I receive several emails on a weekly basis from fellow young aspiring journalists, enquiring about what subjects to study, where to study and how to get work experience, so I thought – rather than typing out slightly differently worded advice each time, I’d accumulate all of my tips into one (rather long) article. I by no means profess to be an expert in the field, after all I am still an ‘aspiring’ journalist myself, however as someone who has pro-actively worked to gain experience and understanding of the trade since the age of 13, when becoming a journalist was a desperate dream, I feel I have a little knowledge and advice to give.
If you’re currently studying for your A-Levels or your GCSE’s and you think that the busy, bustling world of Journalism is potentially (or like me, definitely) a career choice you’d like to pursue, starting to get work experience early is the best possible ‘tactic’ you can use. The more experience, contacts and understanding you have, the better chance you have of getting onto a good University course – or gaining greater experience.
After a short stint working for a family run lifestyle magazine based overseas, I began emailing as many companies I could think of asking for work experience, or asking to simply come in for a few days (even if was to make tea and coffee and sneak a look at how the industry worked that way).
Aged 15, I managed to secure myself a placement with Talkback Thames, the then producers and creators of shows like The X Factor, Celebrity Juice, The Apprentice and Take Me Out. The placement was specifically for under 18’s I believe and was really tailored to us getting the most out of our week there. I attended a ‘brainstorming briefing’ meeting, with some of the top ‘brains’ behind the TV shows that we love today as well as having my own ‘mentor’, who advised me on what I could do to fulfil my career plans. I was also able (along with two others) to spend three days working on the pre-production side of ITV’s Take Me Out, researching potential men and women to go on the show. The placement, although short, was an invaluable and very motivational way of beginning my experience and inspired me to continue looking for placements to further my knowledge. I then had a short placement at The Farm Group, a post-production house where I worked alongside the runners, essentially just making tea, coffee and collecting lunches, before moving on to a behind the scenes look at how The X Factor is put together (by both online and offline editors).
If you are sure that journalism, in any form (broadcast, online, print or radio) is what you are destined to do, then an obvious choice for a University course would be one that specializes in the subject. Of course, you can do a more ‘general’ degree such as English or History, and still be rest assured that journalism can be the next step, however you will have to complete training and examinations with journalistic bodies such as NCTJ in order to gain work, so looking for a degree course which is accredited offers you a ‘fast track’ way (well, almost) with more specifically focused units and content.
I think I’m biased, because studying Multi-Media Journalism at Bournemouth University was a complete no brainer for me, but with one of the best media departments in Europe and some of the top UK journalists to its name, the course doesn’t just focus on one medium but all three (print, radio, broadcast – with a little online thrown in). It is tough, in fact, it’s very tough and sometimes I do wonder if I will ever be able to make it the entire three years, but it equips you with everything you could possibly need to become a professional journalist. Shorthand, and all.
Other universities offer journalistic based courses, I know that Westminster, Leeds, Kent, Salford and LCF particularly run great courses, however if you’re not entirely sure yet what grounding you’d like to go into, and would like to keep all your ‘doors’ open and become an ‘all rounder’ journalist (which let’s face it, is what employers want) then becoming a BAMMJ is definitely for you.
As a journalist in the evolving world of technology, assuring that you have an ‘online profile’ is a sure fire step to becoming a little more well known (or at least, getting your name out there) when it comes to writing experience. Someone once told me that if the first three searches on Google of your name are not of you, or your work then you need to do your utmost to make sure they are (if your names Sophie Jones or Mark Smith, this is no mean feat) as prospective employers, or applications for internships/University courses will involve a quick search of your name and it always helps if you have an immediate online portfolio to impress with.
One of the easiest ways of doing this is to start your own blog, and begin writing away (even if it’s just about what you did that day to start things off) – under your own name of course. I’m not entirely sure how the whole ‘Scarlett London’ thing came about, although apparently I have a ‘Scarlett London’ side of me that comes out at events and a Scarlett Dixon, who happens to be around most of the day – but luckily a search of my name caters for both. A blog which is well maintained (not necessarily well read, but well written) can work wonders for your CV and for your experience, especially since it involves skills that are not just creatively based – but also managing your time, your emails and your social media savvy-ness (we’ll overlook that I made up that word).
I have a tendency to email (and probably annoy) some of my favourite journalists and writers, who have equally been so fantastic in providing useful tips, contacts and help. It can be a little nerve wracking at first, because reading someone’s articles for so long can make them seem almost ‘celebrity’ esque – and trying to write an email whilst starstuck essentially can mean your writing comes across overly gushing – but I wouldn’t worry, let them know WHY you love their writing (don’t just say you love it) and they’ll be more than happy to help.
Again, please don’t take this article as a superlatively littered profession of my experience and wealth of knowledge (which is non existent) but purely a ‘friend to friend’ style (hopefully helpful) chat from someone who is trying to break into the industry too. It’s a tough, hard slog – and it’s certainly not for someone who is afraid of hard work, but when you love something as much as writing, and reporting from exciting showbiz events, it won’t even feel like a job in the end.