So you want to be a political journalist?

A sister title to Shane Greer’s So you want to be a politician?, Sheila Gunn’s So you want to be a political journalist? is a collection of thrity-two lively short chapters giving an insight into the life of a political journalist.

With an impressive cast of contributors, including Peter Riddell, Carolyn Quinn and Michael White, the book has plenty of insider information, presented usually in the style of lively anecdotal chats. This is not a tedious career advice book nor a studious academic tone but rather something that gives a flavour of what it is like to be a political journalist and how to get there.

MP Adam Holloway’s contribution is the one that turns sour on political journalism, explaining how he became so disillusioned with coverage of himself that he not only ceased writing a column for the local newspaper but also stopped sending out local news releases.

So You Want To Be A Political Journalist - book coverThe chatty style makes the book an easy read to dip in and out of, but does come at the cost of some questions being glossed over. In particular, there is a steady supply of anecdotes about how journalists managed to make the news, such as by prompting a thought in an MP, but beyond the banter there isn’t any consideration of the more serious ethical issue of how often a journalist should be making, rather than reporting, the news. For people considering entering the profession, a more direct discussion of ethics would not have gone amiss.

That many of the contributors have had long and successful careers means necessarily that they cut their teeth before the internet age upended journalism, but contributions towards the end – including an excellent one from Ivor Gaber – give a flavour of how the internet is changing the way journalists operate. It is instructive just how often reading blogs features in the brief “week in the life” of James Landale, though again a new person to the profession might perhaps have been well served by a piece majoring on whether, and if so how, to use the opportunities offered by blogging and Twitter. People such as Benedict Brogan and Paul Waugh have shown how these tools can be used to enhance reputations and make connections to help further journalism careers.

These are, however, reasons to read other books too rather than not to read this collection, for Sheila Gunn has put together an entertaining and enlightening easy-to-read introduction to the profession of political journalism.

You can buy Sheila Gunn’s So you want to be a political journalist? from Amazon here and So you want to be a politician? is also available. My chapter for the latter is available online for free.

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