In many ways, the securing of one’s first job in journalism can seem more of an end, than a beginning. The conclusion of the seemingly endless weeks of work experience, the long periods of working for free, internship after internship, the end of years of studying, the cramming for exams while desperately attempting to freelance on the side. The end of trying to stand out among your colleagues and course-mates, fighting for patch stories, for exclusive interviews and the end of applications for jobs. This is only partly the case.
But securing one’s first job in journalism is a beginning in every sense. The beginning of the rest of one’s career in the media, however long or short that may be. For me, this was the beginning of writing everyday and getting paid for it; something I’d wanted to do for many years. It was also the beginning of realising that I was to continue learning beyond university, and hopefully forever.
I was incredibly grateful and lucky to secure a role as a news reporter for PoliticsHome in August 2014; a political website with a solid reputation in Westminster and a small but strong team of dedicated staff who are up at all hours to deliver the day’s political news.
I mean, almost all hours. When I joined, the team had a break of between midnight and 4am when no-one is online covering political developments, though I believe the shift patterns to have changed slightly now. At almost any other time of day, from the Today programme at 6am, to Newsnight ending at around 11.30pm, myself and the team were always on the ball. It was all-consuming, which made us incredibly knowledgeable on all the day’s political news.
Collaboratively we transcribed TV and radio interviews as they happened, and wrote up summaries of the political stories covered in every national newspaper. The team attended the lobby briefings twice a day, watched the lunchtime, evening and Sunday morning political broadcasts, wrote up Commons debates and committee hearings, scoured MPs tweets, and trawled through Government websites to find data and stories. We sent out morning and evening briefings, summarising the news and events of each day. If anything political is going on (even in August, where it is one of the only political briefings that does not break for recess) you can be sure PoliticsHome will have the latest line.
This considered, it was a very difficult first job (though I imagine the steep learning curve occurs in almost all jobs post-university). I was permanently tired due to a rotating shift pattern, drunk a lot of coffee and creamichocs and dreamt of nothing but the Scottish referendum (the equivalent for staff today surely must be Corbyn and soon it will be the EU referendum). But I wasn’t yet earning enough to begin to pay off my student loan and the non-deferrable payments of my career development loan were taking hefty chunks out of my salary. And living in London ain’t cheap you know – I had to freelance in the evenings and at weekends to make up the money I needed.
Despite all of your training, education and internships, your first job in journalism does not mean you have stopped learning and all you will do now is put the skills you have acquired into practise. On the very contrary, PoliticsHome taught me that I will never stop learning, and much of what I learned can be built on, adapted, and will sometimes become redundant. In fact, the vast majority of what I have learned in my year post-City has been even more useful than what I learned in years at an education establishment – surprise, surprise. In the past year I have; made spelling errors in headlines, formatted images into an incorrectly pixellated mess, picked the completely wrong top line from a briefing, and missed other stories completely. That and more – my mind has probably blocked a few drastic errors out of my memory. All of those mistakes taught me so much, including the value of working on a busy newsdesk, and I deeply value that on-the-job training I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.
Since leaving PoliticsHome and joining and leaving Twitter, I have learned even more. The beauty is that I relish it. I take deep pleasure learning new things; about the world, about people, about technology and the rapidly-changing news climate… which I suppose made me a good fit for journalism in the first place. Learning forces us to engage, challenge, enrich ourselves, develop and facilitate change, and without it the world would be a far duller place to be. Never stop learning, wannabes.