My interest and hopes for becoming a journalist, very much lie in the realm of women’s lifestyle magazines. I am always interested in all types of journalism to see how people were able to a pursue a career in their chosen field of journalism, however it was great that in this interview, I was able to talk to someone who is currently working in a woman’s magazine – Marie Claire.
When looking at entry level jobs, I always seem to drift towards roles such as editorial assistant or features assistant, where writing may not be your primary responsibility but you are still situated within a dynamic office of journalists with the ability to progress in the publication. This is where Natasha is at now. After studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism and having an increasing amount of experience during her education, Natasha was lucky to land herself the job as a Features Assistant on the popular women’s title ‘Marie Claire’. I wanted to find out how she got there and what advice she had to offer young aspiring journalists…
Hi Natasha 🙂 thank you for agreeing to answer some questions! Firstly, what sparked your interest in a career in journalism?
Since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a journalist, I’m not really sure where it came from, but I’ve always been writing in some form or another. At school I loved English, History and Creative Writing (basically anything ‘wordy’) and always did quite well at it. It sounds really cheesy but when I was younger I used to ‘make my own magazines’ by cutting out pictures from Smash Hits and sticking them in notebooks, then writing (admittedly terrible) captions next to them. My mum found them recently – embarrassing.
How did you go about finding work experience and what was the key to success within these?
I tried and failed to get experience at local papers back home when I was 16/17. I then went to university and in my first year wrote a couple of reviews for music websites and my course magazine. In second year I became music editor of my university magazine and this gave me the confidence to re-apply to local papers.
I think the best place to go is a local paper or a trade mag, somewhere that will give you the opportunity to write loads
I’ve done placements at loads of different places – local papers, random desks on nationals, real life magazines, trade mags – I think the best place to go is a local paper or a trade mag, somewhere that will give you the opportunity to write loads and get loads of cuttings. The best way to get placements is of course to find the appropriate person to send an email to, address it properly and show you have some knowledge of the publication. And while you’re there remember to pitch ideas! Even if they don’t get taken on you will learn quite a lot from it, as many people working there will go through your pitches with you.
We can see that you studied an MA magazine journalism course – what main skills did you learn that you have carried through to your current position?
Most of the skills are so valuable – I use a lot of what I learned at City every day (but I am still learning all the time on the job too!). MAs aren’t cheap but I don’t regret mine at all. Before I started I was succinct with news writing but terrible at features, I never realised it but I overwrote. I learned to cut out unnecessary adjectives and condense my work. Law is also a major one, it’s a bit of a slog to learn but so important nowadays. Also things like knowing your reader really helps with pitching or trying to find an angle for a news story or feature.
MAs aren’t cheap, but I don’t regret mine at all.
Being a freelance journalist before and during your Masters, how did you manage to gain work from the publications that you wrote for and was it challenging at times?
Some of the work came from work experience placements. I did a couple of articles for the Guardian Money on student funding, as I spent two years working as a sabbatical officer at my students’ union, so was able to find case studies of students struggling with finances when a Guardian reporter came to me looking for people. Others were things I actually did as part of my course, for example a news story that came from a Freedom of Information request I put in. Freelancing can be very frustrating, there were a couple of incidents where I knew my work was publishable (and was told so by my tutors) but it was hard for me to sell it as I wasn’t an established enough writer.
You are currently the features assistant at Marie Claire – a very popular women’s magazine. Due to the competitive industry, it is very hard to secure entry level jobs at a magazine. What was the process you went through in getting this job?
My friend saw the job advertised on Twitter and I had to submit features ideas as part of it. I then had two interviews and a series of tasks to do.
As a features assistant, what do you find the most challenging and the most enjoyable tasks?
Finding great case studies is always difficult but it is so rewarding when you find the right people. I love interviewing people as well and I definitely got a massive buzz the first time I saw my name in the flannel panel!
I love interviewing people as well and I definitely got a massive buzz the first time I saw my name in the flannel panel!
It’s great being able to learn from established features journalists every day. I also enjoy looking for stories that can go on the web – it’s a brilliant way of learning about the different types of reader.
Where would you like to see your journalism career progress in the future?
I really would love to be a features editor on a woman’s magazine or tabloid newspaper within the next few years. Maybe an editor one day – who knows! I’d love to become a junior writer next and work my way up.
What advice do you have to those budding journalists who are desperate to get their foot in the door?
Make sure you read everything – all the newspapers even if you don’t agree with them politically, and think about how stories in them could translate into features. Do work experience at your local paper if you can, don’t think they’re beneath you and you’re going to automatically get a placement at the Guardian because they’re not and you’re not. If you’re at university get involved in student media, it’s a great way to practise your writing (and meet new drinking buddies – who later often go on to become journos too!)
Make sure you read everything – all the newspapers even if you don’t agree with them politically.
Do you deal with any work experience placements? What is the best way to stand out and shine when on a placement at a magazine?
In my opinion the best way to stand out is to make sure you’re up to date with current news, can take (constructive obv) criticism of work and don’t be afraid to answer the phone. Also don’t view some tasks as being beneath you.
And finally – can you tell us a random fact about yourself?
I can balance glass tumblers on my head 🙂
Follow Natasha on Twitter: @tash_wynarczyk