When I first started out in journalism, I didn’t see many people like me in the top newsroom roles.
I was from a working-class family, living on a council estate and had absolutely no connections in the media.
But I went on to become an award-winning daily newspaper editor in my mid-20s. I now edit magazines, train the journalists of the future and help businesses get their story out there.
I hope that I can show you that you can achieve ANYTHING you put your mind to.
Today I’m going to talk to you about journalism specifically – how you get work experience, how you get bylines and grow your profile, what qualifications you need and how to cope with the stress. Because it IS stressful. But it is also incredibly rewarding.
The story isn’t about you
This is the first lesson I give my MA Journalism students on day one. If you’re getting into journalism for fame or glory, you’ve got it wrong.
Go into journalism because you want to make a difference. Because you have a good understanding of the importance of a free press and how it protects open democracy. Sure, you might land your own column or show. But those things should be a bonus. You do the job you do because there is a purpose bigger than you.
Things have changed dramatically within the space of a year – thanks, coronavirus. Whilst traditional work experience placements meant going into a newsroom, now it could mean slotting into the team online. Rather than presenting you with a problem, this presents you with an opportunity. It opens up the world of journalism, no matter where you are based!
When I was doing work experience, I was travelling all over the place. I am from Portsmouth but I travelled to Brighton, London, Surrey, Kent, Stratford-upon-Avon, Reading… the list goes on! I can’t remember them all!
I worked as a waitress/ housekeeper to fund my education and saved up so I could go and do placements during the holidays. It was HARD. And I don’t think you should be priced out of working in journalism. But now, you can work for any newspaper or magazine ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTRY from the comfort of your own home. How great is that?!
I’ve given placements to lots of students. And if we have a job opening and they’re great, you can bet they get first refusal.
To make the most of your work experience…
Do your research
Make sure you research the area for local titles or the demographic for a nationals/broadcast. And actually read the publication! Get to know who the journalists are before you start; scope out the kind of stories they write and come up with some ideas ready to impress on your first day!
Take the initiative!
It can be daunting to pick up the phone or go up to a grumpy news editor and pitch a story – but the people who do this get noticed. You’re there to learn and to get as much as you can from the experience. So make the most of it! If you’re doubting yourself, just remember – one, they gave you this placement for a reason. Two, everyone in that newsroom has been where you’ve been.
Get yourself a blog
Blogging?! Isn’t that sooo early noughties? (hopefully, those of you reading this know what a blog is!)
Blogging is a huge industry and it’s predicted to grow this year. Getting bylines in media is brilliant – it gives you kudos with potential employers. But if you are finding it hard to juggle studies with work and work experience, having a blog is a good way of building up your writing skills. You’ll have somewhere to point potential employers and establish a brand for yourself.
Your blog doesn’t necessarily have to be about journalism – pick a topic you’re passionate about.
When I was a teenager I had a blog about fashion – and it helped me land some really great internships at national women’s magazines.
To save time you can batch your content.
Traditional media isn’t the only way
Whilst there’s a lot of negativity about the media industry – there are so many reasons to be positive. You can be the innovators of tomorrow. You can see things your predecessors didn’t and try new ways of working or presenting stories.
Getting bylines in traditional media outlets isn’t the only way of getting work experience. There are so many incredible online sites, podcasts and YouTube channels. Why not send a story pitch and see what happens?
If you want to set up as a freelancer, check out the book Freelancing For Journalists by Emma Wilkinson and Lily Canter. They also have a newsletter which contains lots of great freelancing opportunities.
Get the NCTJ
This is the gold standard in journalism training. I coordinate and teach the MA Journalism at Oxford Brookes. Lots of publishers will only take trainees who have the NCTJ, or are working towards it. Why? Because journalism requires you to know a lot about the law and ethical codes, as well as be able to structure a story or use the tech.
When we see that someone has the NCTJ, it shows us they have a good understanding of these things. If you want to be a court reporter, you need to be accredited – that’s because there are so many reporting restrictions and if you break one, you could land your employer in hot water.
There are lots of ways to get the NCTJ. You can do an accredited undergraduate course, a year-long MA or a part-time MA; you could do a 20-week fast track. Or, if you want to learn on the job, you could apply for an apprenticeship. Lots of publishers offer these. With any accredited course or apprenticeship, competition can be fierce, so that’s why getting some bylines or work experience under your belt is a great idea.
If you want to find out more about the course I teach, visit: www.brookes.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/journalism/
Criticism is ok, abuse is not
This job can be very stressful. For many people, the only time they encounter a news journalist is at a distressing time in their lives. Oftentimes they’ve never been in the media before and understandably, they can get upset. It’s important that you try not to take that personally.
Having said that, it’s important that you never lose your empathy. I always try and put myself in someone else’s shoes and see if from their perspective.
If you’ve made a mistake, hold your hands up, apologise and rectify it. Your editor isn’t going to kill you – as long as you’re honest! That said, there is a difference between someone having a genuine complaint, and someone being abusive. Abuse towards journalists is currently a serious problem and one I am working to address. I commissioned a survey last year and now I’m working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, along with bodies like the NMA, police and CPS, to bring in measures that will protect and support journalists.
I will be running a free workshop for young people who are interested in getting into journalism soon. If that’s you, send me a DM on Instagram @Samantha_editor to book your space.