I find it hard to relate to people who say university was ‘the best time of their lives’ because it really wasn’t for me. It was long hours, lots of travel time, no money and so many stupidly pointless group assignments. I hadn’t really shaken my residual awkwardness from high school (who am I kidding, I’m still completely embarrassing) and the core television and radio subjects that were part of my journalism degree filled me with complete terror. I chose journalism because of my love of writing, not my desire to be in front of a camera or microphone.
The lecturers and tutors at QUT were mostly pretty fantastic and didn’t sugarcoat the difficulties that would face our class of graduates. Lots of people want to be journalists and there aren’t too many jobs around, especially in Brisbane. That’s a pretty daunting notion when you’re surrounded by confident, talented, ambitious people all with the same goal. Looking back, I wish someone had sat me down and told me the following:
1. The people who succeed in this industry are the ones who want it the most. Maybe a little obvious, but the people who are employed journalists weren’t necessarily the students with the highest grades, they just did everything they could to get ahead. Whether that was moving to the country or interstate, taking less-than-impressive positions with scope to climb, or lining up internships and work experience until someone decided they were worth hiring, they did it and it usually paid off. On the flip side, those who give up after the first failed interview probably aren’t cut out for the industry anyway.
2. Harden up. I can’t stress this one enough. In my cadet placement I used to come close to tears on a daily basis if someone yelled at me, spoke down to me or questioned my story angle. It took me a while to let go of wanting to be liked, which unfortunately is just part of the territory with journalism. Now I’m happy to argue my point and stand my ground with vigour. The people screaming and swearing are usually those feeling threatened about your story or what you have uncovered anyway. Some simple responses to these kinds of calls and threats are – “so what is the point of this call?”, “I am under no obligation to explain myself to you” or a simple “I can live with that”.
3. ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. A trite little idiom, but true nonetheless. I’m all for standing up for yourself and sticking to your guns, but there is no need to be a dick about it. This industry attracts some crazy egos, but a journalist is only as good as their contacts so if you burn enough of your bridges, you’ll be stuck on an island with nowhere to go. Some of the best reporters I know are also kind, empathetic and polite. Be nice to people and they are more likely to want to call you when something big happens.
4. A good mentor is priceless. I learnt this fairly early on, when I was still in high school actually. My boyfriend at the time’s grandmother was a food and wine writer and I found everything about her style and her life so glamorous and appealing. She gave me my first push, and another strong female has since helped me grow and develop immeasurably more.
5. Print media may be on the decline, but good journalism is not. Newspapers are dead, blah, blah, blah, journalists are a dying breed – you’ll hear it all the time. As long as you’re working at a publication or company with a solid plan for the future that involves the online landscape, you better believe people are always going to want to know what is happening in the world.
6. Sexism is still a thing. Really. If I had a dollar for every ‘little lady’, ‘give us a smile sweetheart’ and ‘aren’t you too (insert condescending word here) to be a journalist’ remark I’ve heard from randoms in the past five years I’d be a rich woman. It says a hell of a lot more about the person making the comment than the recipient. If you call them on it you’ll see just how weak they really are.
7. Be well presented. By this I mean polished nails, shaped eyebrows, ironed clothes, brushed hair, a little bit of makeup and clean shoes. You never know when you’re going to be called out of the office, so a sloth morning can result in your grubby appearance featuring on the 6pm news. That sounds a bit drastic, but if you’re called to a press conference that ends up being broadcast, you could be inadvertently standing in the background looking messy for all to see. Not that I’m talking from experience…
8. Archive everything. I had an incident just last week where a media officer denied ever sending a particular quote to me. Luckily I pulled up the written response and sent it back, but if I hadn’t saved it, it would have been my word against his. Legally, I think it’s seven years of notes and interviews that we need to save, so start an easy-to-follow archiving system and stick to it.
9. Celebrate the little wins. More often than not you will only hear back from people when they didn’t like a story, so it can feel like you might as well not bother. But every now and then you’ll hear about how one of your stories made a real, tangible difference to a person, or a group of people and all that other stuff doesn’t even matter.
10. With the right people around you, these are actually the best years of your life. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your colleagues so you’d want them to be amazing. Mine are and I’m so lucky we get to laugh, chat and work together every day.