Guest Blog: What I wish I knew before I became a journalist
Editor and Writer Maddy Biddulph gives some advice to budding writers
Work experience is crucial and could even land you a job. My local paper, The Oxford Mail, hired me as a Feature Writer when I was 22 and already on work experience with them. While looking for a news story in town, I discovered that street traders were using black hair dye, touted as ‘black henna’, for temporary tattoos. The dye contains a dangerous chemical, PPD, which burns and scars skin. Trading Standards were investigating, and I got my first scoop, which almost made the front page (it made page three).
Don’t despair if you can’t afford to do the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course. I was lucky enough to be sent on a five-month Fast Track course by my employers where I learnt my trade, including the very useful and ancient art of shorthand (great for writing secret Christmas lists with). Fees for a fast track NCTJ course will set you back at least £4,450 (see nctj.com for more info) but many journalists I know have come into the industry without traditional training simply by working their way up the ladder, so don’t despair if you can’t afford it. Apply for internships on newspapers and magazines you read and enjoy – it is a great first step into the industry and can sometimes land you a job either there or at another title in the same company.
Build your reputation online by writing a blog. Not only will you develop your own voice and style, many bloggers are now being picked up by publications as Guest Columnists and Writers.
Be willing to move for work. After five years as a Feature Writer and later as a Senior News Reporter in my hometown of Oxford, I moved to London to write real life features for Splash News Agency. This involved finding case studies with interesting human interest stories, interviewing and writing features, which were then sold through the agency directly to newspapers or women’s magazines. Writing for such a variety of publications was a brilliant way of building my reputation.
Tap up your contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for help. When I wanted a new challenge, I emailed a journalist who had, 2 years earlier, interviewed me for a job I didn’t get (because I didn’t have enough experience). Turns out she had moved jobs and was the Editor of women’s weekly NOW magazine and they were looking for a Feature Writer…
Do a bit of everything until you find out what you like. Don’t despair if you start writing about something you don’t have a passion for. I started out writing about property and flower shows, then at NOW I wrote real life features, showbiz news stories, and when the Health Editor went on maternity leave, I unofficially took over her diet, fitness and health pages. This gave me the experience to be ready for my last position as Closer’s Lifestyle Editor.
Find a mentor. My late father was a journalist and taught me a lot of what I know, including his golden rules for success in journalism – use your initiative, follow your gut instinct and finally, in his own words: “assumption is the mother of all f*ck-ups!”
Maddy and her dad, Michael.
Maddy Biddulph is an Editor, Writer and Media Advisor. She has over 16 years’ experience in newspapers, consumer press and digital. Formerly Closer’s Lifestyle Editor, she started her career as a local news reporter before moving into the crazy world of celebrity magazines.