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Training Matters: Top tips from 25 years of journalism

Darren Isted, the editor of Stevenage and North Hertfordshire newspaper The Comet, has recently left his title after 25 years.

We asked Darren, who works regularly with the NCTJ and has now set up his own company, for his top tips for those who are working as journalists or thinking about a journalism career. Here’s what he had to say:

After 25 years in journalism I decided that it was time for a change. My decision to make the switch to setting up a PR and marketing company was no reflection on the state of the industry. Indeed, it was far more an indication that retirement is now closer at hand than my first day all those years ago when I started at The Comet.

It has been a long and eventful journey, there is plenty left in the tank of the media industry, and I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a day when I would have rather stayed away from the office.

As with many professions, the right training is of course vital, but there are also lessons that are learned purely through experience.

My top five tips from a quarter of a century in journalism are certainly a personal choice. Some may be common sense and others blindingly obvious, and that leads to tip one.

1. Trust your instinct: If something is too good to be true or just doesn’t feel right then trust your instinct and act accordingly. Journalists are known for their cynicism. Sometimes this trait can be unfair but on occasion it is crucial to keep questioning when on a story, even when the basic facts seem obvious and clear cut. If there is a pang of doubt then listen to it.

2. There are two sides to every story: And there are. I’m not sure just how often my heart has sunk when I have been told a great tale and then been given the sheepish confession that we can’t get hold of the other party to the story. At best it looks biased and at worst it is very dangerous.

3. Be impartial: It’s easy to say and it may be obvious, but unless you are running a campaign then it is vital that you are (and just as importantly you appear to be) impartial. In my 25 years I have been accused of every political stance across the spectrum, from far left to far right. Last year I was accused of being a Liberal Democrat supporter. That neatly completed the set.

4. My advice to editors is to build a good team and act as a team: At the regional newspaper level where resources are tight, it is vital to build a high-performing team. Editors must give people the chance to develop as journalists and vary the workload and responsibility with a mix of patches, specialist reporters and opportunities to learn. It is vital when someone chooses to move on (hopefully to bigger and better things) that it is positively encouraged and that other reporters coming through can see the benefits of the environment you have.

5. Try and keep a smile on your face: Being positive, having a happy team and getting out among your contacts is crucial, and you can only do this with a smile on your face. If people feel comfortable with you, then life is easier and more fun.

Being an editor was the best job in the world, but after two weeks away from it, I know that it was just a job.