What one year in journalism has taught me
This time last year I was watching The Fourth Estate on TV – a documentary following journalists working in a busy, fast-paced national newsroom. I kept imagining what it would be like to be in their shoes. They were right in the thick of it all – current affairs, investigations, breaking news – where I wanted to be.
I was feeling motivated and excited about starting my journey. However, at the same time, I was incredibly nervous and pessimistic about ever reaching that level. My experience over the last year has changed that completely.
I started my MA journalism (with NCTJ) course at Kingston University last September (feels like yesterday). The Journalism Diversity Fund covered a portion of my course fees and supported me with some living expenses. Without that funding – I would not have been able to afford to do my degree/training.
I learned so much between then and April (my final class). My writing has improved significantly, I learned a lot about reporting and picked up a variety of useful trade skills (e.g. data, editing, digital, photography etc.)
I never expected the course to be so demanding. The hours were incredibly long, the workload kept piling up and I felt exhausted a lot of the time. Yet, it was the most enjoyable and rewarding thing I have ever done.
My JDF interviewers recommended I do some work experience, if possible, before starting my course. And that’s what I did. I managed to get a week at the Newham Recorder. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that great. I was thrown into the deep end – writing several articles to go online each day. I was slow and made a number of mistakes.
I went back there again in February, and this time it went so much better. I felt more confident and it presented in my work. I was even sent out to do some independent reporting on two of those days (really fun). Overall, the difference was night and day.
I did an internship at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last month. It was such an amazing opportunity. I learned what goes into carrying out comprehensive, data-led investigations. I even helped work on a brilliant story (I can’t wait until it’s published).
I also just completed a week-long work experience at the Daily Mail (which was exclusively open to JDF bursary recipients). I worked on a few stories – mainly reporting and research. On the second day, I went out to investigate a case of expensive strawberries being sold at a boutique grocer in Wimbledon. It was a light and cheery piece, but I still had to approach it in the same way as I would other stories. I collected information on prices, competitors, agriculture and I spoke with the store as well as various organisations for comment. The story was published online and it got a lot of people talking.
I mainly benefited from being in the newsroom, seeing how everything works. Observing is an underrated form of learning. You pick up a lot and it helps you get acclimatised. I also had great conversations with the Daily Mail journalists. They were all really welcoming and offered great career and general advice. I had a great time and would certainly recommend it to others.
I’ve had an unbelievable first year in journalism. I owe so much of it to the JDF. It has really opened doors and offered fantastic guidance and support. This is so important, as it opens up a field that has traditionally been closed off to people like myself and other groups.
Advice for future applicants/students/trainees:
– You only get out what you put in, so make sure you do all you can and manage your time well.
– Don’t be nervous, just be yourself. That applies to interviews, reporting, everything. Let your personality out. Journalism is not about being a corporate robot, it’s about connecting with people.
– Put yourself out there. Apply for opportunities, contact editors, go to events, network etc. Be proactive.
– Teach yourself skills that will set you apart. Think about what skills a modern journalist needs or what newsrooms might be lacking.
– Get as much practice as you can. Ask around for work experience. Write your own blog and build your portfolio. Don’t just say what you can do, show it.
– You’re going to make mistakes and get things wrong. Don’t let it get in your way. Instead, see it as a learning experience.