A rat-like cunning and a good pair of shoes

Nick Tomalin famously said all that was required for success in journalism was “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability”. But it turns out a good pair of shoes and a sensible coat help too!

A rat-like cunning and a good pair of shoes
Photo by Ben Berwers / Unsplash

Nick Tomalin famously said all that was required for success in journalism was “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability”. But it turns out a good pair of shoes and a sensible coat help too!

I’m doing inductions this week — welcoming students to our journalism courses. As you’d expect the sessions are a weird mix of the administrative and the exciting — “Welcome to a profession that can change the world! Have you registered with the uni GP?

Part of the reality of inductions is expectation setting. That’s not just the staff/student relationship. There’s also a big element of professional expectation. Our students are student journalists. We expect them to act as professional journalists would. And that means introducing them to things like the NUJ code of ethics etc. But today I was pondering just how far that expectation should go. Does it stretch to how they look?

Should I (or can I) tell students how we would expect them to dress as journalists?

If that feels like a left-field question — What business is it of yours what people wear or how they look? I guess that proves my point. I’m very aware that appearance is a sensitive area. But we do send people out reporting for their assignments and for Newsday. They are on the street, off to court, and to council meetings. Post-lockdown, not as many teams/zoom interviews as you’d think. They also go on placements. And people (editors and the public) do comment.

So is this something I should be discussing with students at all? Should we be talking about a dress code?

Well, I asked Twitter. Did journalists have a dress code where they worked? And God loves you journalism Twitter, you delivered!

This reply pretty much sums up the discussion

But here are my takeaways

  • Dress appropriately
  • Prepare for the unexpected
  • Start with the shoes
  • Prepare for any weather.

Dress appropriately

The key takeaway from the conversation was to dress appropriately. In other words, dress for the situation. If you’re going to cover a court case then remember that the courts take things seriously and judges are vicious fashion critics it turns out...

But if you’re not court reporting it still counts. Even if you’re not matching the outfits, a recognition of what people are used to is important as Cycling journalist Vern Pitt pointed out:

Prepare for the unexpected

Many people pointed to the unpredictable nature of journalism as a driver of their choice of clothes. And whilst the days of always wearing a suit, ‘just in case’ seem to have passed by, many people noted they had a suitable jacket (and a tie) hidden away just in case.

  • Practicality: as a journalist working on a rural patch or working as a roving reporter, it seems that a pair of wellies in your car is essential.

Prepare for any weather

A waterproof jacket in the car or a smart jacket or coat to throw over what you're wearing featured heavily. As did gloves. Which makes sense. Fingerless or phone-friendly gloves could be a life-saver if you’re waiting around at a police cordon or similar

So, is there a dress code?

What I love about the responses to my tweet, is the idea that there are very practical issues at play here. As a journalist, you tell all kinds of stories and you need to make sure you’re prepared. Whether that's for muddy fields or heartbreaking chats with grieving families. We know in our hearts what’s appropriate.

That said, we can’t escape the impact of covid and remote working is having on some parts of journalism — there was a good deal of comment along the lines of ‘shorts and t-shirts on zoom’. We operate in changing times and the idea of a dress code might feel so pre-covid. But there was a very strong sense of what was professional without the need to dictate. Perhaps the idea of how a journalist should dress being a generally understood norm rather than an uncritical rule says something about changing attitudes.

But in the end, the thread was the perfect answer to my question.

How should a journalist dress? — well take a look.

Thanks to everyone who shared.