Words by Madeleine Bourne
I desperately want a career in journalism. Reaching a year after graduation, I’ve finally peaked to reach Year 6 Maddie levels of desperation, when I repeatedly wrote notes to the boy I thought I loved, who repeatedly sent notes back confirming he only wanted to be friends. Year 6 Maddie had exhausted all ‘love me’ tactics, and she’d partially given up, desperately applying the same love letter technique until it exhausted her. And there’s my attempt at a depressing analogy for trying to get into journalism.
Let’s just repeat that I’m reaching a year after graduation. I’ve read editors’ letters in my favourite magazines that implore for a more diverse industry, yet whose unpaid-only internships exclude alternative voices. I’ve seen the industry being called out in the recent Twitter thread where individuals spoke up about publications’ appalling mistreatment of the underrepresented voices they so claim to desire. I’ve had a placement I had spent a year saving hundreds for postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak. And I applied for a freelance copywriter position just yesterday that had 85 applicants in mere hours. So, to be completely frank, as a working-class writer, my journalist dream has felt over before it’s even began. I’ve contemplated settling for another job. Because, let’s be honest, it is a very first-world problem to be distraught about not being able to achieve your dream career.But then I see the media pay gap, the lack of diverse newsrooms, the stories continually excluding voices from the narrative and the manifestation of negative stereotypes that just do not echo the reality of society, and I realise the importance of pushing to make your voice heard. It is time we make industries more diverse and inclusive. Heck, 2020 has really made that stark clear. The problem isn’t you and your ability – it’s the elitist system and its many, many flaws. So, please don’t give up – if you, too, are feeling like your voice isn’t represented. If you don’t have the funds or backbone to survive the mean streets of London yet (I feel seen on both sentiments) here are some ways you can battle to get your voice the space in the industry it deserves – without moving to the capital:
There are charities with a helping hand to support you
Three names: PressPad. Ok Mentor. Grace Holliday. Now, follow them all on social media. You’re halfway to accessing the support you need! PressPad is an incredible charity that can offer support both in-person (when we’re quarantine-free) and online. It works to match young journos doing unpaid work placements with experienced, older journos that can offer them a spare room for the duration of the internship. Once we reach whatever this ‘new normal’ is, you should be able to access their services again. But for now, they’ve launched PressPad Remote, an incredible online, Zoom-based initiative to offer advice on all things getting into journalism. Similarly, OK Mentor supports young women trying to get into the creative industries, by hosting one-off and four-week-long Zoom courses all about getting that first role. I’ve taken part in each initiative, and not only have I learned so much, but I’ve felt empowered and inspired to keep trying. And finally, Grace Holliday is a freelance journalist who lives in Leeds (yes, Leeds, not London – crazy, I know) who writes for all my dream magazine titles. She recently did a pitching and feature writing Zoom workshop in aid of Black Lives Matter – meaning you could support a cause of paramount importance and learn real skills that will help you get your underrepresented voice out there.
Cold email editors
Do some LinkedIn snooping; look at the mastheads of your favourite titles. Get your investigative journo hat on and just reach out to people you admire. I’ve been so scared to do this, worrying that little working-class me isn’t worth their time, but understand your lack of self-belief comes from suppression of voices like yours in the industry, realise people like their egos polished, and reach out! What’s the worst that will happen? They’ll be too busy to respond – but at least you’ve tried. I’ve always thought networking was so cringe-inducing, but I’m realising it’s unfortunately just integral to getting your foot in the door. And I’ve had responses which prove they do not mind one bit – so get reaching out!
Create the work for yourself
Whether this is a blog or writing for free for indie publications (I would always argue you should be paid for your time but a few pieces to build your CV will prove invaluable long-term), everything you can do in the hobby department to streamline your experience is so important. Never overwork yourself, though – as Year 6 Maddie will tell you, burn out is not your friend.
So, key editorial skills. What are they? Copywriting; sub-editing; research; understanding the demographic… The list goes on, but there are other ways you can access important transferable skills without entering straight into the magical grad journo role that’s as rare as getting through a week in isolated lockdown without talking to yourself for company. Whether that’s getting your first freelance gig writing for a local start-up or brand, nabbing an entry-level marketing or PR role or working for a trade magazine – if you can work horizontally you can pivot into journalism when the big dogs finally realise diversity truly matters, because you’ll have gathered the skills elsewhere!
Understand it’s a long slog – but that’s okay
I couldn’t afford to move to London straight out of university. And emotionally, I don’t know if I could afford it right now, either – because to be completely frank, London often overwhelms me. I don’t want to live there, but I desperately want to work there – because London is where the journo jobs are at. We live in a society where there is so much damn pressure to be hustling your way into the next big-time opportunity, and as time goes by, you worry you’ve missed the boat – or, should we say, five-star journalism cruise that costs the kind of figure your overdraft cannot handle. Remember that you have a hunger potentially greater than those who were able to walk amongst the London skyline the second they left university – and that hunger and passion and uniqueness is what makes you ‘you’. And YOU, my friend, have a voice that journalism needs to hear. So don’t give up.