The former editor of England’s biggest-selling regional daily newspaper has revealed his top tips for becoming a “solid reporter”, including skipping the press office and telling stories “like the Bible”.
Keith Harrison stood down as editor of the West Midlands Express and Star in November, having spent five years in charge of the title and 25 at publisher the Midlands News Association.
In giving his top reporting tips, the newsman said ideas are a journalist’s “stock in trade” and that “bad ideas” were a good starting point – “I have about ten bad ideas a day”.
But Harrison said his top tip for journalists was simply to get it right. He said it is essential to be honest, accurate and have great attention to detail. “This is rule number one, page one, of being a solid reporter,” he said.
Next, he said it was important to think big and realise that as a journalist you can make a difference, whether it be a story that makes national headlines or a local report.
“Don’t be afraid to think big,” he said. “If you think big, you can only go to the top and be sent down.”
He added: “Don’t ring the press office, ring the managing director… Don’t be put off by the first obstacle.”
Harrison said it was important that stories hold readers’ interest. “The core material has to be interesting,” he said.
“It’s a juggling act between what you may think is interesting and what the audience you’re writing for find interesting.”
He went on to say that a journalist must be engaging and be able to tell a good story that has an emotional effect with the reader.
“This is far sexier than any other title: you are a storyteller,” he said. “Your job is to keep people hooked till the end, always tell it accurately, and always try to tell it like the Bible, the greatest story ever told.”
He said that, particularly with younger generations of readers having a shorter attention span, it was important to “make your intro count”.
Harrison’s final tip was that a journalist will get out what they put in. “It’s a cliché but it’s true,” he said. “It is still the best job in the world, but only if you make it [so].”
But he said it was important that trainee journalists don’t put too much pressure on themselves, adding: “Nobody expects you to be the finished article on day one.”
The Express and Star has a daily print circulation of 42,200, of which 6,700 are given out free, according to ABC figures to June this year.