City University is one of the top (they will argue that it’s the best) journalism school in Britain for doing a degree, whether that be undergraduate or postgraduate. It’s been almost a year since I interviewed at City, and many people with interviews coming up in the next few weeks are asking me about what it was really like.
When I interviewed for my MA in newspaper journalism, I didn’t have much idea what to expect other than what a few friends who had gone the day before said (they missed out the important bits, cheers guys).
So what went on? How is it best to prepare? What did they ask? Here’s my roundup of the day – I hope you find it useful for your own interviews.
We began with an introduction to the course from the director of the newspaper and interactive course, Jonathan Hewett. He spoke about what it involved, the modules and course content, what we would do there should we be accepted, and where all the alumni have gone on to work (a long list of very impressive places).
He explained the layout of the day, gave us a list of tasks to complete including a news and literacy test, a deadline, and trotted off.
The first item on the agenda to tackle was the news quiz. It included general questions on current affairs, or specifics, like dates, amounts of money or statistics. A couple from our interview and paper quiz included:
“Name two members of One Direction.”
“What is the capital of North Korea?”
A good way to prepare for this is to watch the news the night before, listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 on the day and flick through the Metro and BBC news on your phone on the way in. That should give you a general idea of what’s going on, but ideally you should be engaging in news on a more regular basis in the weeks leading up to the interview to get an in depth insight into the media. Otherwise, why are you applying for this course?
The rest of the test was spelling and grammar questions, and defining words and using them correctly in a sentence. It’s difficult to prepare for other than through thorough reading and good literacy.
Or if you do, have flats in your bag. What I didn’t know before I came to the interview day (I’m really not sure how I missed this) was that you are expected to go off and hunt out your own news story.
Whether you have lived in Islington your entire life or are a country bumble through and through like me, you will have to go out into the city and find a story on your own, and write a 250-word article as if it were for a local paper.
Leave the heels at home. I wandered around for at least an hour before I found something decent – I visited shops, churches, charities, pubs and cafes and spoke to anyone who would take the time and listen to me. As it turned out, the person most willing to talk to me was a landlord, so I got a decent story and a drink. Success.
One-on-one: have your clippings ready
The final part of the interview day included a one-on-one, or a two-on-one interview with course directors, and/or City alumni.
My interviewer asked to see the clippings I was most proud of, which I decided to show them on my tablet rather than bringing in a paper portfolio – it wasn’t specified. I was expected to speak about how I found the stories and what the process involved. They also quizzed me about my work experience placements and the main things I’d done when I was there (you are expected to have a minimum of four weeks work experience in order to apply for the newspaper course). Be prepared to talk about all of these in detail, especially with the stories you have sought and written yourself.
On the table was an array of the day’s papers, which I was then asked about. Luckily for me, I’d picked an interesting day to interview; the Daily Mail’s splash was the ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK’, which was spoken about and analysed for days afterwards. I was asked how I would follow up this, if I would work for the Mail, and would I take a job which paid just £12,000 when I got out of university?
I deflected the final question with a spiel on how much I really wanted to be a journalist, and how I would do whatever it took to get there. While it is true that City do take the best candidates, and the people who have good work experience, a good degree and some time on a student paper are the ones who get in, I think the main thing that they’re looking for is the students who have the passion for journalism, and for the newspaper course, the papers.
The course will teach you most of what you need to know, but it is just a springboard into a job, not a guarantee. From the moment you start you are thrown into media law, shorthand and reporting, interspersed with work experience, placements and freelancing. It is only by giving the course 100% that you will get a job out of it, and what will set you apart from your colleagues is the clippings of your own stories that you have fought to get, and your spirit and passion for the job you are doing.