Alec Dudson of Intern: ‘I was inspired by the pickle I found myself in’ – interview

It’s no secret that internships and work experience placements are considered the launch pad for numerous careers, not just journalism. The intern generation is now such an established part of modern life that there’s a whole magazine dedicated to it called, well, Intern. I spoke to the Editor-in-Chief all about the origins of Intern and what the magazine aims to represent.

Alec Dudson has done his fair share of interning. In March 2012, he took on a two-month placement with Domus magazine in Milan. Following that, he moved to London in search of a position with an independent magazine and interned, unpaid, at Boat magazine for seven months.

“I knew from the start that there wasn’t a job at the end of it. I found that despite doing nine months of internships, and gaining a wealth of hands-on experience, I was by no means any more employable. That job that I was trying to work towards didn’t seem any more attainable.”

It was at this point that Alec started to consider the idea of doing a project on his own. The more he tried to come up with a concept for a magazine, the more the idea of internships ‘kept coming back to me’.

“I was inspired by the pickle I found myself in. It struck me as an opportunity to not just represent a sort of underclass of workers and shift the power into their hands and put them centre-stage, but also to try and give people an opportunity to go into the world of internships, or even circumvent it, just through having a little bit more of an idea of what the lie of the land was. When I got into it, even though my first internship was at the ripe old age of 27, I hadn’t got a clue what was expected of you; how long you were meant to do internships before someone took you seriously and so on. It seemed like an opportunity to do something of my own and something that could hopefully have a bit more purpose to it than just being a magazine for a magazine’s sake.”

After pitching the idea to his colleagues at Boat, Alec started working with the initial contributors, designers She Was Only to develop the art direction, and in May 2013, he set up a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund the first issue. Alec asked for £5,500 and received £7,115. “It could have gone either way, fortunately it went well for us,” he says.

The magazine itself is a beautiful product, reminiscent of its contemporaries like Wonderland and Dazed and Confused. Thick pages, packed full of stunning images, all with a design that has clearly been painstakingly mulled over. Considering all this and the fact that Alec is determined to pay every contributor, would it not have been cheaper to just create Intern as a website?

“For me personally, online’s fine. Online’s great. It’s easy, it’s cheap but I think print carries a certain weight and meaning that web content simply doesn’t. All of the tactile beauty that you can bring to a print publication, I think that only elevates the platform. And one of our main aims with the magazine is to put our contributors’ work in the best possible light. There are so many people out there whose work is of a standard that you could make a magazine out of and it could sit next to a heap of the magazines that inspired it. With a magazine you have so many different opportunities and levels on which you can catch people’s attention and communicate. If you take care about things like the paper stock you use, there are people out there who will pick up your magazine because they like the texture of it. I do it all the time. I’ll pick up a magazine, I’ll flick through and I’ll stop where the pictures are, if it’s got really beautiful photos in. A lot of the time I’ll buy the magazine and read it when I get home, and it’s only then that what the magazine is about is given chance to get through to me.”

At present, Intern exists as a print magazine and an iPad edition. It does have a website but Alec says that it will never feature any content from the print edition. The iPad edition features video, music and extra photographic content, while still keeping the print version’s minimalist aesthetic.

I made the perhaps, in hindsight, ill-informed decision to self-distribute the first issue, and the reality is that that has perhaps limited, because of the costs of shipping, the amount of print copies we’ve been able to get out to the likes of Canada, the US and Australia. If you’re in the States and you’re not near one of the handful of stores that sells Intern, you’re paying more like £16 to get a physical copy, which is obviously above the $16 cover price. The advantage of the iPad edition, while I will always believe that the print arm of Intern is the main event, is that it’s an opportunity to introduce more people to the concept and what we’re about. I don’t think it’s outside the realms of possibility that someone could buy the iPad edition and then be enthused to check out the print edition as well.”

So here’s the burning question; will Intern become the voice of its generation on a political level, calling for an end to unpaid internships?

