Since the age of 14, when I realised food critics get paid to eat in restaurants, I’ve wanted to be a journalist. Every task I’ve done up until that point has only made me want it more. I’ve had my fair share of free food, haircuts, gigs and stash from just penning my thoughts in student papers.
It’s a notoriously tricky business, and when you reach the end of university you find yourself at a crossroads: Do you take on unemployed internships for months until someone gives you a job? Do you do a masters? Do you start your own blog? It’s a tough call.
Over 8 years of trying to get into the business, this is the advice I’ve been given.
- Shorthand is the single most important thing you will ever learn.
- Shorthand is pointless.
- Make sure you take part in student journalism.
- Don’t bother with the student paper. Employers care more about work experience.
- Work experience isn’t that important. You need to show your own initiative. Write a blog and stick to it.
- Forget the blog. Most editors have no idea how to use the internet.
- Do a masters.
- Don’t do a masters.
- Making tea for the office is beneath no one.
- Whatever you do, don’t start making tea for everyone in the office. They’ll just think you’re a kid.
- Print is dying.
- Print is sacred.
- Be aggressive with interviewees.
- Be nice with interviewees.
- Be more dog.
- Be more cat.
- Stay away from the Daily Mail. It’s where the integrity goes to die.
- Every editor in the country respects journalists from the Mail.
- Start on a local paper – you can work your way up.
- Local papers are a death sentence.
- Don’t get sued.
- Take risks.
Maybe there is one true path to a job in journalism. Over the course of one year at City University, we’ve been to a lot of talks from people we admire, who “made it”. Their success stories almost always go like this:
‘Well I’d just finished uni and I was at a bit of a loose end. I did a bit of work experience at a local paper and someone had a heart attack while I was there. I called an ambulance. They gave me a job after that.’
‘I was at a loose end at uni. I was doing summer work painting my neighbour’s house. Turned out he was the editor for Vice. He gave me a job.’
So basically: piss about for a bit, move to a wealthy neighbourhood, do some chores and work at a paper where the average age is well above 60.
Ok, so there are some valuable things I’ve taken from this.
Take Advice With A Pinch of Salt
The scary thing is, every last piece of conflicting advice I was given is absolutely right, but only for the situation it’s given in. Listen to your betters, they’ve been through it before. Think about how the advice you’re given relates to your situation.
You don’t always have to listen to people’s advice on how to get a job. Journalism is a really broad industry, and different things work for different people. When you’re 18 and desperate to know the secret to success that’s not really what you want to hear, but it’s true. Do what you think you can get the most out of for yourself. Don’t worry about how it makes you look to employers. You will only end up miserable and stressed beyond measure. You’re doing this because you love writing, or you love talking to people, or you love debating ideas. Do what you love, not what you think is correct.
It’s ok if you haven’t got a job straight after uni. It’s ok if you haven’t got a job in journalism a year after graduating. It’s even ok if you haven’t got a job and your coursemates are all doing grad schemes at the Times with company cars. To quote Baz Lurhman: “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”.
Make Friends, Not Rivals
If there is only one thing I’ve taken away from my degree, it’s that your friends are the most important part of your career. There’s a lot of practical reasons for this: you’re all working on different papers and stories. you can share contacts, leads, tips and advice. Once, while doing freelance work, I forgot to hang up a call before interviewing someone. My friend on the other end overheard the interview and took the time to record it all for me so I wouldn’t lose my notes.
Having friends in the biz can also motivate you to do more than you would on your own. With a close group of people always telling you what work they’re up to it’s hard to be complacent.
But mostly, they let you know you’re not alone. Everyone’s scared. Help each other. The friendships you make in your early career will stick with you forever. They’re important.