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Michael Skapinker

05 August 2021

A Day in the Life of a Journalist: At the Centre of World Events

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If you’ve got a passion for storytelling and a keen interest in the world around you, a career in journalism may be for you. 

The rise of the internet has marked an irreversible change in the industry: news is now more accessible than ever and the media is evolving to incorporate a more diverse range of voices and styles.

If you’re looking to get in on the action, there are a number of things to consider. Firstly, whether you want to pursue digital (online), newspapermagazine or broadcast journalism. Secondly, whether to go freelance or become a staff writer. It’s also a good idea to consider your specialism. Do you want to go down a traditional news and politics route? Or are you more interested in business, sports, science, travel, technology, culture or food? 

With such a multi-faceted and competitive industry, it’s important to do your research (which, after all, is what being a journalist is all about). 

To that end, we sat down with Michael Skapinker, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, to learn more about the profession. Michael has worked as a reporter, senior editor and award-winning columnist across his impressive 40-year career. After 34 years reporting on business, language and society at the FT, Michael has recently retired from the staff. He still continues to contribute to the paper, whilst also working as a management educator, running programmes for professionals entering top-level roles. 

Looking for the inside scoop on what a career in journalism is really like? You’ve come to the right place…

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What does a typical day in your working life look like?

During lockdown I have been working from home, over Zoom, like many people. 

I begin the day by reading the FT. It’s vital to keep up with the world. I then spend the day writing, speaking to people and also teaching – I work as a management educator for many companies that want a journalistic view of the world.

What first inspired you to consider journalism as a career?

A love of news and newspapers. As an avid newspaper reader from childhood, it was exciting to be writing for them.

Grab any opportunity to work on school and university news outlets, offer stories to your local newspaper and try to get a few things published.

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What’s the best thing about your job?

There’s not a boring day. The technology changes (I started with typewriters) and so do the stories – constantly.

What’s the hardest thing?

The fear that I will get something wrong. Whatever people think, journalism (certainly at the FT) is about accuracy.

What has been your biggest achievement since starting your career in journalism?

Surviving 40 years in it. 

So many news organisations have gone out of business or had successive rounds of redundancy. I’ve been fortunate to have had a good job throughout.

What are the perks/incentives, financial and otherwise, for a graduate looking to become a journalist?

The perks are a chance to be at the centre of world events, to meet interesting people and, in my case, to travel the world. 

Don’t go into journalism for the money.

There’s not a boring day. The technology changes (I started with typewriters) and so do the stories – constantly.

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Are there different pathways or specialisms aspiring journalists can choose, and if so, what are they?

My advice, always, is to study what you are interested in and then see if you can write or broadcast about it. There is a real need, especially now, for people who can write about science.

What did you study at A-level (or equivalent) and why did you choose those subjects?

I went to school in South Africa, where, as in Scotland, we had to take a wide range of subjects.

Did you do anything to improve your employability whilst still at school?

It wasn’t something we thought about back then, although I did write the editorial for the school magazine.

What did you study at university?

Political science and law.

What was your first job?

During university, sorting letters in the Johannesburg post office. As a journalist, a freelancer based in Athens.

How did you find your first 12 months in the field?

I talked my way into a journalists’ office in Athens, where I began freelancing for newspapers, magazines and radio stations in the US, UK, Canada and South Africa.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

Learning French and long walks.

Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in journalism?

Grab any opportunity to work on school and university news outlets, offer stories to your local newspaper and try to get a few things published.

To find out more about Michael and his work, take a look at his writing on the Financial Times website, or follow him on Twitter.

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