How do you get a job in journalism? Get a blog.
Well, it may certainly help you, but I’ve just seen a panel of speakers at City University and that’s what they said. Josh Halliday, Dave Lee and Conrad Quilty-Harper told a room of students how they found gainful employment in journalism through their own digital publishing efforts and here’s what went down… (disclosure: I know these people quite well through various connections…)
The night was organised by Press Gazette editor Dom Ponsford (for whom I used to work) who kicked off by admitting he wasn’t always an evangelist of the blogging ecosystem: “We would rather walk over hot coals than mention Hold The Front Page or Media Guardian,” he says. “But now we would rather mention them… it’s a waste of our time just re-writing things. We will often just link to something they’ve done. And they have started linking to us as well.”
I remember those internal debates at PG very well and it really was a change in mindset from “why should we send readers elsewhere?” to “aggregation is a service”. A small example of how far B2B journalism has come a looong way in the last five years.
Here’s the panel:
Josh is perhaps the most vivid example of how getting your own site can work in young journalists’ favour. Very quickly, he went from undergraduate journalism student with a hyperlocal blog in Sunderland, to a trainee reporter at The Guardian, in an age where The Guardian is not hiring trainee journalists amid a recruitment freeze.
He says social media, principally Twitter, was a foot in door:
So it was a way to get into those circles without being too pushy… then I got invited down to London and meet people which I wouldn’t have otherwise as I don’t have friends or family here
You should market yourself in a way that’s likeable… It’s about talking to people about things that you’re interested in, for me it was media and technology.
But Josh had meat on the bones: an actual news site updated every day, which had some features and gizmos that a fair few “big” media newspapers did not. As he puts it:
Do journalism. It cost me £30 to set up two wesbites over a year – you need to do something to set yourself apart. Any student can write for a student newspaper or even edit it…Let you work precede you.
BBC World Service journalist Dave Lee blogged about various things, but got his first piece of notoriety by insulting legendary Sunday Times investigative hack Phillip Knightly, who came to give a talk at his university. Online journalism guru Martin Stabe (who then, like me, was at PG but is now at the FT) linked to his post and this “essentially started my career,” says Dave.
But Dave also makes his own luck: after uploading a video on YouTube of a small earthquake, noting how late the BBC in covering it compared to Sky, Sky’s Julian March called to offer £50 to use the clip. “If you give me a work placement,” was his response. “Every time you come in contact with someone, they can help you out,” says Dave.
On journalism skills: “There is no way I could go into the BBC Newsroom on the basis of my degree or work on the student newspaper… to show an understanding of how all this fits together is going to be your greatest asset.”
A data mapping reporter at the Telegraph, Conrad is a good example of a digital native who now works at the forefront of data-driven journalism.
Back in 2007 he tried to join the NUJ, but he was rejected: “They said no because I sat between this weird hazy middle of being a student and doing journalism… I successfully joined but all this was chronicled on my blog.” I remember this being a small controversy at the time – which ened with Conrad being the union’s first “blogger” member.
But he points out that his blog wasn’t what you might expect: “Moaning and more moaning” and “boring essays” all featured heavily, as did an abortive interview with William Shatner (120k YouTube views and counting), a rap video and an interview with Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre, in a toilet. He says:
You want people Google you and get you: all your information, all your clippings and stories, your CV. All this helps you get noticed… It’s all self-promotion.