“My approach to the magazine is that it has to be neutral for all intents and purposes. There are elements of it that inescapably give away some of my personal views. We make the point of paying our contributors and when they’re with us they’re not interns, they’re contributors. There are no interns at Intern. The whole direction of it is to showcase people’s work and to provide a balanced, well thought-out and unbiased debate, and allow people to approach the subject on a variety of levels and make up their own mind. I think the moment you hang your hat on a stance you’re in dangerous territory, particularly when things shift so constantly on an issue like this. Everyone thinks that change is afoot but the reality is that nothing’s going to happen overnight. I think our approach will always be as a neutral aggregator of information and I hope that amongst that we can provide interesting angles and perspectives.”

But with an abundance of campaigns fighting against illegal unpaid internships, and some wishing for the abolishment of internships altogether in favour of more entry-level positions, what kind of future does Alec foresee for Intern?

“That will depend on the financial realities of the situation. It is not easy to make an independent magazine. It’s a costly business and it’s one whose profits, for the most part, are pretty slim. I’m committed to doing my very best to make sure that Intern has a relatively long and healthy life. Depending on what happens with the culture of internships, it could be that the magazine decides to fold because there’s not really anything else to say on the matter. I’d like to think that might happen before its production is finished for other reasons, but I don’t know. My main concern at the minute is to try and make it financially viable and if we can, very steadily and sensibly grow, we’ll see where we are in an issue or two. For me, it’s still an incredibly steep learning curve. I make mistakes every day and find solutions every other day. It will go for as long as I can make it, and for as long as it seems relevant.”

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks

Advertisements

My first journalism job: what I’ve learned in a month

Four weeks ago, after almost a year of job applications, I started my first, real journalism job. The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind. Aside from all the practical things, like learning how to navigate the custom CMS and realising that you can’t schedule tweets with images in Tweetdeck, here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned during my first month on the job.

Not everything you write will be published

One of the first things my editor asked me to write was a quiz about food waste. “Make it really funny,” she said. “It has to be hilarious.” I thought about this for some time, put together a quiz that I had tried desperately to make witty, and sent it to her – all the while thinking: “Seriously though, who can make food waste funny?” Not me, it turns out. Stuart Heritage, on the other hand, is a dab hand at making the driest of subjects completely hilarious. (I’ve read his version of the quiz probably more times than anyone and still find myself chuckling.)

But there, something that I had put real effort into was passed over in favour of something else. And it won’t be the first time. It’s really crucial not to take this personally, and the sooner you can come to terms with it, take it on the chin and move on, the better. I have learned – although I already had a inkling – that I’m not a funny writer. And that’s perfectly okay. I have other strengths like… umm… I’ll have a think about this.

Sleep is really, really important

When I was working in pubs and applying for journalism jobs, sleep was just this thing you did after you’d given up scouring job sites for the day, or after you’d come to end of the available episodes for a particular programme on Netflix. It didn’t really matter when you went to bed, how much or how well you slept because, really, you could very easily have a nap on the sofa in the middle of the day if you felt like it.

In retrospect, my sleeping patterns during that time was horrendous. I worked in the pub in the evenings, arrived home well after midnight, probably watched something on TV ’til 2am, and finally hauled myself out of bed the next day at 11am. My days rarely got going before the rest of the world had eaten lunch.

Maybe it’s the shock of having a normal, real, day-time job. Maybe it’s joining a big project a few weeks before launch. But I have never appreciated the value of a good quality, 8-hour sleep as much as I have in these past few weeks. Lattes with an extra shot can only keep you going for so long, and you absolutely cannot be firing on all cylinders if you’re burning the candle at both ends. And I think the same truth is applicable for job applications. If you want your work to be at its best, then you have to have some decent rest. There you go, a nice little motto…

Criticism can come from anywhere

Sadly, I have also learned that there will always be someone, somewhere who has something negative to say about the work you’re doing. I’m working on Guardian Live Better: an online project focused on sustainability, funded by Unilever. The idea of an international corporation funding a project which encourages people to be ‘green’ has attracted some criticism. And although bloggers and columnists have questioned the partnership, rather than the actual content I help to produce, it is hard not to take such comments to heart. Sometimes, I feel as though I may have already compromised my journalistic integrity at the very start of my career.

But the content I produce is editorially independent from any sponsors, and living in a way that is respectful to our environment is something I cared about long before I got this job – I am keen to share ways to do this to a wider audience.  I can also take some comfort in the knowledge that it is largely accepted that sponsored content will become more and more commonplace as the future profitably of journalism grows increasingly uncertain. Besides, it’s important not to dwell on these sorts of doubts for too long, or I’d never get anything done.

