Inspiration and Editors / Interviews / The Exclusives

INTERVIEW: Exclusive on Ellie Henman

If you’re an aspiring journalist (like me) who wants to be in magazines, or just someone who reads them, then you will no doubt have heard of ‘ ITV2’s The Exclusives’ which begun in May this year. It followed six wannabe journalists who had been selected out of the nationwide search for candidates.

The Exclusives gave us an insight to not only what it is like to be a journalist, but an insight into the creativity, imagination and passion that is behind the closed doors of these magazines. The winner, received a 12-month contract with Bauer as a trainee journalist, working on top publications such as Heat, Closer, FHM, More! and Kerrang.

As part of my blog, I did a weekly review of The Exclusives, with predictions, likes and opinions. I told you who I liked, who was lacking. I wrote about the tasks, the difficulty of them, the strange-ness of others. But continuously throughout my reviews, I constantly praised the likes of Ellie Henman. She was never slacking in the tasks, always had her work finished on time, was ‘Rookie of The Week’ more than once and never failed to demonstrate her passion. Having being crowned THE WINNER, I was delighted when she agreed to answer some of my questions, regarding her journey in the show and about the industry of journalism. Her honesty and enthusiasm in her answers just proved why she came out on top. So, if you want to get into journalism, I’m sure it’ll be as helpful to you as it was to me.

Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions! What initially sparked your interest in the world of journalism?

I think that what initially sparked my fascination with journalism was my love of English at school. As geeky as it sounds, I loved writing anything – whether it be short stories, analytical work or longer, research pieces. I just loved writing. Also as a child, I was encouraged to watch the news by my parents all the time. Watching the reporters on the screen every day made me think – I’d love to do that. I read a lot of autobiographies when I was younger, mainly those of my favourite correspondents and that was me sold. When it came to the time to begin applying for universities, I saw the amazing course at the University of Leeds and I have never looked back!

“Watching the reporters on the screen every day made me think – I’d love to do that!

Where did you hear about The Exclusives and what were your first thoughts when you applied? Did you have any reservations about it?

I first saw the advert for The Exclusives when I was hunting for internships and jobs online. It was around the second one I applied for that day and I honestly thought – what have I got to lose. To be totally frank, I had no reservations. When I applied for the show I was going in for the job – the same can be said for all of the others too. We all wanted to learn, wanted to hone our craft and wanted to make the best of what truly was an amazing experience. When you are looking for a break and such a perfect opportunity is put forward to you – you just have to jump in and try your best.

How do you think your journalism degree helped you in some of the tasks? Do you think it gave you a headstart in comparison to some of the other contestants?

I believe that the training and education I received at the University of Leeds was the best start I could have given myself in the path that I chose to follow. I knew I wanted to get a degree and the one offered by the university would have and did give me a fantastic practical and theoretical understanding. It did give me a boost in some of the tasks but only on a menial level. I understood the importance of writing in a certain way for different mediums and had vox popped before. But when you think about it – to be a good journalist, you have a skill that is self taught in a way. The confidence to talk to anyone and everyone and to just pick up the phone and go for it is natural. To have a talent with your writing and having belief in your work is also something I don’t believe you can be taught. Also, working off your instinct is very important and again – that is something that a degree cannot teach you.

“To be a good journalist, you have a skill that is self taught in a way.”

You seemed close with some of your fellow contestants, was it hard to maintain a friendship whilst also being in competition with them?

It was such a difficult situation and that is one part of the process that you couldn’t see from watching the show. For six weeks we worked together, ate together, slept together – pretty much spent every waking moment with each other – all knowing that we wanted the job at the end. However, we all got on well. Of course we had our disagreements but who wouldn’t when you are living in such close proximity and working so hard for such a long period of time. But when we had down time, we’d all be messing around, having a laugh or just sleeping. The car journeys were the some of the best I’ve ever been on – they were such a good laugh! I met five genuine and lovely individuals – I wouldn’t change any of them for the world.

 You were sometimes referred to as ‘Stressy Ellie’, although that seemed to be your only downfall that the judges noticed. How do you think you have learned to cope with the stress throughout the process and beginning your job at Bauer?

The stressful situation on the show was more induced by having to work to tight deadlines, whilst having to stick to filming requirements and knowing constantly, that the one thing I really wanted could have been ripped away from me at any time. I’m not normally that bad! However, the advice I took and what I stick with now is pretty simple. Don’t smoke a thousand cigarettes in a day!

“I feel so blessed to have been given the chance that I have.”

