I was listening to Ita Buttrose on Richard Fidler's Conversation program and found myself thinking and taking notes about what makes for a good journalist.
What struck a chord is the consistency over the years about the key skills top quality journalists have and what the hacks are missing out on.
So here are tips by Ita Buttrose for journalists that have been expanded to explore a fascinating topic - what makes a good journalist?
Be Well Informed
Too many budding journalists get their information from a limited range of sources. When journalists read broadly - both off-line and online - they are better informed and able to present the full story rather than an incomplete and inadequate piece.
Many young journalists don't read newspapers and rely on getting their information predominantly from online sources. This limitation is showing in the quality of their writing and turning off readers from their publications. Where there is a problem there is opportunity - it just makes it easier for knowledgeable and well-versed professional journalists to get the best jobs.
There's also a great opportunity here for journalism students - the better informed you present yourself when applying for an internship the better your chances are of achieving your goals.
Actively develop a broad range of sources that can provide accurate information close to the story.
I've always been fascinated by the stories behind the story. As a journalist for a daily publication you can only tell a brief story - hopefully a balanced, professional and objective story but a short story.
Only investigative, long-form journalism can come close to telling the full story behind the headlines and first 500 words. But when you get talking to a real journalist you get a glimpse of how impressive their network of sources is that allows them to be at the top of their field.
For fan's of the HBO TV series "The Wire", season 5 offers a realistic window into the workings of a daily paper. It shows the difference between a hack journalist who wants to race up the ladder and a professional journalist who has a vast network of sources. For me, it showed some of the issues associated with journalism ethics and the choices each journalist has to make about individual stories and how they choose to live their lives.
A journalist develops her sources by getting involved, researching stories, attending meetings, exploring and talking. Maintaining sources over a long time is based on trust and respect; without this information is withheld, help is out of reach and the best stories are told by others.
Make your writing interesting by using a strong and large vocabulary that can accurately tell the details of the story.
Readers want interesting stories told in captivating ways. When writers use the power of language with an outstanding vocabulary to tell a story in an absorbing way their readers respond and the editors know it.
Growing your vocabulary is a choice. All journalism students who ask their journalism teachers for help with this will be rewarded with skills and methods, as well as showing themselves to be different to the rest of the class. Journalism lecturers, heads of programs and tutors all have excellent contacts within the field and will only suggest their most promising students for journalism internships and work experience.
Be accurate with your facts and details to create a professional portfolio of stories and help you avoid costly legal suits.
Sloppy journalism results in mistakes that cost the media outlet credibility and unnecessary legal suits. The reputation of the publication is one thing, the power of the accountants determined to reduce legal expenses is immense and serial offenders are terminated.
Taking time to be accurate might make hitting deadlines a little harder but if it means keeping your journalism job because you deliver quality stories it is well worth the effort. Checking details is often faster and easier for journalists with a broad range of sources as it can take only one or two phone calls rather than hunting for connections.
Being organised with your own effective systems developed from experience will also make it easier to hit your deadlines with a minimum of stress. Contrary to popular belief a good journalist doesn't need stress to write, they need quality information to compose copy.
Decide what sort of journalist you want to be - a professional writer with a strong reputation for quality work or a reputation as a dabbler that makes mistakes and is costly to employ.
Journalism jobs are shrinking around the world, making some question the future of journalism but the reality is professional writers will always be needed to tell people's stories. It means the better quality journalists that deliver superior articles, make money for their publication and don't cost the business with unnecessary legal expenses for inaccuracies will be landing the best journalism positions. Publishers have no need, nor motivation, to keep on unprofessional journalists that waste their money and fail to deliver.
Readers and audiences will always gravitate to the most reliable, interesting and self-reflective media outlets - both online and offline such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio. The journalists who write the pieces that satisfy the reader's needs are valuable to publishers.
Quality freelance journalists get repeat assignments because of the strength of their work. Freelance writing is a quick way to develop your journalism skills to a high standard because it's survival of the fittest. When you write well, the details are professionally researched and accurate, the subject matter is interesting to the audience and it provides quality content for the publication you get more paid assignments.
Inspirational Ita Buttrose
The Ita Buttrose interview with Richard Fidler is an intriguing exploration of her life and career and can be listened to via podcast.
While journalism courses and colleges can teach the skills needed to be a good journalist it is still the individual's choice whether the lessons are learnt. Of course, to be a great journalist you need to learn the lessons offered everyday from all sources.
Richard Fidler Conversations Podcasts
Richard Fidler is earning the reputation for being one of the best interviewers on radio with his easy going manner and well researched questions for his enthralling guests. Any journalist wanting to succeed in broadcast journalism can learn great lessons from Richard. Fortunately his interviews are available online: click here for Conversations with Richard Fidler