What is slightly harder to come to terms with is the criticism from people you know personally; who question your suitability for the role you have taken on. The key lesson to learn here – and it’s good to learn this one early on, too – is that these people are not worth your time, focus or energy. The only people you should surround yourself with are those who congratulate you and wish you well.

It’s all worth it in the end

How patronising are those seven words? Yeah, I know. I was on the receiving end of so many of these types of phrases for the best part of a year. ‘It’ll all be worth it in the end.’ ‘Something will come along eventually.’ ‘The perfect job is just around the corner.’ I’ve had them all, and those comments were followed by a strong desire to punch whoever had said them in the face. But, actually, they were (dare I said it?) right.

*Ducks*

All your hard work is not for nothing. You are not putting this much effort into your  journalism courses, NCTJ qualifications,  job applications, internships and work experience placements for nothing. As Dev Patel’s character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says: “Everything will be alright in the end, so if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks.

A real job

Over-whelming, exhilarating and astounding. If you asked me to sum up my first week in a real journalism job in three words, they’re the ones I’d choose.

After 10 months of job applications, work experience placements, extra training, and pulling pints for a bit of money, I finally landed a journalism job — as the content coordinator of a new digital project on sustainability at the Guardian. Words cannot really express my relief and sheer euphoria to a) finally have a job, b) have a job at the Guardian, and c) be working on a subject which genuinely interests me. A triple-whammy if ever there was one! I realise that for anyone looking for a job in journalism, this post may be annoying, infuriatingly so. But I did my time in Unemployed Journalist Purgatory, and I’m going to allow myself this one opportunity to gush over my employment.

To be honest, the whole week has passed by in a sort of blur. I’ve ricocheted between IT training sessions, meetings, working lunches (and breakfasts!), and quick chats with my editor on everything that needs to be done before the project launches – all while finding my way around the beautiful Guardian offices. I’ve done all the little things like setting up my phone, working out which printer my computer sends things to, and finding the canteen. (Much to my disappointment, there are no falafel vending machines.) And then there’s all the actual work to do at my desk which overlooks Regent’s Canal … not sure how I managed that one!

My first day was totally overwhelming. There were numerous moments throughout the day – getting my security pass, logging into my @guardian.co.uk email account for the first time, catching a glimpse of morning conference as I dashed off to my first meeting – when I was hit by a feeling of total nausea . Call it nerves, call it adrenaline; I just couldn’t believe that I wasn’t dreaming, that I had a job, that I was being paid to work at the Guardian!

In the end, it all got a bit too much and as soon as I walked through the door to my flat at the end of the day, I burst into tears. Tears of relief, and utter happiness. My flatmate just stared at me, completely dumbfounded.

But most importantly, I managed to go through the whole week without any major mishaps. I didn’t trip over anything, spill coffee down my dress or embarrass myself in front of people I recognise from Twitter.  I even held it together when Alan Rusbridger walked by me as I ate my lunch on Thursday.

I have already met some truly wonderful people and I feel so lucky to be working alongside such smart and creative people, who are so passionate about the work they do. All in all, my first week has been a whirlwind; an amazing, thrilling whirlwind. Long may it continue!

Getting started in international development journalism

The term ‘development journalism’ only came to exist in the sixties, as media organisations in Asia and Africa responded to the growing number of aid agencies working in developing countries. As such, there’s no real set route to pursue to become a development journalist. Those working in the field now openly admit to having ‘fallen into’ the profession, through subbing, volunteering, and working for NGOs.

So if your goal is to report on development issues – be it food security in the Sahel, women’s land rights in Rwanda, or access to life-saving medications in South Africa – what can you do to steer your career towards becoming an international development journalist? I spoke to three experts – Sue George (freelance writer and editor of the Guardian’s annual International Development Journalism competition), Tom Murphy (blogger and journalist on humanitarian issues for Humanosphere), and Mark Tran, (correspondent for Guardian Global Development) – for their advice on becoming an international development reporter.

