For years, on the occasional request for advice from someone who wanted to get into reporting, I suggested to major in some other field first and work in it a bit. My bias was in covering business. That’s where I could offer the most cogent insight. And my message was to have some solid understanding in a field outside of journalism itself.
Not that I suggested there was little to nothing to learn about how to report and write stories. Quite the opposite. But coming into the field from a completely opposite direction—with a background in math and engineering and experience in the business world—I found that I had some advantages over many others.
At first, I could shift into covering technology, which was a natural outgrowth of what I had done. Then came writing about business and marketing (as I had done a fair amount of writing in that area). Eventually, finance and economics, all possible because of having deeper knowledge in some other areas.
It’s an approach well worth considering, even if you didn’t get into journalism from another field. The more you know about other topics, the greater depth you can bring to your reporting. So, for example, you could take classes in business finance and accounting. That will give you a footing into understanding financial filings, which in turn means grasping essentials of a company and knowing where the strengths, weaknesses, and surprises are.
Or take some books out on management. Read different theories, and particularly look at case studies that will provide a look behind the scenes. Forget the posturing and double-talk that too many managers come out with. Grasp the basics of developing a business plan, motivating employees, and working in specific departments. Read how companies run factories and manufacture products, from design and engineering through prototyping and readying (or outsourcing) an assembly line.
Delve into business law and regulations. Compliance is one of the deeper and more complex issues as companies have to satisfy governing bodies around the globe. The world of lawyers, corporate secretaries, and legal requirements isn’t impossible to understand; it takes some patience.
The biggest advantage in gaining knowledge in any of these areas, or others, is that they are broadly horizontal. Unlike covering mining or advertising or wastewater management or energy production, getting a keen grasp of logistics, human resources, or any other aspect of doing business allows you to move with relative ease from one subsector to another. Expand your knowledge of other functional silos and you can start to connect more aspects of business together, deepening your coverage and keeping your professional prospects as open as possible.