Caitlin Kelly

Writer and Editor



    What It Takes    
Take Good Care of Yourself
It Takes a Village
Someone's Life
Trust Your Gut!
Getting Fired
What It Takes
When the Going
Gets Tough
Intellectual Archeology
The Best Writing
is Rewriting
Use a Dictionary
Carefully Chosen Language
Running a Home-Based Business
Quality Control
Coming Up with Ideas
Selling the Story
Paying Attention
Play Dates
Getting It
  Here's my totally personal, completely biased list of some of the skills (not including talent!) I think it takes to succeed as a journalist, whether freelance or staff, broadcast or print:

Be Creative: See things in a fresh, offbeat way. Talk your ideas through, sometimes with people whose views may be very different from yourself ,and listen to feedback, even if negative or critical.

Network: Get to know as many professional writers, with something to teach you, as you can. Peers and mentors can provide invaluable practical information and moral support.

Focus on Short-Term/Long-term Goals: What are your short-term goals? (Get published? Become an expert in one area? Get to know a magazine or newspaper's staff and editors? Gather material for a book or film? Travel?) Long-term? What skills and contacts do you need to develop now?

Be Outgoing: Is it easy for you to approach people you don't know? Talk to them? Photograph them? Interview them? Can you put people at ease quickly and gain their trust?

Be Passionate: Do you care about your subject? You must make your reader/viewer/listener/editor/agent -- who is already bombarded with competing bids for attention - care as much as you.

Be Accurate: When in doubt, leave it out. Your reputation, and that of your every employer/editor, relies on the truthfulness and verifiable accuracy of your reporting.

Be Literate: Read widely and well: classics, novels, non-fiction, poetry, magazines and newspapers. The detail, descriptions and narrative power found in the fiction of Chekov or Balzac or Anne Beattie or Dickens will jump-start your writing as well as, or better than, contemporary journalism.

Be Numerate: Can you read graphs and charts? Can you make sense of statistics? Can you tell when someone is trying to fool you using numbers?

Be Tenacious and Persistent: Don't give up! It might take 25 or 50 phone calls or visits or emails to get the person or the information you need.

Keep a Thick Skin: Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon, a messy and inevitable part of the working life. Get over it!

Vision/Confidence: What do you bring to the table? What makes your voice special? Study your strengths (and weaknesses) to know what you offer and who can best appreciate it. Surround yourself with family, friends and colleagues who set high standards for themselves and for you.

Be Curious: If you're not interested in the material, how will you engage others? There are few "dumb" questions and often the simplest ones, "Why?" Why now?", elicit some of the best material.

Be Adventurous: Some of the best stories are challenging to report - up a Tall Ship mast, in a cancer hospice, behind closed doors, in a foreign country. Are you ready to go get them anyway?

Remain Open-Minded: Are you comfortable meeting and talking to people very different from you in race, age, sexual, religious or political preference? Socioeconomic or educational background?

Be Tolerant of Diversity: You'll be working with, and meeting, many different kinds of people, with backgrounds very different from yours. Anyone can have a great idea or help you develop yours.

Develop specialized skills: Foreign languages, computer , Internet research/HTML, Internet design, photography: each can differentiate you from your competition.

Think analytically: What does this story mean? What patterns can you discern? Has this happened before? Where, when and why? Why is it happening now? Provide context for every story.

Think critically: Just because it's on TV, the Net or your favorite website doesn't mean it's worth repeating, or true. Beware of sexy graphics and commercial come-ons. Question everything. If someone tells you something, why are they telling you? Why now? What's in it for them?

Keep up your stamina/energy: It takes energy to conceive of, chase down and create great stories, year after year. Eat right, sleep well, work out. Keep your life in balance to recharge your creativity.

Show grace under pressure: This is a business of constant deadlines, growing competition, high expectations. You can't crumple under heat from colleagues, competitors, bosses or yourself. There's always another story, day, job, assignment.

Be resourceful/problem-solving: Your tape recorder breaks halfway through the interview; you don't speak Croatian; you can't find the right exit off the highway. Figure it out. Learn to use other people's skills and talents to help you get what you need. Street smarts and common sense will take you far.

Know the law: Know your rights of access to places and information. If someone tells you you can't go there/do that, know the law so you can continue when necessary.

Be a team player: Staff or freelance, you'll be working with colleagues, editors, copy editors, technicians, production staff. Every newspaper, magazine, book or broadcast is the result of close collaboration between many people, often with quite different personalities, ages and skills. Be prepared to fully explain your ideas, to defend them, to help others display them in the best possible way. Know when to give in - and when to fight for your story.

Laugh!: Essential. Things go wrong, usually right on deadline. Keeping a sense of perspective and humor, (while you're working to fix the problem) helps everyone.