Thursday, 17 April 2014

Top Qualities of ‘successful’ Journalists

What are the qualities that make for a 'good' journalist? The purists might as well go for the pots and pans here but the industry has long abandoned the beacon of righteous welfarism. 

It is all about being practical with the ethics - you can be good all the time but you are no use if you end up on the streets starving, because someone with consistently upgraded skills, high-relearning quotient, and the right market smarts beat you. 

Interpret that dictum within the context of the new corporate. The context has a new visual: Successful journalist. Skills. Knowledge. Confidence. And, yes, the ability to "learn, unlearn, relearn" (Alvin Toffler). 

I am privileged to introduce my friend, policy digger, conflict journalist Avalok Langer of Tehelka. Mr. Langer is one of the brightest young talents to have come out of the region. At last count, his credits are among some of the more scathing testimonies about policy failure and conflict in North India. 

After NDTV, Langer embarked on what he simply calls a “fact-finding” mission across some of the angriest conflict zones in India. North Eastern India included. The journalist reports mostly on conflict, and he puts it modestly, “social and political issues,” in northeast India and East Asia. 

When I asked him to pitch in with his experience, the man threw in this gem of a post exclusively for jobsjournalism.blogspot (I'm upgrading it to a web domain soon). So now, here is the man.

Traits that make for  ‘successful’ news reporters, and news-everyone

I do not think there is any fixed skill-set or checklist that exists to ensure success as a journalist. However, in my short stint as a 'pressman', I have noticed a few traits that do tend to stick out.


It is important to be confident. So much so that even when we don't know what we are talking about, journalists tend to talk with an air of cool, calm confidence, which is so reassuring that you would imagine that they have recently submitted a thesis on the issue. In reality, we probably just read a headline somewhere.  

This ability to 'bullshit' will not only get you through your weekly edit meetings, but will help your survive. However, there is a flipside: journalists need to have an incredible bullshit meter.   We should be the ones flexing out creative verbal prowess and at the same time be able to sift through the sea of garbled information that others throw at us.


Many people would not agree with me, but it is important in today's media to be a generalist as well as a specialist. When you are young, they will ask you to report on random things, things that do not really interest you. In the start of my career, I was stuck in a rut. Constantly, they told me 'you are too young', 'your time will come', but the line to the top is long. I found it easier to jump the line by finding a specialization of sorts and creating a network to back up my choices.  

Time is going to come when there are so many generalists that the media market will be flooded with them. Therefore, find a specialization. However, it important to have a range of topics you are interested in and can report on, that way you are always relevant.


To write, you have to read. To write well, you have to read the best. It is important to read and follow good news magazines and papers. They set the benchmark for what we should aspire for. At the same time, you are aware of what is happening. This gives you perspective as well as helps you cull out story ideas.


When you are in the field, I find the most useful tools are humour, massaging someone's ego, and being constantly on guard. The combination will keep you safe, get you contacts, and help you build your network.


There is no escaping hard work. I might be because I have have recently crossed into the second half of my twenties. But, of late, I have often found myself saying, "This generation of new journalists doesn't know what we went through."  

When I started of with a national TV channel, I worked 15 hours a day, six and half days a week. I did things way beyond my job description including holding a plate while a senior producer, who was looking into the camera, ate a samosa of it.  

However, through the process I picked up a skill set that allows me to expand my media outreach into the audio visual field even today. It important to want, constantly, to learn and evolve. You never know everything. 

However, the work never stops, some of the journalists that I hold in high regard work non-stop. They write for multiple papers and magazines at the same time, producing fresh work on a day-to-day basis, they are a part of TV debates yet somehow manage to balance their family life. Because of that, they are successful and are names to be reckoned with.


In the era of social media, many reach the top by just their ability to market themselves. They push their names, create a brand, win awards and thereby reach the top. They are not necessarily good journalists, but they are successful.  

Having stated that, the ability to market you as a journalist, is something that is very important. You need to be read, and be seen – that is the only way you will be noticed.

Avalok Langer, Principal Correspondent for Tehelka, is currently based in New Delhi. You can read his mind here blog. He is no nonsense.

©2012 Al Ngullie ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systemwithout express written permission from the author / publisher. 


  1. Thanks for the gret tips. Really given me ideas to work hard. I'm a Mass.comm student and planning to do internship after the exams. I have one question? Do interns do the same work as normal reporters or? Will it be the same? Thanks in advance!!

    1. Hello Anoush,

      I'm glad the article helped you with a perspective. Thank you for reading. We wish you do well in the semester. Normally, there are no hard rules for news Interns. Terms of internship in news organizations vary. However, the general rule is that news interns are given simple tasks - you could be given an assignment depending on your niche and initial work (such as a good sample of your writing skills) show promise that they can use. For example, you could be given simple 'reporting' tasks if you show aptitude for news gathering. But, frankly, most times, you will be an assistant to someone, say, to desk editors, newsroom executives or even the house canteen! PS: Some internships are paid, while many are not.

      But that's not it all. Big organizations normally means the pitch for competition is a lot higher - you could be working 2 hours serving files and desks, or working regular 8 hours 'learning' beside the newsroom people in real situations.

      The whole point is, internships are your first contact with a professional environment, your first real contact with the sweat and tears of it all. Give your best to every task that you are given - I know people who were hired sooner as they entered the editor's office to say 'thank you and goodbye' after the internship period was over. Some have waited for months, while some more never got the job. The trick is in how well and fast you adapt and learn despite the extent of workload you are given.

      The trick is in being willing to work hard, but most importantly, in your willingness to "learn, unlearn and relearn." I used to work 9:00 AM till 3-4 AM the next day in the first four years as a journalist. I went reporting, or generated my own stories, edited press releases, managed and edited pages one, two and three, wrote my columns, and even created cartoons, all in one day, mostly. And mine isn't even a hard luck story - I know many who've had it worst. That is the media for you.

      But that is where you will find your rewards. Don't ask us what rewards. Find it our yourself - you are a reporter in the making. All the very best to you, Anoush!

  2. Great advice! There's no shortcut to success, no hald paths towards achieving great in whatever profession you are. hard work and staying in tune with current affairs and market behavior is very important for evey news and media professional. Only those with the energy, moativation and drive will succeed even if they're young!

    1. Hello, thank you for visiting, True, one has to work hard. The work-hard-for-rewards is a cliche, but the hard truth, none the less,