he believed I had the personal qualities and character traits to interview complete strangers and learn their stories.

Please allow me to guide you through the journalism soft skills that turned this timid writer into an ace reporter.

Practice these journalism skills to tell true stories

Journalists, news reporters, storytellers, and bloggers are the eyes, ears, and voices for the public. These writers spend their days looking for interesting events, interviewing every person they meet, gathering facts, and telling unbiased stories.

Writing and reporting are the essential skills needed to do this job. However, reporters with the right soft skills stand out from the crowd and capture the best stories.

Do you aspire to be a journalist and tell real stories? Or, maybe your goal is to boost your confidence and expand your writing abilities. Along with solid writing and research skills, add these five journalism soft skills to your writing toolkit and watch your writing business soar.

5 journalism soft skills you'll need to become an ace reporter

Loyalty to yourself, your readers, and your publication

Loyalty is a valuable journalism soft skill in the minds of readers, editors, and publishers. Ace reporters show this loyalty by being true to the story’s facts and having solid personal ethics.

Cultivate these traits to show your loyalty:

Be the real you. Don’t hide behind a false identity. Use your real name when interviewing people and let them know where you plan to publish the story.

Report the facts. Don’t embellish a story, and don’t stretch the truth. Instead, describe the situation precisely the way you found it and quote your sources.

Take responsibility for your actions. Consider the impact your story will have on your readers, and don’t give in to influences that may want you to distort the real story.

Loyalty to yourself, your readers, and your publication makes it easy to feel enthusiastic about your job, work with a clear conscience, and progress through your career with a strong heart.

Professionalism in every part of your work

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and ace reporters fight back with honesty, dignity, and assertiveness. Ace reporters project a professional image, and they know that the ability to do real work brings success.

Use these tactics to show that you are a professional:

Act with dignity. Show pride in your appearance, abilities, and actions. But don’t be foolish about it. Rudeness, extravagantness, and deceitfulness may get noticed quickly. However, these actions may prevent access to future stories.

Be assertive, not aggressive. It takes a certain amount of persistence to get a story. Still, every person you attempt to interview has boundaries. Aggressive and bullying tactics can only cause trouble for you.

Be honest and straightforward. While chasing a story, be honest about why you want an interview or why you want information. Don’t play games to get your story. A straightforward approach opens the door to future stories.

As a journalist, it’s your job to find the story and report it, not to make yourself a part of the story. So be proud of your accomplishments, but let your accomplishments speak for themselves. It’s not about you; it’s about reporting the real story.

News sense to spot exciting and entertaining stories

The web has made it possible for everyone to voice their opinions, tell their stories, and spread their ideas. However, with all of this conversation going on, finding a unique spin on current events is more challenging than ever.

To keep ahead of the pack, be devoted to newsgathering and have a sharp news sense or a nose for news. Here’s how:

Watch with both eyes open. Pay close attention as stories develop and identify the people affected by the event. Also, look in unusual places to find unique stories.

Listen with both ears open. Listen to every word people say and to casual remarks you hear in conversations. Small comments about trivial subjects can be clues to great stories.

Judge the relevance of a story. Will the story be interesting to readers? To answer this question, you’ll need a good sense of what your audience wants to hear.

If you don’t think you have a nose for news, don’t fret. You can develop a news sense by persevering at following a story and observing your surroundings.

Perseverance to get the job done and done right

Ace reporters start their day by repeating the mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, do it again.” To tackle the challenging stories, use plotting, planning, and self-assurance to prevent those deflated and defeated feelings that come when a story isn’t coming together.

Use these tips to develop your perseverance skills:

Believe in your abilities. When you’ve tried every means of finding the information you need for a story, step back, then look for a new way to find people to interview or research the story. Look at every opportunity that chance throws in your path, ask your interview subject an unexpected question, or explore an educated guess.

Continually improve your craft. Reporting skills improve with age. While you’re waiting to get older, there are other ways to improve your writing. Dig deeper into your stories, read the work of other journalists, and examine stories that spark your emotions.

Stay focused on the story. Time spent in idle speculation is time wasted. So instead, give your full attention to the people, events, and facts surrounding the story.

Given time, perseverance will turn mountains into molehills.

Awareness and observation of everything around you

A nose for news and perseverance are just the beginning of a great news story. These journalism soft skills give a proper reporting of a story but aren’t enough to hold your readers’ attention. Great stories are the result of close observation.

Expand your ability to observe your surroundings with these tips:

Build a store of information. Pay close attention to everything that goes on around you and keep mental notes, audio notes, or a journal. These observations can enhance your stories with pathos, humor, and descriptions.

See beyond the common point of view. Think for yourself, don’t let others think for you. Look beyond what has happened. Observe the cause of an event, find out why it occurred, and determine how it took place.

Take photographs. Pictures serve as reminders. Still, don’t rely on your smartphone for photos. Take a few minutes to observe with your eyes. Use these images to develop a story that will interest your audience.

Look at the peculiar. Every peculiarity—whether mechanical, natural, or artificial—is based on some reason. Nine times out of ten, the reason is interesting even if the peculiarity is not.

When you use your powers of observation to find the peculiar in the ordinary, the next step is to find out what happened, why it happened, and its effect on the future. This is your news story in a nutshell.

Practice your journalism soft skills and set yourself up for success

It’s not easy being a freelance writer. It takes a brain of steel, a frame of iron, an unswerving will, indomitable pluck, and unflinching courage to be a success.

When you continuously practice perfecting these journalism soft skills, you’ll find that your job becomes more comfortable and more fulfilling over time.