Gain a ‘level of legitimacy’

Tom Murphy: “There’s a whole language to the field of development and you definitely want to familiarise yourself with the names of all of these NGOs and some of these key buzzwords and phrases that are often repeated. That really helps you actually talk about it with the people that are involved and it helps you see between the lines. It’s really valuable when you can know what’s going on and be able to ask the right questions.”

Know your stuff … and pick a specialism

Sue George: “I think having a specialism within development is really important, actually, certainly if you’re trying to get started. I think that lots of people end up having that anyway. Maybe they have a country specialism because they know a lot about that country, or maybe they have a theme specialism.”

Mark Tran: “I think the best way to do this is to have a general knowledge of development issues and then have an area that you try and develop and deepen your knowledge of. It always stands you in good stead to know one particular subject, or a couple of subjects, that you know in detail more than others, but you need a broad general knowledge of the field as well. If you can combine the two, I think that’s the ideal way to do it.”

Identify neglected issues

Tom Murphy: “The over-arching thing that I think needs to be thought about more, and will be changing, is how aid is going to be different in the next few years. There’s this possibility that the age of the NGO might be coming to a close sometime soon, so what does it look like when Oxfam is becoming less relevant? And when do we reach that point?”

Sue George: “One thing I know that is not covered sufficiently is the area of non-communicable diseases [a non-infectious and non-transmissible disease]. The developing world is having increasing problems with things like heart attacks, diabetes and road traffic accidents. All these things are big, big problems in the developing world and I don’t think that they’re being looked at sufficiently… so someone could have a go at that!”

Prepare for the future 

Tom Murphy: “The most important (and also most boring) thing to know about is what happens after 2015. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are going to run out and that is a major discussion that’s going to be happening at the UN in September. Whatever comes of that is really what sets the bar [for the future]. It’s going to have a long-lasting affect. The conversations are really weird and non-specific at this point, but when these goals start being hammered out, that’s going to matter a lot and that will change how people report.”

Keep your eyes peeled

Tom Murphy: “There are fellowships and there are opportunities. The Pulitzer Center is looking for people to report on global health. The International Reporting Project (based out of John Hopkins University) does trips. I went with them to Tanzania in October and I’m going with them to Brazil in March. They do a few trips per year; you go for two weeks and it’s a pretty neat opportunity to get your hands dirty. You get to work alongside some really stellar journalists from different subject areas and parts of the world.”

Get out there

Sue George: “One thing that might be a good idea if you’re really keen on doing this is to live in a developing world country for a bit. So let’s say you can speak French; maybe you could go to Senegal and see if there are any stories there that you could write about. You find out more and more about living in that country. You get really good contacts. You could pitch some stories to all sorts of publications and you would get to know the individuals there to find out what the stories might be.”

Tom Murphy: “Try to get out there and familiarise yourself with the region. When things that garner a larger attention happen, then you’re really well placed to do a lot of reporting for a lot of different places. A good example would be Westgate (the al-Shabaab attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in September 2013). The major news networks from the US and Europe were pleading for anything and everything in terms of stories, so the people who were there who already knew the city and who knew Kenya, were able to churn out a tonne of stories. That’s a rare exception but these things do come up every so often, and when you’re there, you’re in a much better position than anyone else.”

Mark Tran: “It’s almost like trying to be a foreign correspondent and the best way is to be somewhere, where there is a demand for foreign news. For example, if you’re in somewhere like Afghanistan, development is also such a huge element of the story so you can end up writing about resource exploitation, education… so in a way, it’s like an extra dimension to foreign reporting. And with foreign reporting, the best place to do that is from a particular country or region. If you’re lucky enough to be somewhere interesting like Mali or Nigeria, development is going to be a very important part of the coverage.”

This article originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks.

Staying positive while looking for a job in journalism

I’ve been applying for journalism jobs since April and to be honest, I never thought I’d be in this position. With all the ‘necessary’ qualifications (BA, MA, NCTJ) and a decent amount of experience under my belt, I had always hoped that I’d be one of the lucky ones who landed a job pretty quickly. Needless to say, still being unemployed after nine months has not contributed positively to my confidence or self-esteem.

And although sometimes I feel like I’m totally alone in this, I know that I’m not, and that there are many of you out there who could also seriously use a morale boost.

