Queen Mary Careers Centre and QMSU held the university’s first ever media summit last week, featuring leading journalists from Channel 4 news and the Independent.
Professor John Rentoul was the keynote speaker and gave the audience an insight into the profession, industry tips and his experience of being a journalist.
Here are some of the best bits from the event:
Specialism vs Variety
The decision over whether to specialise or report on a range of topics is something which young journalists often find difficult. It’s often a bigger issue for news journalists, than those who want to be arts journalists and can more readily narrow down their area of specialism to art, food, fashion etc.
Many feel that specialising will close doors and variety will open them. This is something which keynote speaker John Rentoul disagreed with. He urged students to find and develop a specialism, with the caveat that this could change over time.
“Having a specialism gets attention from the commissioning editor.” John said that editors don’t have time to research journalists for every story so they regularly pick the same people who are well known for producing material on a particular topic. This is where having a specialism can be an advantage but notoriety needs to accompany this and this is what many budding journalists find tough.
Getting noticed online
Making a name for yourself as a journalist online can seem an impossible feat. The large quantity of online bloggers has increased the competition in getting published, as employers now have so much choice. When asked about what aspiring journalists should do to stand out online, John emphasised the use of Twitter.
“It’s completely changed the way journalism works in this country.”
He added: “It’s not difficult to get published these days, it’s difficult to get noticed.” With virtually everyone having the ability to self-publish, the difficulty moves from getting work out there to getting it an audience.
Finding stories and overcoming challenging interview tasks
Demonstrating journalistic qualities can be a struggle for those hoping to pursue a career in media. Hannah Livingston, Channel 4 Dispatches and Firecrest Films, spoke of her previous interview experience which involved being asked to find three original stories in a couple of hours. The interviewers had already read the stories in the local newspapers, so the challenge meant speaking to the public to unearth something original.
Although the prospect may seem daunting Hannah said: “That’s how you find stories, by talking to people.”
She advised students to immerse themselves in the chosen area. “If you want to get into TV journalism, watch as much TV journalism as you can.” An awareness of the specialism is essential in any line of work but in a constantly changing industry such as media, it is especially important. Employers often ask you to review previously aired programmes, published articles or their website so it pays to be in the know.
Making the most out of every opportunity
All of the guests spoke of the importance of gaining experience and skills, as well as building networks at every opportunity. Student media received unanimous support as a pathway for budding journalists. It is a great way to improve your writing skill and get published during your degree. In addition to the more obvious skills you develop.
Many students expressed frustration with the culture of unpaid internships which are commonplace in media. Hannah Livingston said that she was told to,”work for free but don’t work for nothing.” Make sure you always get as much as you can from any work experience you do…. ask them questions, make contacts etc.
Rebecca Coxon, who graduated from Queen Mary last year, got her position at the BBC following her successful application to the BBC Production Talent Pool. To apply for this year’s intake visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/careers/trainee-schemes/ptp, opening for applications 18 February. Rebecca, who is now a Production Management Assistant for BBC Factual, said that although her position is entry level she has been able to make useful industry contacts.
Who you know or rather who knows you, was a reoccurring theme throughout the summit. However those hoping to get into media shouldn’t be put off by this. Sources are essential for journalists when it comes to stories and can also be a way to secure work.
John stated the importance of who you know but pointed out that, “if you’re determined enough you can make those contacts yourself.”
Speaking about useful resources and organisations Rebecca mentioned Creative Pioneers for their speed meet events. Creative Pioneers offer paid internships to successful final year students and graduates.
Alex Thomson said: “Starting as a runner is just one route. Any way you can get through the door get through the door, get through the door.”
The prospect of becoming an investigative journalist intrigued a number of audience members. It’s one area where having a low profile can work in your favour.
Hannah described the work of an investigative journalist as fantastically exciting, but at the same time a huge liability. It’s for this reason that you need “fresh skins” as having a huge media presence eliminates your ability to carry out investigative work for obvious reasons.
Alex Thomson, Chief Correspondent Channel 4 News, said that all journalism is investigative and that there is no big abyss between the two. “Investigative journalism, is just journalism with a budget and time.”
Big names vs independent media organisations
Each guest encouraged students not to rule anything out when it comes to accepting offers from local or less well-known publications. Edwin Lampert, Group Managing Editor, Riviera Maritime Media, a trade publication, said: “Don’t miss opportunities from tech or b2b publications.” With a magazine for practically every leisure activity from knitting to fishing, and for every industry from IT to teaching, there are endless possibilities for students and graduates to build up their experience.
Trade, tech and business to business (b2b) publications are areas of opportunity often neglected by would-be journalists. Big media organisations aren’t the only places to offer graduate roles and applying to more specialist publications can mean less competition and you could end up doing something you really love.
If you missed the media summit you have a chance to hear what the speakers had to say about getting into media. We interviewed some of the speakers after the event and you can catch the videos here and on our QM Careers YouTube page very soon.
Careers Administrative Assistant
QM Careers Centre