I remember the day I was offered the Journalism Diversity Fund bursary as if it was yesterday. I was on my lunch break, sat on a set of stairs, dreading walking back into my waitressing role, to finish a never-ending 12-hour shift.
Now, six months later, I have accepted a trainee researcher role for the home affairs team at the BBC.
In this blog post, I will explain how I made this happen and hopefully give any upcoming journalists some good, sound advice from my first-hand experiences.
In case you didn’t already know, the Journalism Diversity Fund is aimed at helping people from socially or ethnically diverse backgrounds complete an NCTJ-accredited journalism course – if, like me, you do not have the financial means to pay for it out of your own pocket.
To be completely honest, without the JDF’s financial support: I probably would have given up. With journalism courses costing anything from £4,000, without the bursary – I had no idea how I was going to cough up that kind of money, and be able to afford to support myself.
So, tip number 1: if you are interested in pursuing a journalism career, and believe that you can offer something a little different to the industry – apply!
For my training, I decided to complete a 17-week fast track course at Press Association Training. This worked well for me, as I had already completed a Masters in journalism, and had some experience, but really needed an NCTJ diploma to progress in my career. So, with the course and travel expenses paid for, I was looking forward to starting my NCTJ training.
On my first day at Press Association I realised why the JDF was vitally important – the bursary recipients added a splash of colour, as well as diverse backgrounds and perspectives in that training room, and although it was easy to get overwhelmed by other peoples upbringings and experience, knowing that I had still made it into that room – despite tough competition – made me feel extremely proud.
During the course, the JDF asked for monthly updates, explaining how the course was going, what we found challenging and the things that we enjoyed the most. It was easy to do, and being able to reflect on the previous months was helpful, as I recognised how quickly, and just how much I was learning. It was also an opportunity to check in and get any help or advice necessary.
Being on the JDF also gave me the opportunity to be recognised by the Claire Prosser bursary, a scheme founded by Paul Clabburn and his daughter Ellen – designed to help people from diverse backgrounds enter a broadcast and digital career in journalism – set up in the memory of the founder and former director of the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme, who sadly passed away in 2014.
I received this award, with pride, at the annual JDF celebratory lunch – which brings me to tip number 2: make sure that you go to this event!
The day is an opportunity for JDF recipients to meet some of the best of the best in the journalism industry – who were all very supportive and gave lots of great advice in the presentations, panel discussions and in the time allocated to mingling.
I attended, armed with business cards and ready to make connections, which further down the line paid off. It was a unique opportunity to meet potential future interviewers and get tips on how to navigate through the industry.
I took the advice of Mark Wray, managing director at Press Association Training – and attended the JDF event armed with business cards and ready to build contacts.
Whilst there, I met fellow JDF recipients from across the UK and made lots of contacts. I also got the chance to meet Claire Prosser’s family in person, including the man that has since been the best mentor – and great friend – Paul Clabburn.
I also exchanged details with Elizabeth Pears, the news editor at BuzzFeed, who took the time to meet up with me for coffee a few weeks later, for a chat and yet more advice.
Tip number 3: build contacts, and keep in touch!
The JDF event came at the perfect time. It was midway through my training and at this point I was already worrying about finding work when the course had finished, so being able to reach out to contacts I had made in the industry proved valuable.
It meant that when I started applying for these roles, I had people I could pick up the phone to and ask for advice with applications and interviews, and because they understand how difficult it is to get your foot on the journalism ladder – they were all happy to help.
Tip number 4: I know it can be overwhelming, but make applying for jobs your part time job!
When I worked at a call centre many years ago, my team leader said to me: “for every nine no’s there will be one yes”. This is the attitude to have when you are applying for jobs. I cannot tell you how many knock-backs I received at first, however, eventually I was offered three full time positions at national publications before accepting the BBC trainee researcher role.
Towards the end of my course I made it my aim to apply for at least ten jobs a week, and I was fortunate to be able to have Paul look over my CV, prep me for interviews and tell me I was heading in the right direction when things felt a little much.
But, there were times where others helped me when Paul couldn’t, for example: when applying for a job at The Voice newspaper (which I was later offered) – Elizabeth Pears, who had previously worked there, was able to give me first-hand advice, which was extremely helpful and once again proves why making contacts is so important.
The phrase “it’s who you know not what you know” is true on so many levels. If, like me, you consider yourself a self-starter, it can be difficult to know when and who to ask for help. However, people that offer you support do so because they understand, and they care, and if they cannot help you, trust me they will let you know – so, what’s the harm in asking? Another reason why I believe contact building is important is because people talk; which brings me onto…
Tip number 5: do as much work experience as possible!
