Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my career. Whilst some of my closest friends are moving on to their second or third postgraduate jobs and climbing up the professional ladder, I can sometimes feel as if my career is on pause as they race ahead. Rationally, I know that journalism is one of the hardest industries to crack and that competition is more fierce than a Beyoncé concert taking place inside a lion’s den. There are insanely long waiting lists to even get an unpaid internship at a glossy magazine, and in the time it takes to get your foot in the door you could have trained to be an astronaut, traveled the world twice and waved your future children off to university. It is especially hard when the closest thing you have to an illustrious W1 postcode is a Harrods shopping bag and a few sassy Instagram snaps of the beautiful Victorian front doors Mayfair has in abundance.
Despite the nature of the industry and the fact that I live in a small ex-mining town in West Wales, not in the West End, I know that this is the industry for me and I am determined to make my mark. Having studied at the UK’s leading journalism school in Cardiff and interned at some of the UK’s most successful magazines I have learned new skills, pushed myself way outside of my comfort zone and met inspiring industry insiders all whilst pursuing my passion. But, this month I have definitely hit the wall, and I’m trying to regain a little perspective and give myself a break. It has only been five months since I completed my Masters in Magazine Journalism. While I might not quite be ready to apply for the Editor in Chief vacancy currently advertised at Vogue, I definitely have a lot to offer the industry and I’m going to keep banging on that wall until I break through to the other side. These are six important lessons I have learned about the journalism industry so far.
1. Persistence and patience are key. You might be the most talented writer, designer or social media whiz, but unless you make some noise about it, the journalism world won’t come knocking. Start a blog, make a portfolio of work and send as many emails as you possibly can until your talent and tenacity can’t be ignored. Getting into journalism can mean playing the long game, but if you’re willing to stick it out, are dedicated enough, do your research and practice your craft you will get there. You will eventually write a cover story, make your mark on InDesign and be given the key to the online kingdom.
2. There’s a hierarchy. From my experience, in spite of what Hollywood might have you believe, there is no tyrannical editor in charge ordering their minions to fetch their dry-cleaning and polish their shoes with their tears. But, you won’t become the editor without a little elbow grease. When you’re starting out you will often have to answer the phone, organise the post and make the tea. Instead of daydreaming your days away thinking about working your way up, take this as an opportunity to develop your people skills, network with experts in your field and impress the boss with the perfect brew.
3. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The media universe is extremely fast paced, is plugged in 24 hours a day, and to state the obvious, journalists are busy people. While on your internship don’t wait to be given something to do, be proactive and make yourself useful. Journalists are always looking for new ideas and sources of inspiration and could do with fresh eyes and an extra pair of hands. While I interned at BA’s High Life magazine I managed to pitch some ideas as part of a team meeting. Not only did I break through a barrier I’d struggled to surmount, my suggestions were discussed, appreciated and used. An added bonus was that the editor Kerry Smith, who is one of the loveliest and most talented ladies I have met inside the industry, told me she was impressed by my contributions and gave me some extremely useful journalistic advice. All you need is for one person to hear your voice and you’ll soon roar.
4. Sharpen your skills. To be a journalist you need a plethora of different skills in your armoury. You can no longer be a one trick pony. Long gone are the days of typewriters, switchboards and relying solely on shorthand and a Bic biro. One of the main things you have to embrace to be successful is the technological age. Having studied for a History degree at undergraduate level, I was a few hundred years behind everyone else. Mac computers, Photoshop and InDesign were things that were alien to me, and starting my journalism training felt a bit like being let loose in NASA HQ and crossing my fingers that I hadn’t fried any circuits or contributed to any crash landings. Social media was also something I didn’t particularly understand. So I worked extremely hard to get up to speed, practiced using these programs and shadowed a social media manager. By the end of the year I had successfully designed print magazine pages, created a few multimedia videos and joined Twitter. If I can be brought out of the dark ages then so can you.
5. Go after what you want. Having well-rounded skills is a must, but having one area that you particularly shine in and are passionate about is paramount. When you do what you love, chances are you do it well. So it goes without saying that getting experience in that field is a pretty good idea. Make sure you let whoever you’re working with know where your strengths lie. Journalists are quite savvy when it comes to uncovering the truth, but they can’t read minds. Chances are they’ll be more than happy for you to gain experience in that area and they’ll admire you for going after what you want. You might just blow them away, and I guarantee that not trying at all will haunt you more than being told ‘no’. Writing has always been my ‘thing’ and so I’ve tried my best to practice and showcase my work as much as possible. As part of my degree I chose to write a features based dissertation, have since worked with magazine features teams and I have started blogging. Taking little steps down a specialised path will really make a difference and get you noticed.
6. Don’t give up. Things will not happen overnight. Most of the young journalists I have met have been where I am now, and it’s reassuring to know that they are The Ghosts of Journalism Future. Almost everyone has to start at the bottom, intern for free for months and wait their turn to be welcomed into the media family. But once you’re in, it will be worth it. I’ve had a taste of life on the inside and it has only made me more hungry to get back there. Sure, it’s harder when you have a student loan hanging over your head and you don’t live anywhere near the London commuter belt. I have spent a small fortune on lonely old-fashioned hotel rooms without Wi-Fi, on unreliable trains and overpriced coffee, but I know that these expenses and quirky experiences are helping build my CV, expand my network and improve my skills. I’m certain that if I keep ploughing away it will all be worth it in the long term. It’s all about having confidence in your abilities and enough nerve to stick, and not twist, on your dream career.