Wordsmith Ask

You ask, I answer: What should I study at a NSW Uni if I want to be a print journalist?

You asked:

Hi Sarah!
I’m an aspiring print media journalist, currently studying the HSC this year.
Later in the year I have to start applying for undergraduate university degrees, and was wondering if a Bachelor of Communication was a good way to go, or a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media?
I just have so many interests!
Thank you,
Sarah, NSW

I answered:

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for your message. Firstly, best of luck with your HSC this year.
I guess it all depends first on what type of journalist you want to be. It’s a good idea to do a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media Studies if you have a “lot” of interests, because that enables you to choose many different subjects and learning areas. It will also widen your world in the sense that you’ll gain knowledge in a variety of areas, which will enhance your writing. But you can do the same with a solid media degree, which in the changing media climate, might be a better option in the sense that you can major in different media forms (I myself regret focussing solely on print, and not also on radio and TV which would have broadened my career options, even though I am currently happy doing what I do).
My suggestion is to to look at the universities you want to go to, then check out their arts/media programs and the subjects/rules of the degrees. Once you know what’s on offer, the decision is easier to make. I’d steer towards universities that offer a practical side  – I learnt a lot about writing ‘theories’ but that did not help me be a journalist. When I went out in the field, some of my colleagues (or even other workies) had done assessments using various technologies, and learnt skills like shorthand and video editing.
Good Luck with the decision.

Q &A: Getting work experience without connections

Over the last couple of years, I have been asked more often than not for advice on breaking into the freelance writing/feature writing/media industry. There’ve been a few interviews on zines and blogs, workshops I have conducted with organisations like Vibewire, and appearances at industry panels such as the Media Pass Student Industry Day and the Emerging Writer’s Festival.

There has also been an abundance of emails from aspiring and emerging writers, and blog readers such as yourselves, asking for advice on the industry – on everything from pitching to interviewing to work experience.

I consider myself blessed to have the experience that allows me to mentor and advise emerging writers, who always remind me of myself, even now, when I am trying to take my love of writing, and my dreams to be a successful writer, to new heights. Moreover, I am always most humbly excited when I receive the recognition of my work that is an invitation to appear on a panel or conduct a workshop or advice session. It is this feeling that prompted me to start this blog to begin with, borne out of my desire to help you break into the industry that I still fight tooth and nail to be involved in (commissions/pitches have been down of late, but I am persevering).

But, as most of you know, time management has always been my struggle where writing is concerned, and after a long day’s work at my full-time gig, it’s easy to waste my writing time away responding to emails and the like. Which is why I have decided to use this blog to respond to the emails asking for advice in a public forum. If you send an email, I’ll respond asking if I can publish the query along with your first name, age and any other relevant details.

This method has a double-barelled benefit. One, I get more blog posts (without raking my brain for topics to write about), and two, everyone benefits from your question. It’s a win-win, no?

Which brings us to our first question, courtesy of Sophia of NSW, who, was debating which uni to go to last year and will this year be studying with the journalism school of UTS. Good luck Sophia! Now to her question on work experience:

 I’ve almost finished high school and I’ve been applying crazily to a bunch of magazines and newspapers, hoping to get a foot in the door. What would you say is the best method to apply? I know the competition out there is crazy. A girl I go to school is got an internship with a popular magazine due to her family connections. Things like that are really disheartening when I know that I want this so much.

My response:

Unfortunately, connections are a part of the job, and often what make the industry go round. Sometimes, it is impossible to get noticed and to know exactly what an editor/employer is after. How are you supposed to know if you should send in a serious resume when you know that author, columnist and beauty editor Zoe Foster was employed by then-Editor of Cosmopolitan Mia Freedman for doing something entirely creative and out of the ordinary?

Once upon a time, I was a gal in your position, and I was told of an editor who specifically tried to hire blondes because she just liked them better for the office dynamic, which was not motivating to a Lebanese girl like me struggling to make it. BUT you just have to persevere and hang in there because it is a part of the industry – you might be the best at something but you still won’t get it because you dont know anyone there/don’t own designer shoes/are not pretty enough etc.

But don’t let this dishearten you! I’d say at this stage of the game your best bet is to start by emailing editorial coordinators or visiting the websites of your fave outlets and asking about work experience (one week placements). They’re very competitive placements, especially at women’s magazines in Sydney, but once you’re there you can do your best (don’t look down at any of the jobs, no matter what they are) and express your interest in an internship. If they like you, they’ll keep you!

That said, it doesn’t hurt to milk any connections you have for what they are worth. A lot of people in the industry will try help you out if they can, so long as you’re asking the right person and are doing it politely. But until you have some connections, just go the way we’ve all gone and kindly ask the editorial coordinator for a workie placement and be patient and greatful for the week you’ve been booked in. Once there arrive on time, volunteer for jobs, don’t disturb the staff with your gushing praise while they’re filing a story, and ask the coordinator if she’s able to schedule a five minute session with a staffer (don’t push it, they don’t always do that) who can offer you more insights into the role.

For more on what to do while you’re there, read Beth Keamy’s Commandments and check out this post at Girl with a Satchel.

Now, you’ve seen the movies: the rest is up to you, so wing it if you have to and remember that there’s always an opportunity so long as you chase it.

Got something you want to me to write about or a writing-related question you need to ask. Email me at sarah[at]sarahayoub.com and I’ll endevaour to get it to it ASAP.