At a recent QM Careers Event, two fantastic Alumni speakers gave our students the benefit of their insight when it comes to working in journalism. Poorna Bell is an award-winner journalist who studied English at QM, has many years of experience in the industry and now works for the Huffington Post. Alannah Francis graduated from QM in 2012 with a degree in history; after many, many internships and projects Alannah recently landed her first job at the Times. Here we break down the best tips Poorna and Alannah had for breaking into the industry:
Write, write, write and write some more
As a journalist friend told Alannah, ‘You’re only as good as your last story’. Translation: as a budding journalist you need to be seizing every opportunity to build a portfolio of work. If you’re not blogging already, start today. Write for other people’s blogs. Write for QM’s student media outlets. Submit pieces to online newspapers and magazines. Having a solid portfolio of work not only gives an employer an idea of your writing interests and style, but demonstrates your passion for writing.
Quality and Quantity
Do you concentrate on getting that one article in a national newspaper or several pieces on lesser known websites? While having something published in the Guardian would of course be a great piece for your portfolio, it’s not the be all. In the early stages of your career, employers want to see that you are finding opportunities wherever you can. And when it comes to your writing itself, as Alannah explains: ‘You have to show your work to employers eventually so there’s no point writing something just so you’ve posted on your blog that week if it’s poor quality.’
Variety or Specialism
Again, there is a bit of a balancing act here between making sure you have a variety of work in your portfolio and not being too random. As Alannah pointed out, having variety opens up more opportunity – so if you like writing about film, being able to write about TV and music as well would mean you could apply for roles with an entertainment publication. At this early stage too, you are not expected to be a specialist. However, there also needs to be some rhyme and reason to your portfolio – so writing about fashion and veterinary science might just confuse an employer as to where your real interests lie.
As one student asked, would doing a postgraduate course help you in your journalism career? In a nutshell: not at the expense of writing experience. Alannah had done a course at the National Council for the Training of Journalists, which she believed has certainly been useful, especially when it comes to law matters (rules on libel etc). Some employers may even ask for this. But as Poorna noted, the main thing she looks at when hiring someone is what have they done not just what have they learnt.
Be Social Media Savvy
In the world of journalism today social media skills are a must. Poorna, for example, is more interested in seeing an applicant’s interest in online journalism than in a list of internships they’ve done. Alannah happened to be following her interviewer from the Times on twitter – so that when it came to the interview she was able to connect better with him. And of course social media is the perfect way to promote your work.
Poorna was scathing of unpaid internship and advises students to think carefully before doing them. For her, an applicant’s passion for journalism is the most important thing, demonstrated through a good portfolio and interest in social media. Alannah too was cautious about unpaid internships, particularly having done a few herself. The main thing to remember, as she points out, is what are you getting out of it? Is there an opportunity to make good contacts? Can you get really get involved in important projects that would look good on your CV? Are you developing a skill worth having?
Alannah had applied for the same position three times before she finally got hired at the Times. Her manager had kept her CV on file and contacted her when someone left. In the meantime, Alannah had also been busy gaining more experience to bolster her CV. The lesson to be learnt here is perseverance. Whether it’s pitching an article or making a job application, you’ll face a lot of rejection on the road to becoming a journalist, so you’ll need to develop resilience.
Be Prepared for Hard Work
Whether you work for a magazine, newspaper or online publication, working to deadline is the name of the game in journalism. You also have to realise that you will be part of a well-oiled machine, so hitting your deadlines will be essentially if the design team and editors and proof-readers and everyone else can do their job on time too. In a world of 24 hour news, shift work is also increasingly common – Alannah works various rotations through the day and overnight
Guardian Comment is Free – they accept a range of articles on any topic and the guidelines give some great tips. Just remember that you might have to pitch a few times before you actually get accepted, but don’t give up!
Gorkana Jobs – find journalism and PR jobs and internships.
Journo Grads – a good platform for blogging as they accept pitches.
Wannabe Hacks – also accept pitches and good for advice, mentoring and journalism jobs.
Media Argh – lots of tips about working in media and a jobs board (they don’t advertise unpaid internships).
Ideas Tap – excellent for all things related to writing, including advice, events and jobs. You can also create a portfolio, making it a great way to put examples of your work into once place to show employers.
Information Assistant, Careers & Enterprise Centre