There are no quick fixes to feeling better about your plight, but aside from turning to class A drugs as one Twitter user suggested, here are a few things I have found to help me feel slightly more positive in this bleak, bleak world.

(For added effect, listen to this snippet of musical sunshine while reading.)

Give yourself a break

It’s often said that applying for jobs is a full time job in itself. You spend hours on a single job application, you trawl every job website possible looking for the next round of positions to apply for, and you read every article under the sun looking for new nuggets of advice that will set your application apart from all the rest. And even when you’re not doing any of this, you’re constantly thinking about it and feeling guilty that you’re not doing it.

“How can I possibly have a cup of tea and settle down to watch Coronation Street when somebody, somewhere may have posted a new job I need to apply for right this very second?!” Sound familiar?

Seriously – and I say this with every ounce of emphasis I can muster – you need to give yourself a break every once in a while. I don’t just mean step away from your computer for a while every hour or so, which you should absolutely be doing regardless. You need to do something totally different.

Call it procrastination, but since I’ve been applying for jobs my ukulele playing has come on a real treat. You can get decent quality ukuleles on Amazon for around £20, and there are thousands of tutorials on YouTube to help you get started, so all in all, it’s a pretty cheap hobby to take up. I’m not saying everyone looking for a journalism job should go and learn to play the ukulele (although I have just imagined a Ukulele Orchestra of Unemployed Journalists scenario and it’s pretty epic!)

The point is that you need to do something different; find some sort of polar opposite, cheap activity that gets you as far away from your computer as possible. Which leads me to…

Go outside

Outside is great. Fresh air is good. The problem here is that going outside often equates to spending money. This is particularly tricky if you’re on Job Seeker’s Allowance or – like me – you only have a part-time job that pays minimum wage.

But try and search out things to do that don’t involve spending much – or any – money. Take a walk around your local park, along a river, or through some beautiful, tranquil meadows or something. It’ll give you much-needed time to clear your head, think about your next move, and you may even happen upon some story ideas. Go to the library and be inspired by the great literature all around you. Go to free exhibits at a museum or gallery, or go and hang out at a friend’s house for an hour or so. Get away from your computer, get away from your desk, and get outside.

Being on Job Seeker’s Allowance completely sucks. I was claiming for two months last year and I think it did more harm to my self-esteem than all of the other concerns that come hand-in-hand with being a ‘totally-qualified-but-unemployed-journalist’.

Try and get a part-time job

Now, me suggesting that you should should go out and get a part-time job may have you thinking one or more of the following:

  • “There are so many real jobs to apply for, I don’t have time to get another job.”
  • “I don’t mean to sound snooty, but I’m too qualified to be pulling pints just for a bit of money.”
  • “What if I miss the perfect journalism opportunity while I’m slaving away in a grotty pub/smelly shoe shop?”

I thought the exact same things but truthfully, I just had to get over myself and accept my situation. Getting a job, even part-time, will really help to break up the monotony of the job search, give you some financial freedom and most importantly, relieve some of the pressure you have no doubt piled on yourself.

Remember how far you’ve come

By this point, the chances are that you’ve already got some qualifications, some experience and some bylines to your name. I am aware of how clichéd this sounds, but you should be proud of your achievements and proud of the effort you have already invested. Remember that your sweat and toil hasn’t all been for nothing and that your time will come.

Keep at it

Just because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean you stop being a journalist. Keep writing, keep filming, keep recording. Aside from the times when you’re giving yourself a much-needed break, try and remain in the journalism mind-set as much as possible. Pitch stories, ask questions and read everything a paid journalist would. Basically, fake it ‘til you make it.

This article originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks.

Oh! how I love you, oTranscribe

Along with getting your shorthand up to 100 words per minute, transcribing interviews is one of the most time-consuming, mundane, and frankly annoying parts of journalism. For me, if transcription appears anywhere on my to do list, I’ll approach everything else on the list before I can muster the enthusiasm to transcribe that interview.

So it was with great joy and relief that I discovered oTranscribe recently.

oTranscribe is a new, static website that takes the pain out of transcription. You upload your audio recording to the website so there’s no constant switching between iTunes and Word while you play a bit of the recording, pause it, write it, play a bit more of the recording, pause it, write it… you get my drift. You can also use your keyboard keys to pause, rewind, fast-forward, speed up and slow down your recording. Your hands literally don’t need to leave the keyboard.

