Happiness / Journalism Jobs

How I Got Here: ten years after I said I wanted to be a journalist

Ten years sounds like a bloody long time. If someone told me when I was 14 that ‘In 10 years, you’ll finally get what you wanted’ I would probably have been like WHAT. TEN YEARS. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.

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But time flies and all, and 14 is pretty young to decide on a career and not change your mind.

The inspiration behind this post came from a weekend at home. I was walking back to my house from the station on a Friday evening and walked past my local newspaper’s office. I remember I used to walk past that office when I was younger thinking ‘I want to work there one day’.

I also remember when I was only about 16 or 17 that I emailed the editor.

I bought the paper, found his details, and got in contact with him. I told him how much I wanted to be a journalist and asked if I could go in and have a meeting with him to get some advice. I knew it was going to be hard, even right at the beginning, and I wanted to do everything I could to put me in a good position when I went searching for jobs.

To my amazement he actually replied and agreed to meet me.

I arranged to see him on an afternoon after college. It was weird going behind the scenes in a place I imagined working one day. It was messy, busy, and quite understaffed. It didn’t hugely inspire me if I’m honest.

We sat in a tiny box room with about 70 million files and pieces of paper around. He managed to find two spare chairs and asked me why I was there.

“I want to be a journalist and I know how hard it is. Do you have any advice?”

I was told to do the NCTJ (I went on to do it), get as much work experience as possible (as I was told 767867 times), and I was offered to come in one day a week to do work experience with them.

I didn’t actually take them up on the offer. Not because I didn’t want to – I did – I just couldn’t because I was at college five days a week. But I kept in touch, and he knew my name. It was good enough, and he gave me a bit more confidence. He told me just getting in touch with him and arranging a meeting showed him that I was going to go far.

The point is, as soon as I set my sights on the career I wanted, I was always on the lookout for ways that I could boost my chances. I would never say it was easy. But I always had my eyes on what I wanted.

I did these things, too. They probably helped.

1. I did work experience from the age of 15 and my last one was when I was 21

What I mean by that, is I started early. I did work experience probably like once a year, even if it was just a week. I didn’t wait until I was a graduate desperate for money to start getting experience in the industry I actually was ready to work in. I’ve met so many graduates who are fully capable of starting their career in an entry-level journo job, but they don’t have the experience on their CV to back it up. So instead of getting on that career ladder, they’re working for free. It’s easier said than done, but get that experience as early as you can. I’m lucky in the fact I didn’t have to go longer than working a week for free. By the time I was a graduate and ready to look for jobs, I had put the idea of work experience an unpaid internships completely out my head.

2. I met up with people for advice

It sounds weird. I did this so many times and now I go back and think that’s so straaaange. Some of them weren’t helpful at all, others were super helpful and landed me paid summer internships. Just like meeting up with the local newspaper editor, I met up with anyone who knew someone who knew me who was willing to give advice. I sent out countless emails explaining I wanted to be a journalist and actually asked if they wouldn’t mind meeting up. I met up with a local councillor in my area who had been a journalist before, I met up with my younger sister’s friend’s mum’s husband who launched Loaded magazine and asked for advice, I called up the local magazine’s feature writer for advice. I didn’t expect anything out of the chats, not like a full-time job offer, but they all helped me in different ways. And I stayed in touch with a lot of them.

3. I didn’t give up after failure

Sounds cringe and overused, but I applied to work at The Huffington Post three times before I got the job – all at different periods of job applications. I’m working with the people who’s jobs I applied for only one or two years ago. Strange how things work out, isn’t it? It wasn’t even third time lucky, it was just determination.

I seriously also applied to a LOT of jobs. At my previous job, a lot of students would ask me that question and be shocked by the answer. I can’t even count the amount of jobs I applied for and heard nothing back, or was just rejected. Nice.

4. I stayed in contact and followed journalists

Not in a creepy stalker way, but I would follow journalists on Twitter, find them on LinkedIn to see what work experience they did to get where they were. It gave me a good idea of the experience you needed to have to get into the industry. Those who I did come in contact with, I would ask for help  -everyone was always willing to give it. I would keep in contact with them, and I got further work experience through that. I spoke to editors of magazines (Jo Elvin, hello!) for this blog, I spoke to those who had been in the industry for five years. I literally heard so many pieces of advice that I could probably have written a book about it. Every single bit helped.

5. I showed people how much I wanted it – and made it easy to see

I set up this blog all about the industry. I wrote for free and shared those pieces online. I collated all my articles, scanned them, uploaded them to the computer and set up my own portfolio site. When I had found my feet in London, I bought my own domain and set up my own website, with everything, even a link to this blog. I made my name searchable. I made sure if a future employer was Googling my name, they would find out within one click that I wanted to be a journalist. I wrote in my spare time, I made a Twitter profile and shared my work there. It sounds like a lot of work – but I wanted to do it.

Now this post is probably getting to long (and I could probably go on for a lot longer) but it’s made me realise how I really did set my sights on the prize, and thankfully, I got there. 

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One thought on “How I Got Here: ten years after I said I wanted to be a journalist

  1. I have had a very similar experience that you have. I knew about 10 years ago what I wanted to do, have studied journalism, gone and gotten plenty of experience, including overseas trips and have not been able to secure paid work. I got frustrated and applied to study postgrad International Journalism (Masters) at City University in London later this year. I felt that I had worked so hard I couldn’t not continue my dream of being a journalist.

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