There is one lesson I’ve learned after spending years as an international maritime journalist. And that is, one does not need any special talent to be successful in the business. News writing is not like writing a treatise or a serious novel. It does not require a gargantuan mental effort or even a flair for words. One only has to have good grammar and be streetwise by following some basic tenets.

Master the art of kissing ass.

No maritime journalist has ever been liked who did not know how to kiss ass. Praising the industry biggies will put you in their good graces. This helps in eliciting information and even favours from your news sources (e.g., an advert or an all-expenses-paid trip). Who cares if you come up with puff pieces? Everyone does it.

Never fight the maritime establishment.

There’s a price to pay for criticising the maritime establishment. You could be scorned, shunned and even seen as a pariah. It is a conformist industry that has little room for mavericks and rebels.

Socialise even if you find it excruciating to do so.

Make sure to attend company events when invited. Rubbing elbows with top executives will pay dividends. They may, for instance, remember you at Christmastime and send you a nicely wrapped generic gift. Or a bottle of Scotch whiskey, if you have been very useful to them.

Avoid thinking too much.

The so-called interpretative news writing is going the way of the dodo. The point is to be productive, especially when working for an online publication. This means whipping up an article without spending too much time or effort. Why intellectualise? That thing is for nerds and geeks.

Work smart, write smart.

Reporters and correspondents are paid the same regardless of the quality of their output. Why chase after a story when you can rergurgitate a press release or recycle stories published elsewhere? Stitch together paragraphs from different sources. Most editors will be none the wiser. You see, they are too busy or lazy to vet articles submitted by their writers.

I’ll be honest. I had consistently violated all the aforementioned precepts before I quit journalism in 2009. I think my sense of delicacy was too exorbitant. Even so, what I have shared here has worked for many. I have no doubts that it will benefit those who want to get ahead in the mad, mad world of maritime journalism.

~Barista Uno

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