Advice For Young Journalists From Decades Past

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

This week, Twitter has been flooded with #AdviceForYoungJournalists, a hashtag prompted by a Felix Salmon article, "To all the young journalists asking for advice..." Salmon's piece strikes a foreboding tone ("Things are not only bad; they’re going to get worse"), and the discussion online has oscillated between the optimistic and pessimistic, the ridiculous and practical.

While the news industry has undoubtedly gone through seismic changes over the past decade or so, one thing has remained the same: Old reporters always want to give young reporters advice, whether they want to hear it or not. Here are some bits of #AdviceForYoungJournalists from decades and centuries past.


"The young man who has mastered his business is a professional journalist in the only sense in which the word 'professional' is understood by working journalists. In the absence of a diploma from any teaching body a man secures his professional status through his experience...A man may learn all that can be taught, and yet not be worth his salt on a newspaper. If covered with diplomas, such as he would never rise above the duties of respectable office drudgery."

—Parliamentary Gallery Reporter J. Henry Harris, The Young Journalist: His Work and how to Learn it.


“Always go late to a crowded meeting, for you will then have the satisfaction of disturbing a lot of people in order to get to your prominent seat."

—R.T. Gunton, Advice to Young Reporters.


"There is no advice to be given to young journalists except the ordinary advice which is to be given to human beings. That is, not to get drunk, but to prefer even drunkenness to drinking. Not to be insolent, but to prefer insolence to servility. To write in a legible hand, and to make notes of everything which one cannot remember."

—G.K. Chesterton, from The Collected Works.


"Mr. Ratcliffe said he would give the young editors some practical tips regarding journalism as a profession. The trend in newspaper publishing, both here and in England, he said, was toward consolidations, which tend to drive out the independent journalist and publisher. The consolidations, he said, make for larger circulations and higher advertising rates, which should react favorably in the salaries paid reporters and editors."

—S.K. Ratcliffe, Associate Editor of The New Statesman, to a convention of young journalists in 1928, as reported by the New York Times.


“If you would train yourself well for journalism, I suggest you train yourself in ideas. The power of print is the power of ideas. A printing press has no conscience, morals or ethics. These you must supply.”

—Edward R. Murrow, to a luncheon for high school newspaper editors.


"[Efforts to infuse news columns and news broadcasts with a reporter’s own views will] ruin them. This is the way it was done in the days of the yellow press and the screamers of radio’s first, faltering years."

—Eric Sevareid, CBS national correspondent.


“Play it straight, keep it short and never use the word 'unprecedented.’ Advocate your own story to editors and head for New York because that's the big show. You'll need luck, but you've got to push your luck, too.”

—Former executive editor and vice president of The New York Times Turner Catledge.