Career chat | How I got into journalism

I’m often emailed by students asking for advice on how to ‘make it’ within the media industry. Advice on internships, how to apply for a job and just the basic path I took to land my first full-time role.

And one of the most popular questions I’m asked is… just HOW did I get into journalism?

From a young age I knew I wanted to be a journalist. At school, English was my favourite lesson and I loved tasks set that included writing newspaper articles (I still have a Year 7 piece titled ‘Sexism in the City’ about the gender pay gap).
However my younger secondary school years were immersed in music and drama, and it wasn’t until sixth form that I began to really get involved in writing.
Age 16 I joined a scheme that allowed a handful of students to write online articles for our local newspaper. Mine included opinion articles against the potential addition of Staffordshire Bull Terriers to the UK’s Dangerous Dog Act, and one about the correlation of low alcohol prices and anti-social behaviour on UK high-streets (with a comment from my local MP).
This gave me a flavour of what it’s like to see your writing published with a byline, and I continued gaining as much experience as possible, joining the student magazine team as my weekly extra-curricular activity at school.
YES, like most people I could have chosen ‘external gym time’ so that I could go home early and watch TV – but I knew the opportunity to create a magazine from start to finish was too good to miss.With a small team of other students, we created one magazine per term with original features, original designs and gained advertising from local businesses to fund the mag itself.

Aside from this, I also curated our end of sixth form Yearbook, working with a student photographer to photograph and interview every single sixth form student. It was a mammoth task – but the end result was great.
My first big break was when our student magazine was up for a nomination at this student media awards. At the ceremony I met Barry McIlheney, the CEO of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). After swapping email address, I kept in touch and he invited me as a guest to the PPA’s huge annual conference.
Armed with business cards (which I spent HOURS designing online), I met some of the industry’s most influential and high-profile people, from CEO’s of huge publishing houses, to well-known journalists and media influencers. Through this networking I secured my first internship at Stylist magazine.
I attended the PPA’s annual conference for two more years on the trot as a student, armed with business cards, determined to learn as much as I could, to meet as many people as I could, and to make my name known.
You definitely have to be ballsy. Know your stuff, and know your faces. Before I went, I looked up the itinerary and guest list to see who would be talking that day, and others that would be attending. I made a note, and armed myself with questions and/or knowledge of their company or publication in a bid to make a good impression.
Altogether, through my time at school and university I interned for Stylist, Grazia, Company, Marie Claire and The Debrief. And this was all through networking, and making an impression good enough to be recommended to others. But I’ll write a separate post entirely on internships and my experiences of them.
I appreciate I was in a very lucky situation when it came to work experience. I’m from London so when I returned home from university for the holidays I could easily do a fortnightly/monthly placement here and there without having to worry about finding accommodation.
Having said that, most UK cities have a good media base and it’s always worth looking into local media outlets and agencies for potential internship opportunities. Don’t just assume that London is the only place you can gain experience (HELLO, the World Wide Web?).
And you don’t NEED work experience to get writing experience. At university the first obvious step would be to join the student media team and write for the uni paper/magazine.Admittedly, I didn’t do that as much as I could have done because I was the President of my university’s Journalism society, and therefore made the decision to concentrate on that and my degree instead.

But I’ve also always had a blog. I didn’t care if people actually read it, but it forced me to be creative, to think of exciting ideas to write about, and it also became a great portfolio for my writing.
During my last year at university I also freelanced remotely for a couple of publications. I became a community blogger for Metro, writing a few pieces a month for them, as well as writing a couple of opinion pieces for The Independent, Look and The Debrief.
Therefore, when I graduated I’d built myself up a very good portfolio of experience, and published articles to prove it. And no, I didn’t get a job straight away – so don’t panic! Finishing university in May, I didn’t get my first full-time, permanent role until November.
In that time, I applied for a job at a magazine looking for a beauty writer. However they were looking for someone with a bit more experience, but I asked to come in and meet the Editor anyway.I ended up freelancing for them in the office for a month or so as their Acting Editorial Assistant.

So, grab every opportunity – and if a job application doesn’t have the outcome you were hoping for, ALWAYS leave it on good terms, and see if there’s any other way you and said publication can work together.

So that leaves us here, in the present time. I’ve been in my current role as a digital writer for Good Housekeeping for just over a year now. And even now I’m learning every single day on the job. Im fact, I don’t think I’ll EVER stop learning.
My career path so far has definitely involved a lot of hard work, and a huge rethink in priorities. During the Summer holidays for example, I was doing unpaid work experience in a full-time 9-5 job, while my friends were out and about. And at university I missed nights out in order to keep on top of my degree and my freelance writing.
But if you’re fully committed to joining the media industry, it’s sometimes the sacrifice you have to make!If you have any questions, feel free to pop them in the comments below! 

 

(main image source: Pinterest)

 

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