Being awarded the Claire Prosser bursary meant that I was fortunate to complete placements at Press Association, Wire Free Productions and the BBC. However, do not hesitate to email around and arrange these for yourself, as most companies are happy to have an extra pair of hands to help for free, and the more you are prepared to do whilst on these placements, the more you will get out of it – so it’s a win-win.
My first placement was at Press Association on the news desk and I spent most of the week shadowing reporters and court reporting. Whilst there, I made a point of speaking to the editor at Court News UK, based at the Old Bailey – just to introduce myself and let him know I was available for work. I also bumped into June Kelly and Dominic Casciani, who are both home affairs correspondents at the BBC. Now, at this point I was in the process of applying for a researcher vacancy for the home affairs department, so, once again – I introduced myself to June and Dominic, told them a little about myself and asked if they had any advice. They were lovely! They gave me lots of tips, were very honest about what the role would be like, gave me their business cards and even invited me in for a cup of tea. This helped when, (a few months later) I was offered an interview for the aforementioned role.
But before this, I was still applying for jobs like crazy. I knew that I wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but was prepared to do whatever it took to become a well-rounded journalist – so I was prepared to work in print and gain more experience.
Tip number 6: do whatever it takes and keep your options open – if it’s still journalism, you’ll gain good experience.
I had various interviews for various publications, many of them I didn’t get. However, any time I received that dreaded: “unfortunately on this occasion you have not been successful” email, I responded with something along the lines of: “Thank you for taking the time to meet me in person. Is there any feedback you could give me? I hope we can keep in touch, please keep me in mind for any future roles, or let me know if there are any freelancing opportunities.”
This is how I managed to get offered a reporter role for Triangle News. Although I hadn’t been successful for the initial role, they gave me a call back a few weeks later as they had another position come up.
However, the same week I was offered the role at Triangle, I was also asked to attend at interview at LBC for a position as an online content editor. Although I was happy that I had secured the Triangle position, LBC was an amazing opportunity, (I still hadn’t heard back from the BBC) so I decided to keep my options open (three interviews later I was also offered this role).
Tip number 7: have patience because hard work and determination does pay off.
Journalists aren’t built in a day, (cheesy I know) but take it from me: the more cups of teas and chats you can go for, the more work experience you can complete – the better. You start to think more like a journalist, feel confident pitching story ideas and become much more prepared when going for interviews.
Remember earlier when I said people talk? (especially journalists!) Well, I went slightly off on a tangent, but this gave me an advantage at the BBC interview. As discussed, whilst training I made sure I spoke to as many people as possible and making contacts wherever I went. After completing the course – I was the busiest unemployed person ever, using the time to go to work placements and job interviews. I wrote a blog post called ‘2017: a comment’, which was shared by the JDF and Press Association Training on twitter, and I had people who I had never even met reaching out to offer help, advice and cups of tea – which I accepted, because it was always valuable.
This meant that when I walked into the BBC interview – one of the people on the panel had already heard of me.
I had applied for the BBC role through the Creative Access website (great for diverse journalists) and this time, before I submitted my application, I sent out my tailored CV to contacts I had made (and obvz Paul) before sending it off. Rather than just describing what I could bring to the table as a diverse journalist, I wrote down three story ideas in the cover letter which proved it, even though it wasn’t required.
By the time I got the job interview at the BBC I had already been offered 3 positions, first at Triangle, then at The Voice and then LBC – so for me, half the battle had already been fought – as going for interviews with offers already on the table somewhat eases the pressure. Further, because I had been completing work placements at the BBC – I was up to date with the news and current affairs. So when I was invited in for my interview, although I didn’t have the time to research as I usually would and I felt extremely unprepared – I knew a lot more than I gave myself credit for, and was offered the trainee researcher role the very next day.
There are countless other tips and advice that I have picked up along the way which I could offer, like having a good CV, or being active on social media. However, the ones listed above didn’t only help me to secure roles – but they come in handy as a journalist anyway!
So to summarise, my best advice is: Be yourself, build contacts and keep in touch with these people; make the most out of the JDF, they really do want the best for you; use every opportunity to introduce yourself to anyone that will listen – you never know when you might need to call on them – whether it be for a story or a job, and most importantly: don’t panic!
This time 6 months ago I was convinced that maybe this whole journalism malarkey isn’t for me, there have been many more times that this has run through my mind, because it really is difficult! But the JDF is only the beginning, if you take advantage of every opportunity and don’t give up.
Words by Shamaan Freeman-Powell