More than anything, I found oTranscribe made me so much more productive as it gets rid of all of those things that so easily distract you when transcribing. (It’s very tempting to check what’s going on over on Facebook or Twitter as you switch from iTunes to Word, isn’t it?) Before I knew it, a whole hour of transcribing had gone by without once dipping into Twitter.

oTranscribe was created by Elliot Bentley, a graduate of Newcastle University and the former Deputy Editor of its student newspaper The Courier.

“I’ve used other transcription software before and I was a bit disappointed with all of it. None of it worked quite the way I wanted,” says Elliot. “A couple of months ago I was having dinner with a friend and I was complaining about it and I said: ‘Actually, I probably know enough JavaScript at this point to do it myself,’ and she said: ‘Well go on, then!’”

By the end of that weekend, Elliot had something that half-worked. After putting in just ten to fifteen hours of work, Elliot was ready to launch oTranscribe at the beginning of November.

“I wanted [to call it] Open Transcribe but there’s already a project out there called that, so I thought… oTranscribe. I whipped together the branding and stuck it on Reddit to see what kind of reaction it would get on the Journalism Subreddit,” says Elliot. “It got quite a few comments; people saying nice things and saying: ‘This looks really useful.’”

There are, of course, other transcription programmes out there, but Elliot hopes oTranscribe has a little something to set it apart from the rest: “I like to think that the interactive time stamps are a pretty unique selling point.”

And it’s definitely useful. Just click Ctrl + J anywhere within your transcription to insert a timestamp. You can then go back to that point in the recording by clicking on the timestamp. Genius.

oTranscribe has already garnered a bit of a following. Elliot presented at the Hacks/Hackers event in November and it received a great response.

“The Twitter followers doubled during my presentation,” says Elliot. “It was the next day when there was a write-up on journalism.co.uk that everything really exploded and suddenly hundreds of people were tweeting about it and I saw the hits massively spike.”

Future plans include adding an export feature and after requests from users, Elliot has plans for oTranscribe to support video files as well as audio files.

In the interests of impartiality, I have tried and tried to think of something I don’t like about oTranscribe and the only thing I can think of is that it doesn’t actually transcribe the audio for you.

“A lot of people seem to think that it’s automatic transcription,” says Elliot. “I think it’s possibly just wishful thinking… unfortunately computers aren’t quite smart enough to do it yet.”

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks

Sunil Patel on going to Syria as an untrained journalist – interview

Last year, Vice magazine published a story from Sunil Patel who went to Syria ‘to learn how to be a journalist’. The article caused a fair amount of controversy, with some calling Vice irresponsible for publishing the piece, and Sunil reckless for going into Syria without any training or protection. I spoke to Sunil about the piece and his views on training, insurance and protection for journalists. 

How did you end up in Syria as an untrained journalist? 

I was in Kurdistan with a couple of NGOs. I had contemplated it [going to Syria] a couple of times because I had seen an American journalist who actually went to Syria through the Guvecci border, which I thought was quite dangerous and quite crazy. Which makes me sound like a bit of a hypocrite now. I was in an Internet cafe [in Erbil] where I met ‘Carlos’. I heard him talking about Syria to his father on Skype and I pulled him up for a conversation and he was like: “Yeah, I’ve been to Syria. I’ve been to Latakia.” And I just thought he was absolutely mental. I thought he was actually a proper trained journalist but it turns out he was another civilian journalist. I told him: “I want to be a journalist as well but I’m not sure if I’m willing to go that far ’cause that sounds quite dangerous.” And he said “Well listen, I’m going to back to Syria sometime soon, probably in the next week or so. Do you want to come with me?” And just like that, I said [to myself]: “F**k it. I’ll give him my number.” I went back to London and within a day he calls me up and says: “I’m going to Syria in about three days… Meet me in Hatay.” Literally, within 24 hours of me booking the flight, I got on the flight and took a ten-hour [car] ride to where he was. It was a bit of a s**t situation for me because I had to tell my family. They weren’t really too happy.

Had you never considered more traditional routes into journalism?