Take a step back from situations and if you can’t get past it, try and find another way to approach it. Never be afraid to ask for advice or help if you need a fresh pair of eyes. Smile and remember that you’re lucky to be there. And just don’t ever lose sight of why you do the job you do. I feel so blessed to have been given the chance that I have. I’d do it all over again, a million times if I was going to be allowed this opportunity once more.

 What do you think were the main lessons you took away from the show?

I feel that I learnt so much throughout the show, I could witter on for hours. But in short, listen to every bit of advice you are given, no matter how unrelated it may seem at the time, it will come back to help you in the end. Understand criticism, work at it and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you get it wrong. Finally, and it sounds so clichéd, but treat people how you expect to be treated. All the staff at Bauer and the amazing crew from Two Four were so great to us – I owe them all so much.

Having now started your job as a trainee journalist – can you take us through a typical day so far in the offices? Are there any challenges you have faced or aspects that you haven’t enjoyed as much?

When I started at Heat I was so nervous – like any other job I have ever begun – but everyone there and at Bauer as a whole have made me feel so welcome, my nerves were left at the door. I honestly don’t think I could have been any luckier to start with such an amazing team and I am looking forward to meeting all the others when I have to move on. I work as an aid to all of the departments in the office. Typically, I would ask in the morning who needs any help that day and then the jobs come pouring in. There are tasks I help out with every week that I have been doing since I began so I tend to do those along with everything else. It’s been amazing – honestly. I write, research, help out with shoots – it was everything I dreamed of and more. The team have made me feel so at home and welcome, I really feel like one of the family now.

“I write, research, help out with shoots – it was everything I dreamed of and more”

What has been your favourite/most exciting task you have completed since beginning your job?

There have been so many – everything is favourite really! I always sound like a total loser, but when you’ve been waiting for an opportunity for so long – even the most menial task seems brilliant to me! I have been on some fantastic shoots though and have got to experience a lot on that side of things. I was sent out on my first interviews last week which was a real learning experience for me. Also, I help out with lots of forward planning which I really enjoy as it gives you lots of free reign, you can let your imagination run wild. The best feeling is seeing an idea you helped to create up online or in the magazine.

 Where would you ideally like to be in 10 years time?

In ten years time, ideally – I would love to be travelling the world – working for a number of titles, online brands and broadcasters and sending back various reports to them. I have always dreamt of exploring the deepest, darkest corners of the world and hopefully, if I work hard enough, I may be lucky enough to get this chance.

“I have always dreamt of exploring the deepest, darkest corners of the world.”

I once read that journalism is a mirror on the world and I would love to be the one holding the mirror, reporting on issues that I believe should be at the forefront of people’s minds.

What advice do you have for aspiring journalists, like me, trying hard at getting their foot in the door? What qualities do you think are vital?

For attributes, I believe that curiosity really is one of the best qualities a journalist can have. You should always be listening to what is going on around you – you never know what you’ll hear. If you are willing to do anything, get your hands dirty, make as much tea as possible and always be there with a smile on your face, I believe you would struggle not to go far. Being versatile and able to turn your hand to anything is another attribute I think you need. If you get asked to look into something, it could be the most insipid topic in the world but if you show some passion and produce the goods – you’re showing your worth. Then again, if I had to go and interview someone with a thousand spiders in their house, not enough gin could get me through that front door!

“Blogging is such an important aspect in the industry it seems”

In terms of getting your foot in the door – do all the things that I didn’t do – and then everything that I did! Get involved, as young as possible, in anything and everything you can. The school newspaper, newsletter – anything you can lay your hands on. If you go on to University, just join every club, writing related, broadcasting, debating – anything where you’ll get some great experiences and have an amazing time along the way. Also, blogging is such an important aspect in the industry it seems. It can showcase your writing skills and can highlight your ability to keep to deadlines that you set yourself. Sadly though, a lot of unpaid work experience I feel is necessary. It may not be right, but it’s what you have to do and honestly, it won’t be something you ever regret. Work in the evenings, at the weekends, beg lifts and a place to sleep – when you make it you’ll be able to pay everyone back. Without the kindness of my friends and the people I met during my time – I wouldn’t have been able to start my life in London, let alone pick up all the experience I gained before I moved. For four months I slept on a blow up mattress in a friend’s kitchen – cooking and cleaning to pay my keep.

And finally, can you tell us a random fact about yourself?

I have a horrible taste in music – including Simply Red (legend), Cher (hero) and M people (what else can I say?)

Thank you!

Follow Ellie Henman on twitter: @ellie_henman

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