Maritime Journalism

Maritime journalism is a specialised sector of publishing, which offers opportunities to mariners with enthusiasm, curiosity and the essential skill of literacy. They tend to work for specialist publications, the days of general newspapers having their own shipping correspondents being long gone. The specialist field is very large, ranging from daily newspapers (the world's oldest daily newspaper is Lloyd's List , started to provide shipping information in 1734) to weekly, newspapers and magazines, newsletters and e-zines. The sector may also be also divided into a very large number of subspecialties with publications devoted to separate shipping sectors, technology, commercial matters, professional journals, education, recreational boating and various enthusiast titles. The field is large, and while the lion's share of these publications are in the English language, many other traditional shipping nations have their own publications. Public relation companies which specialise in the maritime world may also hire mariners for specialist marine accounts. Opportunities also exist in data production and technical writing (of manuals).

Most publications are to be found in shipping centres, although the arrival of IT has encouraged many publishing companies to move out of town to cheaper locations. E-mail has also made it easier for journalists to move about and to transmit their copy back to base. A large number of journalists are freelance operators, rather than staff and thus self-employed.

Seafarers with a wish to get into maritime journalism are best advised to look first at the technical magazines , where there are the most opportunities, daily newspapers tending to prefer to recruit their staff from the world of general journalism and rely on a very few specialists to provide their expertise requirements.

Most who have succeeded in this field have done so in a very ad hoc fashion. They have studied the publications themselves and seen the sort of articles that are published. They have approached the editors of the publications, offering well-thought out features about subjects in which they have specialist knowledge. If they are fortunate, the editor is interested and there is space, the article may see the light of day, and a cheque eventually appear. Being published is an important step as it provides necessary credibility.

Some large publishers have training programmes for their staff , but useful general skills are those of the keyboard, ability with a camera and as wide an interest in marine matters as possible. An ability to write in the style of the particular publication is an acquired art. A former deck officer working for a shipping industry technical magazine will find that the small staffs employed provide no niches for navigation specialists, and will have to be able to write articles about marine machinery, ports development, shipbroking markets or regulation. Speed and accuracy are essential , as these days, the legions of readers and sub-editors who used to check their work have all gone, and what is input will probably appear on the page. Shorthand is not necessary in these days of the recorder, but be aware that interviewees may be reticent when faced with recorders, and a good powers of accurate recall are useful.

Besides these large publishing houses, there are many small operations with one or two magazines, perhaps a conference programme and some book publishing.

The attractions of marine journalism are obvious - infinite variety - travel, ample opportunity to use and develop acquired professional skills, along with the chance of meeting people across a large, people-centred maritime industry. It is not particularly well-rewarded, although there are invariably freelance opportunities for the skilled operator.

It tends to be a career in which the ambitious can advance, provided they have the right qualities to edit their own publications, taking responsibility for the editorial content and commercial health. Magazines have small staffs of writers, newspapers have very many more and ambitious gravitate towards the healthier, larger publications. Many then move into publishing, per se, focussing on the commercial side and developing the business, perhaps moving into public relations, which should not ideally be mixed simultaneously with journalism. Others elect to remain editors, or correspondents, perhaps operating as freelances and providing "copy" to a number of publications.

While some are natural writers, it is more often the case that writing skills need to be honed to provide "publishable" copy. The sort of report writing skills which are useful at sea are no more than a first step, reports not being known for their literary merit. Being able to describe situations, equipment, scenes, locations etc. in an interesting yet concise fashion is the sort of writing skill that must be cultivated.

 

With thanks to Michael Grey