When I was 19 I made the insane decision to drop out of university.
I use the word ‘insane’ because there is quite frankly, no other word to describe it. I was doing pretty well studying translation at uni in Edinburgh and during the summer holidays, I got the notion into my head that I wanted to be a magazine journalist.
It was something I’d always dreamt of doing and after an evening alone with a bottle of wine, watching Dead Poet’s Society and realising I was not living my truth (or some existential shit) I decided to bin university and pursue my dream.
So, despite having literally no money in my bank account and no job opportunities on the horizon, I contacted the university, told them I wouldn’t be coming back after the summer and embarked on my mission of becoming the editor of Vogue.
As you can probably guess, as I type this on my overheating second hand Macbook wearing Primark pyjamas, that didn’t happen. But I did eventually become a journalist. After dropping out of uni, I worked my fingers to the bone day and night and finally landed a full time job as a journalist; first at a newspaper and then at a magazine publishing company where I worked for three and a half years.
Working at a magazine was awesome. It was exciting and full of challenges and the experiences I had during that part of my career were extremely valuable, personally and professionally.
So, as I know journalism is a career that so many people, young and old, are interested in exploring as an option or simply want to know more about, I thought I’d put together some of my top tips to help you find out if it’s for you, followed by tips for getting into the industry.
Before embarking upon a career in journalism, ask yourself what it is about the job that appeals to you. Journalism is one of the toughest industries to break into so you want to be completely, totally sure it’s for you before you sacrifice blood, sweat, tears, money and sanity to achieve the dream.
This point is particularly aimed at young women who want to become magazine journalists because the lifestyle is attractive. Going to press shows, getting loads of freebies, organising photoshoots and writing about frivolous stuff is great, but it’s only a fraction of the job. Editorial teams tend to be very small, especially in Ireland, so you usually have to juggle a lot of tasks at once. The reality is a lot of admin, a lot of emailing, meetings, meetings about meetings, chasing people, organising shit and writing every now and then. In fact, I think I write 10x more content in my digital marketing job than I did as a journalist.
Full time or freelance?
When considering journalism, there’s also the question of whether to be an in house staff writer or a freelancer. I’ve done both and there are definite benefits and drawbacks to both. Being a staffer is much more secure but you have a lot less freedom, basically being confined to an office 9am-5pm. Although you do have more freedom as a freelancer in terms of your personal space and creativity, it’s very stressful and work is hard to secure and you’re constantly chasing payment.
Tips For Getting A Journalism Job
1. Get Qualified
I’m not big into qualifications or education and I don’t think you need them to get ahead, but with journalism, it’s basically necessary. Firstly, journalism jobs are scarce in Ireland and NI, so having a qualification will automatically give you an advantage. And of course, some of the learning is helpful. I don’t think my particular course made me a better writer but I appreciate learning shorthand, more about formatting, how publishing works and the legal side of things (which in particular has come in handier than I’d like to admit).
I did the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Belfast Met, which I’m not sure exists anymore. If you’re looking for a course, make sure it is run by an accredited body that is recognised within the industry.
2. Write All The Time
This is another way to get ahead of the pack. Competition for journalism jobs is high, so if you want to score employment you need to write all the damn time. Start a blog. It’s so easy, there are no excuses. Write for other websites, pitch to write for anyone who will have you. Build up a portfolio that shows you are committed and dedicated to a career in journalism.
3. Read All The Time
Similarly, you need to be reading absolutely everything – especially within the industry you’re trying to break into. If you want to review films, then get familiar with every single film publication on the planet. Read every article you can find until you are brimming with knowledge and know the standard of writing you have to reach in order to be successful.
4. Work For Free… Up Until A Point
I absolutely loathe writing this but at the beginning of your journalism career, you are going to have to write for free. When going for a job, employers will want to see examples of your writing and you’ll therefore need an impressive portfolio to grab their attention. It’s almost impossible to slide straight into paid writing gigs and you’ll basically have to grab all opportunities to start creating that all-important back catalogue.
5. Create A Portfolio
And on that note, you need a kickass portfolio. Whenever I went for job interviews, my huge portfolio was always a talking point and I’m convinced it’s what helped me snag all my jobs. In your portfolio you’ll want to collect every article you’ve ever written and demonstrate a variety of skills and ability to write on many topics for many different kinds of publications. I recommend having a slick digital version which you can email off with your CV or pitch and also well presented hard copy which you can bring to interviews or meetings.
To get writing gigs, paid or unpaid, you can’t just sit at your laptop and wait for them to land in front of you. You have to go out and get them. If you want to write for a particular magazine, then think of a really great story they would publish and pitch it to the editor. It’s so obvious but I’m taken aback by the amount people who don’t think of/can’t be bothered doing this.
Simply visit the website of the publication you want to write for and find the editor’s email address or simply try email firstname.lastname@example.org, if you fail to find it.
7. Make Contacts
I’m all about that little black book and building as many important relationships as you can within your industry. Not only is it great to get to know others within your sphere so you can expand your knowledge, if you get to know the big names and influencers within the journalism circles, you’ll be more likely to hear about opportunities and be recommended by others.
Go to events. Ask to be put on PR lists. Add people on LinkedIn, connect on Twitter – do everything to get your name in front of important people.
8. Have Ideas
Ideas are more important than how you write the actual stories. You need to have ideas all the damn time. You need them for pitching to publications and you continually need ideas as a staffer when it comes to planning the new issues of the magazine. The best way to get ideas is to be constantly reading and devouring other articles and getting to know the audience you’re writing for.
9. Grab Opportunities
When getting started in journalism, you need to say yes to everything. Journalists need to have a breadth of skills, because as I mentioned earlier, you often need to do 100 jobs at once. When I got started, I got offered the opportunity to take an internship as a reporter for a local newspaper. I am shit at news reporting and the thought of typing up mindless drivel about parking ticket fines made me want to smack my head through the computer monitor. But I took it. It was boring as fuck but it was a means to an end and showed future employers that I was dedicated to getting to where I wanted to be.
10. Don’t Give Up
And finally, and most importantly, don’t give up. If you want to be a journalist, do it. Don’t listen to those who tell you that there are hardly any jobs. It might be true but it doesn’t mean there are NO jobs. They might be few and far between but if you give it everything you’ve got, you will get one.
When I told my journalism tutor that I wanted to write for a magazine, he laughed in my face and told me that no magazines in this country ever hire. But I told him I’d do it and I worked my ass off until I did. I’m not a better writer that all the people that were on my course, but I ended up being one of only a handful of people who got journalism jobs among my classmates. The only reason that happened is because I didn’t listen to anyone but myself – and I was fearlessly confident in myself.
Thanks for reading my tips on getting a journalism jobs. I hope it helped if you’re considering journalism as a career and if you have any questions, just holla at me.