Interviews / Journalism Jobs

INTERVIEW: Henry Willis, Staff Writer at IPC Media

Back in October, Henry Willis wrote a guest post on Jump4Journalism discussing Journalism Degrees and whether they were really worth it, here. He was currently studying for his NCTJ diploma in Multimedia Journalism and put forward his views that he felt the NCTJ was the vital qualification any aspiring journalist would need.

Four months down the line and Henry managed to blag himself a full time, staff writer position at IPC Media working on, initially, VW Camper and Bus Magazine. After now having worked there for four months, his role has progressed and he is loving his job as a full time journalist. I caught up with him to find out more…

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Hello Henry! Tell us about your current job role and how you went about getting it?

My media law tutor taught the editor of the magazine on an NCTJ course in London. When the vacancy arose, my editor, James, emailed my tutor, Andrew, who put an email out to incumbent students. At first it seemed like quite a niche role that you’d need to know your stuff about to be in with a chance for. However, I had professional mechanical experience having gone full-time and into management at Halfords after uni, so I knew a lot about cars already, and I’ve had a few motorbikes from my adolescence until now (four, I think, and counting), which I’ve cared for and maintained mechanically. This helped no end and I think it was my time in motor factors and motoring knowledge that were equally as important in my employment credentials as my journalism degree, NCTJ qualification and writing experience. I put in my application and I felt that writing a cover letter and being able to namedrop was a surefire advantage that I’ve never been able to call on before. I got a reply, we exchanged emails, met for an interview and I was offered the job the next day.

What did you find challenging when you first started your staff writer job?

There’s a lot of technical knowledge to take in. I’ve made one or two embarrassing mistakes that were thankfully subbed out but you really need to know your stuff. All the guys in the office are very knowledgeable and helpful but often it’s more rewarding to find things out the hard way and look with my eyes, rather than my mouth with some good, old-fashioned research. Separately, having come from a news-based background, it took me a while to shake off my ‘flair shackles’ and inject some creativity and personality into my writing. Everything I’d ever written had been so formulaic and set, like you’d imagine a good news story to be. But in magazine publishing, there are no limits, you write how you like, within reason. There’s room for humour and you are encouraged to shake things up a bit, no two things I write are ever the same. There’s a lot of creative freedom in my role, which I love, and as a writer I feel I have progressed enormously already.

There’s a lot of creative freedom in my role, which I love and as a writer I feel I have progressed enormously already.

How has your position progressed in the 4 months you have been there?

For a start, I’ve taken on another magazine to look after during office hours. I’m writing for three magazines permanently now, and I look after all the regular content; news, product reviews, letters pages and more. I write the odd feature here and there, maybe two or three a month over all three publications. It’s quite relaxed about how much you take on – there’s no obligation to be overloaded with work. But if I have a few hours spare, I’ll ask if there are any features that need writing and this saves the editor money because he’d usually have to pay a freelancer to do so and it keeps me on my toes.

I’m writing for three magazines permanently now, and I look after all the regular content.

I’ve also taken on a fair bit of freelance work for the cycling magazines that run across the corridor. I do tech reviews, sportive reports and other bits that I write and think about at evenings and weekends. One day I’d like to be a full-time cycling journalist so it’s good to start working with the team now, even if they know I’m happy where I am for the time being. It’s also a great boon for a freelancer to be able to stroll in their office and talk to the editors face to face, rather than have to spend all day going back and forth by email.

Tell us about the perks of being a Staff Writer on this mag!

IPC is a great company to work for. Even though we’re not in the main office in (real) London – we’re in Croydon – we still reap all the benefits. So far I’ve nabbed a free bike from Cycling Weekly, to use when doing bits and bobs for them, I’ve got a Mac on its way for working at home and there’s a brand new Ford Mondeo Estate we can borrow as a pool car if ever we need it. My holiday to the Tour de France in July has changed to a ‘working holiday’, in that I’m being given a brand new VW Camper to take for free (I have to write a road test review) and the ferry is free, other bits get paid as expenses etc. There’s a fair bit of travel involved in the job – I’m in France no fewer than four times in 2013 on company business. It’s all stuff I love doing anyway and I’m being paid to do it!

What work experience or internships have you completed before this and do you think they helped you in landing your current job?

I worked for my local paper as placement while at uni as a sports reporter, which I went back to when I did my NCTJ and volunteered here and there doing similar stuff. The only other proper work experience I had was a week at a national sports news agency late 2012. They helped in that they gave me cuttings of published work and filled up my CV for applying to where I am now. There’s nothing worse than applying for a job with empty spaces on your CV – I’d know! I’ve applied for stuff before with only my degree to my name and guess what… I never heard back! The best CV is one that you struggle to fit everything on over two pages.

The last post you wrote you told us that you felt your journalism degree wasn’t worth as much and you needed to do the NCTJ, do you still have the same view on this?

Now the NCTJ is over I begrudge to admit that I hold a similar view to that I do of my degree. I could be quite scathing here but all I’ll say is that I feel a lot is being learnt that isn’t applicable to everyone. Fair enough, everyone needs a good understanding of the world so we’re taught public affairs, but is any of that particular syllabus at all relevant in my line of work? Not a sausage, to be honest.

Now the NCTJ is over I begrudge to admit that I hold a similar view to that I do of my degree.

The courses have room to be a lot more dynamic and tailored towards different forms of journalism. At the end of the day, though, you’re nothing without an NCTJ diploma on top of a half-decent degree and everyone needs the qualification, I just feel there should be different ways of obtaining it.

What did your NCTJ teach you that you didn’t get from your degree?

Learning at uni wasn’t so… fast paced. We got that in our course because it was taught over a much smaller time frame. The NCTJ was taught to a higher standard, too. We learnt public affairs, law and shorthand at uni but only snippets compared to what the NCTJ course offers.

What advice would you give to those wanting to become journalists and deciding on which degree to go ahead with, if at all?

Get a good degree in something like English or even foreign languages. I felt as though I’d snookered myself slightly when I came out of uni with a degree in Sport Journalism – to an employer that’s all I could do. With a broader degree and an NCTJ qualification on top, you’re more appealing to be taken on.

It’s all about finding your niche in this career – too many people want the cut-and-dried career path of sports reporter, reporter, broadcast journalist or whatever. If you come into it with a foreign language, great, you’ve got something not many others will have and you’ll have a greater grasp of the English spoken word, too. That’s just an example – something like a degree in accounting or politics is just as valuable. There’s a lot of work to be had in those two realms of journalism.

How can aspiring journalists stand out from others on their CV do you think?

Get as much experience as possible. Vary it up so you can say you’ve done everything; sport, music, news, feature writing, page design, interviewing, video journalism, vox pops; they’re all skills that make you stand out and the more the better. It goes without saying but good grades help and don’t be afraid to mention your vocational interests – mine are motoring and cycling and now I’m a motoring and cycling journalist!

Thanks Henry! Before you go, can you tell us the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Became a journalist! Just kidding. I grew dreadlocks in my teenage years and a couple of years ago I nearly wrote off a £100,000+ Maserati supercar with my £400 road bike. One of those was a lie. I’ll leave it to you to choose which.

Follow Henry on Twitter: @WineryHills

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