A recent conversation with a colleague about the lack of knowledge from younger journalists in a newsroom got me thinking about how easy it is to forget that we spend our whole lives learning and developing. It is too easy to criticise people for a lack of general knowledge, especially if they are still in their early 20s. In this particular case, a relatively recent graduate didn't know how to pronounce Srebrenica. In fact they hadn't even heard of it. You may find it surprising but I have worked with news channel presenters that didn't know how to pronounce Llanelli or have never heard of Pete Townshend. I found these last two examples more surprising, and remember expressing my outrage to the respective journalists on each occasion rather pompously. But there have been many many things I haven't known or understood over the years too.
The truth is, only a very few of us have the kind of encyclopaedic knowledge needed to be an expert across all stories. I myself learn things about place names, people and facts most days I work on a newsdesk. For recent graduates and those that are still in the youth of their journalism career, they are learning much more each day. When working as a News Editor or as a lecturer, I remind myself of this daily. There is little point getting angry and annoyed at these gaps in their knowledge. Surely it is better to educate and inform and help them develop.
This is why I have found mentoring for younger journalists to be so valuable. There is only so much you can learn during your degree or journalism course. I know that when I started out - I would have welcomed being able to talk through concerns or ambitions with a neutral individual. Being able to empathise with others in this situation is essential. Empathy in newsrooms is often hard to find. Sharing your expertise is not only important for showing people how to deal with stories, or how to write/edit or broadcast, but also more general areas. For example - understanding what employers are looking for in a covering letter. A recent client had just qualified from an NCTJ course and was struggling to land any placements or internships. After just an hour of advice and guidance - stating what seemed to me to be fairly obvious - the client felt well armed to try again. In fact, one of the places they had been trying to contact finally replied after her first redraft of a covering letter following our meeting. Some simple but pertinent advice had made the difference.
But the 'tricks' that made that difference were only possible to understand by having experience. They might seem obvious to a 46 year old, but not to a 22 year old. I find it hugely rewarding to use this experience in the industry to help others start or improve their media career. Many of those that I work with in the mentoring programme will be better journalists than I could ever have been and hopefully in years to come they will use their career lessons to help others just starting out. At this stage it is highly likely that most of my clients have similar 'gaps' in their knowledge like that Srebrenica example. That doesn't make them stupid or bad journalists. As long as you show a willingness to learn and soak up knowledge, you will thrive. The best bit of advice I received early on in my career was to realise that you never stop learning. Wouldn't it be boring if we knew it all at 22!