I have never been an extrovert. For a period I managed to function as an ambivert: able to take on the spotlight in key moments. I played a lead role in the school musical, I was school captain, I entered the marketing profession and became an account manager which required constant interaction with clients. But I always needed time to recharge by myself, in a quiet setting (and I always suffered from performance anxiety, needing to psych myself up to go on stage or make a phone call).
Like I said, I functioned that way for a while. But I did burn out. It wasn’t me.
In recent years I have been able to embrace the fact that I am in fact an introvert. I don’t like being in the spotlight. Crowds bother me. Group conversations intimidate me. I’m terrible at small talk, but I come out of my shell when I am passionate about something. I get pretty consumed with things like hobbies and my work. I really like my zone. It’s comfy here.
So when I go to networking events I usually start questioning myself. Why am I trying to be a journalist when I can’t handle an industry networking event? The speakers are talking about getting on the ground and building relationships with everyone you meet to find the stories but I can’t even start a conversation with my local barista.
I’m here to say: You don’t need to be an extrovert to be a good journalist.
It does of course depend on the kind of journalism you are doing. With breaking news, on-the-ground reporting is necessary. Talking to locals is a must. But in features, long-form and especially investigative writing you can work your own way. Thanks to the internet you can talk to people anywhere, anytime (once you check their credentials).
These days I do my best work online. I can research and find the best person to talk to through my contacts on social media and my amazing search skills and using email or Twitter, line up an interview for a time and place that suits all parties (rather than catching them on the spot). I have conducted interviews via phone, Skype and email – and in person of course.
Yes, the first few interviews were nerve-wracking but once I realised that a comfortable interview subject makes for an easy interview, I understood that I had to make things easy for myself too in order to get the best possible final result: a bunch of great quotes and a wealth of information on the subject matter.
In the beginning I had been trying so hard to “do journalism” the way I had been trained that I was stressing myself out and honestly, producing crap. It took me a little while to realise I had to do it my way but once I did figure that out the quality of my work improved significantly, my commissions started coming in and my contacts were happy to stay in touch for repeat tips and interviews.
You still need to be able to talk to editors. Some people meet them by networking or getting drunk with them. If you’re the introverted type maybe befriend them on Twitter or just outright emailing/calling them. It does call for a little more elbow grease this way but I certainly prefer it this way – I’m sure other introverts would too.
To be a good journalist these are the skills you need:
- To know what the editor and the readers want to read
- To be able to research
- To conduct interviews
- To write a coherent, objective piece
- To submit work on brief and on deadline