No. It’s an idea that had festered in my mind since I was 18 or 19 but at that point, I thought: “I’m just going to go to university and study, get a Law degree. When I was 16, I wanted to become a police officer but I never really believed that I could do that. I did it halfway and became a Community Support Officer and I achieved quite a lot doing that… And I thought: “You know what, you always kind of thought about becoming a journalist. Why is it not possible for you to do that?” By that time, I was 24 and I didn’t feel like I had the time to actually go through traditional routes; do a degree, work for local newspapers. The other side to it was that it’s so competitive.

As you can see from my Vice piece, everybody’s paying attention to that because it was so different to what the other journalists were doing… When I went to Syria, it was two years into the war, and you’d find the stories about Syria in the back pages [of newspapers]. People weren’t paying any attention to it and all of a sudden my piece came out and people were like: “Wow, okay. This is slightly different. This crazy guy’s just gone inside to get his account of the war and what’s actually going on.” And in a sense, a lot of people just criticised me for being selfish and a bit reckless. But the good thing that came out of that was that I got people’s attention. People started focusing on the war again.

That’s the reason why I decided not to choose traditional routes. Sometimes you’ve got to be reckless and crazy because that’s the only way you’re going to stand out… I thought: “You know what, if you want to be recognised you’ve got to take those risks.” Unfortunately that comes with the risk of your life and your limbs as well.

At that time, journalists of all nationalities were being targeted in Syria. Did that factor into your decision to go into Syria?

That did fester in my mind, but I think there was something in the back of my mind telling me: “You know what, you will be fine.” At that point, I felt as though there was something going on inside my head telling me: “It’s not real. It’s far away. It’s not actually happening. War is just something that you see on the news.” And that fear wasn’t there because I’ve never experienced war before so I didn’t know what to be afraid of. I had a very positive mind-set at that point. I thought: “We’re going to come out fine. I know it. We’re going to be okay.” You need to have that level of optimism and confidence that you’ll be able to go there, do your job and come back out alive. At the same time, I guess it must have been my desire to become a journalist – my motivation was so great at the point, and it still is – that I just put those ideas of death and all those fears in the back of my mind. They did come alive when I was in Aleppo… when we were in the abandoned shopping mall when the shelling started… I was at my lowest point at that time. The next morning, I just woke up and said: “We’re here, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to find something out of it.” I guess that’s the same attitude he [Carlos] adopted as well and together we were fine.

Apart from the Vice piece, did any of your stories from Syria get published?

No. The problem was lack of Internet connection so I couldn’t send a lot of stories. The story I sent [to The Independent] was the one when I was in the shopping mall that got bombed. That was the only story because when we went to the [FSA] headquarters, they only had a little media centre, apparently for Arab journalists. Only they could use it and all foreign journalists had to have their own safe house and use that if they wanted to publish any stories. So the three guys that were in charge of the media centre, they said: “Alright, fine. We’ll let you use it [the computer] for half an hour.” I tried to put up a quick story, as much as I could… Two days after I used the computer to publish the story, I was allowed to use the computer again. They [The Independent] sent me the response and they said: “We’re not going to take your story because somebody has already published a similar story.” The response I got when I came back from Turkey was from The Guardian… I called them before I went inside Syria [to ask if they would take any stories] and they sent me a late response saying: “You shouldn’t go, it’s too dangerous. Don’t do it, you’re not insured,” and blah, blah. There were things happening… but I didn’t get a chance to go on another computer and of course it was quite hectic. On the last day, the headquarters was being evacuated because it was being targeted by the Syrian government at that point. I couldn’t really think about putting up a story at that point. I had to actually think about an exit strategy.

And you didn’t actually write the Vice piece yourself?

No, I didn’t. It was ghost-written by my friend. I had the choice of writing it. I kind of wish that I did write it… I did have my own piece but I think Vice wanted to do it themselves. So I let them do it. I did put up my own personal blog which was a bit more in-depth than the Vice piece actually. It talked of more than just my escapades and all the crazy adventures and me almost getting killed. It was a bit deeper than that. When I came back, my friend Oz Katerji called me up and I met him in Shoreditch and he said: “We’re going to record your piece.” He took it from there, he sent if off to Vice and they published it.

