From first step to first shift – breaking into journalism

By Beth Baldwin

Beth BaldwinA few weeks ago I was genuinely shocked when someone from my NCTJ course asked me what the diversity fund was.

I was shocked for a few reasons but mainly because I couldn’t get my head around the fact that someone from my course had never heard of something which was my absolute lifeline. It sounds dramatic but if I had not received the fund I wouldn’t have been able to accept my place on the course, because I had no way of paying for it.

I come from a deprived working class area in the North East. We have low literacy levels, we have high teen pregnancy rates, and the majority of school leavers are apprentices or NEETS. I was the first person in my family to go to university and sometimes in my job (I am now eight weeks in) I have these surreal moments where I am in court or at a council meeting sitting next to reporters from the BBC and ITV and I absolutely cannot believe where I am.

I was offered a trainee reporter role at the North West Evening Mail in Barrow, it was my first interview and my first job offer. Since taking the job I have done death-knocks, been to inquests, written breaking news about missing teenagers and fires and turned up to car crash scenes where people who have been knocked over and are lying in the road. I have been door knocking in scary neighbourhoods and I have interviewed people who inspire me to do wonderful things and impress me beyond belief. It is gritty, it is so busy and I am worked hard but I love it.

I have had four splashes and I have had days where all I have done is write nibs because my leads fell through or my contact decided not to speak. Every week is a mixture of feeling amazing and feeling drained, but still I love what I do.

Since I was in secondary school I always knew I wanted to be a journalist but even at 16 I could see how hard the industry was to get into. It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know was all everyone kept telling me …but I knew no-one, not a single contact. If it wasn’t for my dad calling everyone in our phone book and guilt-tripping them to call everyone in theirs, I wouldn’t have landed my first work experience gig which gave me my very first splash. Our industry is so difficult that the very first step on the ladder is one of the biggest challenges going – let alone taking finance into the equation.

I studied on the Press Association course in Newcastle, which, come the end of the year will be defunct. I trained alongside 15-people from all walks of life.  I was the only one to get a bursary from the diversity fund. Not only that, I was the only one who applied. Sometimes it still amazes me how some people have no or limited knowledge of the fund and what they do.

My advice is to work as hard as you can and give it everything. The Journalism Diversity Fund are an incredible support and only a phone call or email away if you need anything. Do not compare yourself to other people on your course. They may be richer than you will ever be but that does not make them better than you. They may have graduated Oxford with a first, but that doesn’t make them better. They may have worked on countless student magazines and publications but guess what, they are not better than you. The diversity fund’s interview panels appreciate your hunger and desire to write, they see what it takes even if you don’t quite see it yourself.

Never lose sight of how much you want what is at the end of the course, the NCTJ Gold standard diploma. It is literally your passport to employment. I interviewed for my job during my course. My editor, James Higgins at the North West Evening Mail came to Newcastle and I was the first person to be interviewed and the first person to be offered the position. My new team have been so welcoming and supportive and it is incredible to see all the strands from the course coming together.

I put off applying for my course for so long because I thought the fund was only for people who were ethnically diverse but after speaking with Paul Jones who runs the Newcastle course, he assured me I’d have as good a chance as anyone, and I did.

Don’t put it off. I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am now. The fund gave me the boost I needed and I worked as hard as I could to pass my exams and get a job and I plan on using the exact same attitude to pass my seniors.

Journalism is one of the most competitive industries I have ever worked in. My own background has led me to some weird and wonderful jobs, all in the name of earning money and yet I have never worked as hard or been as happy as I am now.