Specialisms: What are they and how do I decide mine?


Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

We all probably know a fair number of journalists that we go to for our own news or entertainment; be that political reporters, your favourite columnist, foreign correspondents in certain countries, local restaurant reviewers…the list is extensive.

At the core of the relationship between all of these journalists and their so-called specialisms, is that the former has expert subject knowledge of the latter. 

Many journalists favour a broad skill set and report on many different topics throughout their career but having a specialism as a journalist has several benefits. It is often argued that a specialism sets you apart from other candidates as it shows that you are someone to go to for information on a certain topic. Having a specialism can also help you build readership – if people see that you are someone that is consistently and accurately reporting on a particular subject area, people are likely to be drawn towards your work when they are looking for information on this matter.

So, how do you decide on your specialism? As a young journalist, I have asked myself this question many times. Journalism is always changing and growing. There are so many topics one can write or talk about – so many it can be quite overwhelming at times. If you are like me and only starting out, you might not want to take such a deep-dive into a particular area just yet, but even so, it is a good step to take towards your personal growth and career advancement to figure out what you enjoy and where your passions lie, whether you exclusively write specialist content or not.⁠⁠

Currently, I am at the stage of my career where I am keeping my options open and am continuously trying different things, but I have discovered that I particularly enjoy doing interview features, news stories, and stories covering human rights issues. However, when I started studying journalism three years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to focus on. I had so many things I could envision myself doing but had never really tried out any at that point. It was only through seeking out opportunities and a lot of trial and error, that I got to where I am today.

 While everyone’s journey is always different, there definitely are some steps you can take towards discovering your interests and potentially turning them into your future specialism.  Here’s some tips and things I discovered on my journey that might help you: 

Think about your interests:

Think about your passions. What type of stories do you like reading? Are you a film nerd or do you love space and technology? Often the thing you enjoy doing will come easier to you and, vice versa, the things that are of little interest will be harder for you to complete. By knowing what you like, it will be easier to work out what you may want to talk or write about more.

Seek out opportunities:

Be that with your student newspaper, a local outlet, or online publications. When I started out, I wrote for my university’s newspaper as a contributor for several sections and then became the News Editor once I discovered that I enjoyed writing about local news stories. I also wrote for the online publication The National Student, which gave me the chance to write content for a national audience (rather than my local university). This also enabled me to gain a press pass and write reviews for some shows at the Edinburgh Fringe; something which I otherwise might have never been able to try out. Even if you are not a journalism student, there are so many online publications that are always looking for contributors. If you haven’t yet, subscribe to our newsletter in which we share some of these opportunities and pitch call outs from editors every week. Subscribe here

Try different things:

Don’t box yourself immediately into a specialism even if you are sure that the topic interests you personally. I discovered that despite my love for music or theatre, I disliked writing reviews for both of these topics very early in my career. The best way to know if a particular specialism is good for you, is to try plenty of different things. Try writing about a variety of topics (and using a variety of mediums such as podcasting, or videos). By trying different things, you will also see what you are good at. You will start to see which stories interest you the most, which you are best at reporting about, and which medium you best use to tell your stories. 

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Be innovative:

You might actually find that an area you are interested in does not exist…and it doesn’t have to! As said, journalism is always changing and growing. Certain areas might not be reported on in great detail and others not at all. If it interests you, you could always be the first person to start – even if it’s on a personal blog or smaller specialist outlets. Being a frontrunner can set you apart later when a topic does gain more traction.

 Speak with other journalists in the field:

We know networking seems to always pop up as the golden egg of progressing in the journalism industry, but networking can help you make relationships in the field you are hoping to work in. Talking to other journalists can help you gain insight into what it is like working in your area of interest and might even lead to opportunities for you to gain experience in that field. Don’t feel scared to reach out!

It’s all about YOU:

Remember, finding your specialism is a journey that is unique to everyone – some journalists never pick a certain area to specialise in at all. Don’t worry if you are still undecided or just not have one area you want to specialise in. Don’t compare yourself to others. It is important to find out what you enjoy doing and taking steps to translate that into your career.