So you went to Syria, nearly died, and didn’t get a by-line out of it?

Yeah, that’s right… I even tried to contact The Independent again but I knew they wouldn’t want to publish that that kind of story. They certainly don’t want to publish any piece from a guy who almost got himself killed because, to them, I think it would be a reckless piece of journalism to actually put that in their newspaper or on their website and to show this to the rest of the world. But that’s not the reason I went there. I didn’t go there to have crazy adventures and almost get killed by a jet. I wanted to get real stories but unfortunately I didn’t get that… Most of these stories that these journalists were getting, they were getting them from third party sources and I just thought: “What on earth is point of all this and how am I supposed to compete with this? I am here seeing everything for myself and I can’t get my stuff published.” It was really difficult.

What did you think of the mixed reaction to the Vice piece?

I just thought of the entire hypocrisy of the whole thing because they said it was reckless and dangerous. I don’t see how what I did was any more reckless from what other journalists do when they go out… When we were in the back of a taxi when the jet targeted us, there were three journalists behind us who had helmets, who had flak jackets. They had the protection. They had insurance. But that certainly wasn’t going to protect them if our taxi didn’t swerve to the left and that missile went straight through our window. It would have done absolutely nothing. If you’re in a war zone, I don’t think there’s enough you can do to actually protect yourself. You’re in a war zone; you’re very likely to get killed. It’s reckless in itself being there. So that’s what really pissed me off. If I was putting anyone else in danger, so were other journalists because they were being chauffeured around by rebel guides. Were they putting the rebel guide in danger? They certainly were. If something happened to those journalists, the rebels would try and help, wouldn’t they? And they would put their lives in danger by doing that.

What if you had been kidnapped?

That is a different thing. But I guess I never really thought about that at that point because I felt really safe. The risk of kidnapping, I don’t think, is the same as the risk of death. More journalists are being killed than they are being kidnapped. We were in safe hands most of the time. We stayed in safe territories. I don’t think kidnapping came into our minds at all. We just played it smart. We went with people we felt that we could really trust. There was more risk of us dying than there was of kidnap.

Do you still want to be a journalist?

Yeah, I would still like to be a journalist. I’m not saying I would like to become a war correspondent. That’s different. I can still be a journalist but a war correspondent? I don’t know…. If I were to do this again, first of all, I would learn the language. That would be really f**king helpful. And I would go in with more contacts. We had a few contacts before we went inside Syria but we gained more contacts by chance.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t recommend reporting from a war zone as a way to start out in journalism?

Don’t just think: “Oh, this guy’s done it and I can do it as well.” You’ve got to learn from what I did wrong. People admire the fact that I went in but you’ve got to think about the fact that I almost died. If I did what I did again, it’s one in a million chance that I’d come out alive. I was so lucky. And I keep saying that to people… You’ve also go to ask yourself: “Are you brave enough?” You’ve got to put yourself in the that position; imagine you’re surrounded by snipers and two minutes down the line a war plane is going to fly passed you and drop bombs that could possibly harm you. Are you going to be brave enough to withstand that? Are you going to stand there or are you going to drop all your shit and go crazy? If you don’t think you’re brave enough to do it, don’t do it. If you do think you’ve got the balls to do it and you can stick it out, go for it. But that’s what I think you need. If you want to go into war correspondence you’ve just got to have plenty of balls.

What about Hostile Environment Training?

Yeah, of course, any training would be good. But I don’t think training has anything to do with confidence and belief in yourself. You can have as much training as you want but if you don’t have that confidence, if you don’t think that you’ll be able to live with what’s going on down there – that you’re going to be in constant fear of your life – that’s just going to cripple you. I don’t think you’ll be able to do your work properly. So training is obviously important but at the same time, you’ve got to look at yourself and say: “Am I cut out to do this?” The most horrific thing for me was seeing the pile of dead bodies outside the hospital, and that could really traumatise some people… You’ve got to think about if you see that kind of situation, how will it affect you? Will you come out of this okay or will it scar you afterwards? That’s happened to a lot of people. A lot of civilian journalists have gone inside and they’ve just turned around and said: “I can’t do this anymore.” Training? Yeah, go for it but if you’ve got the courage, that’s the most important part.

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks