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.


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.


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.