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Tricks of the trades

Money Marketing editor John lappin provides a valuable insight into the workings of trade papers and reveals how budding journalists can find a route into the industry

Ever read a copy of Money Marketing and thought: “I could do that.” Imagine the thrill of being able to take the FSA to task for its mistakes and from a position in which the regulator cannot get you back because you are not regulated except by the laws of libel and, of course, your prospective editor?

Or do you fancy getting to grips with the complexities of pension simplification, mortgage regulation or Ucits 3 and all from an expert point of view?

For that matter, have you read some of the national newspapers and decided that if only an industry professional would train as a journalist, then many of the misconceptions about the financial services industry could be removed from the coverage?

Are you tired of knowing lots about what is going on from the inside and not being able to tell anyone – stuck in a world of confiden-tiality agreements or pressure from your bosses not to talk?

Well, it is possible that financial journalism is for you. So, where do you start? The first thing is, you are already part-qualified. If it is Money Marketing or any of the other financial trades that focus on IFAs, mortgage brokers, funds or the wider financial world, then you know some of the markets they write about.

If it is in response to an ad, then you will find yourself up against qualified journalists usually graduates who may have come straight out of journalism college with post-graduate courses or perhaps with a local newspaper background.

They will definitely know their way around a story – their motivation having dealt with all the local newspaper issues from parish fetes to local criminals will be to specialise and then to get to a national newspaper.

If you are going to beat the keen young hacks to the job, then you will need to consider how to apply your skills to journalism. Get to know the paper, consider what stance it takes on the big issues of the day and how these are reflected in both news and features and see how your knowledge applies. Try and think if you have any contacts who may also be happy for you to still be in touch if you make the conversion to journalist. Knowing people in the companies who rarely meet journalists can be a very good source of stories.

Of course, you may also consider getting a journalism qualification. This can be good enough equip you with many of the skills.

The course should be NCTJ recognised and should cover the basics such as news writing, features writing, shorthand and law. Editors will generally tend to set less store by modules that cover topics such as ethics or the history of journalism.

They will want to know that you can construct a story or a feature with the correct introduction or intro – the all-important first paragraph which sums up what the story is about and hooks in the reader and the required supporting paragraphs in the middle and appropriate quotes.

In general, the skill of news writing can be drilled into almost anyone although some prospective journalists take longer to click than others. To write really good features takes more skill. A profile piece not only covers what a person in financial services does and thinks about the various industry issues but also what makes him or her click but these can be learned with time.

If you are offering financial services experience and a journalism qualifi-cation, the chances are that you will get an interview.

If not, then you should at least be considered. How you sell yourself is important, though. In an interview situation, you must be careful to admit areas you do not know about and also to not necessarily seem to know it all. You may be convinced of the evils of regulation or of a particular insurer or lender but that sort of attitude may scare off an editor if he or she believes they might spend the first six months ironing out prejudices from your copy and that is if he can find them.

On the other hand, any editor who is sure of him or herself should also be interested in your point of view and work out ways in which he can harness your opinions to make the paper or magazine work better. But remember, much of what you do particularly on a financial trade will be reflecting the opinions of others and, as far as is possible, most trade titles at least will be interested in giving all sides a fair shout.

It is probably advisable to try and get work experience on a title before you seriously consider making the jump. There is something of a tradition of work experience people at Money Marketing finding jobs at the paper by being in the right place at the right time.

The final issue anyone working in financial services should consider before making the jump to journalism is, will they like the conditions?

There is a lot of pressure, deadlines should be unbreakable and their is the challenge, particularly on a better trade paper, to turn around fast accurate work. At the same time, you need a lot of people skills as the world tries to convince you their stories are the most important in the world.

Sometimes, you will offend people and even the most hardened journalist suffers the odd sleepless night after going to press day. People will sometimes sue you if you get it wrong and sometimes if you are right. But all in all it is great fun.

The trades are a great place to start and are also a good route to get to the nationals although the traffic has slowed a little in recent years. There is one ambition it may be better to abandon, though, and that is trying to set the nationals to rights. Most national personal finance section editors would not appreciate any more inexperienced journalist, even one with years of industry experience, telling them how they are getting things wrong.

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