Tag Archives: Journalism

Some Advice For Aspiring Writers

30 May
Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I have, on occasion, been asked for advice by a young writer looking to grow their career. However, I also am, in one form or another, a young writer looking for my so-called “big break”. I have asked established journalists questions about how they got to where they are, I have poured over countless YouTube videos of interviews with my favourite writers, looking for that one sentence that would transform me from mere aspiring writer, to professional, in-demand and well-respected behemoth of a writer.

As it turns out, there is no definite answer; everyone has a different story. Some writers trained in journalism, some have an undergraduate degree, maybe even a postgraduate degree. Others fell into journalism by chance, after doing a degree in English or another language, some got onto coveted training schemes and bagged promising apprenticeships. The lucky ones had a friend who was influential in the industry, and managed to get themselves a good job that way.

If I wasn’t watching YouTube videos, I spoke to just about every journalist I met. Almost everyone I spoke to had come into the industry differently, some said having a postgraduate degree in anything was a waste of time, while others said that they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for their qualifications. During an internship in London, at least two of the journalists I was working with advised me without any irony or malice, that I shouldn’t try to get into get into journalism, because there were no jobs, and things were only going to get worse.

In short, every answer I got, while interesting, confused me more. Should I go to back to university? I don’t have the money to do that. Should I do an NCTJ course? Should I try to diversify and start adding more skills to my CV? All the options available were so overwhelming that I felt like I was going struggling up a spiral staircase; I was moving, I was heading towards some kind of goal, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was frustrating, it was tiring, it was not helpful at all.

And this is my advice; if you want to be a writer, write. Write as often as you can during the day, write in the evening, and then write again the next morning. Set yourself a goal to get up in the morning and write a specific amount of words before lunch, then smash that number.

Don’t forget to read, a writer needs to read and remember how to get lost in the literary worlds that other authors create for them. Reading is a joy, reading should never be a chore, if you don’t read anything, then how can you expect anyone to read your work?

And finally, here’s my golden rule: don’t ask other writers for advice. I’m serious. Every writer has a different story; every writer has a distinct background and voice. Their past is not your future, so create your own career path and carve your own journey in stone. Don’t strive to be a second-rate version of your favourite writer, be a first-rate version of yourself. Don’t imitate, create and never be afraid of doing the things that your idols didn’t do.

Surviving Life After Graduation

21 May
Trash on Taylor Street, SF

Trash on Taylor Street, SF

It’s here, graduation, it’s what you’ve been working towards for a number of years and it’s finally time for you to step outside and view the world, not as a poor student, but as a poor graduate. May I be one of the first to say, congratulations, and don’t worry, it gets so much better.

Right now, you might be thinking about hiring your graduation gown and getting your sweaty hands on the piece of paper that is your degree, but this will not automatically change your view of the world. Don’t get me wrong, your graduation will be great fun, it should give you some great memories, but it’s what happens after your graduation that really matters, and here’s some advice to get you through the weeks, months, even years after this.

Don’t Compare Your Life to Anyone Else’s

This is the rule that I simply cannot stress enough; your life is your life, so quit comparing it to everyone else’s. When I graduated in 2009, which was a very tough year to graduate – especially with a drama degree – I felt like so many of my classmates were walking into great jobs. One person more or less walked into their dream job and had numerous other opportunities thrown at them, yet I was still working at my not-quite-minimum-wage-job in the fast food industry.

In short, I was barely out of my graduation robes and I already felt like a failure; I was intimidated by other people’s progress and envious of their success. When one former classmate moved to London, I was stunned, I couldn’t imagine leaving Edinburgh, let alone Scotland. But the path you go down isn’t the same path that your friends will tiptoe along, and no path is set, you can always change your direction, and you can always, always go back.

It’s OK to Not Have a Plan

You might be one of those people who has a plan, a plan that will not be changed, a plan that they have no intention of changing in any way shape or form. This is fine, but this is not the way that a lot of people work. You don’t always need a plan, you don’t always need something that you set stone; you need that spark, that flash of inspiration, the revelation that comes to you when you’re doing the washing up, the epiphany that emerges as you’re about to fall asleep. Whatever it is, write it down, don’t forget it, and see how you can make this new dream a reality.

Have Something Else To Do

By this, I mean have a hobby. If you’re trying to become a professional writer; write, read, but also have something to do on the days where you just can’t face sitting in front of the computer for another long and unproductive afternoon.

Get out the house; see family, see friends, go to the cinema, the museum, go for a long walk to nowhere and sit and gaze at the sunset. Cook, clean, learn to play a musical instrument, volunteer, head to the gym and work with the Iron, run with no destination in mind, do something that helps you remove yourself from your work so that it remains your goal, your dream, not an instrument of torture. Creating something, working towards your future and being artistic shouldn’t mean that you have to over work yourself; know when to give yourself a break, and know when you are burning out.

You Are Not Your Degree

If I had a penny for every time that I mentioned that I have a drama degree, and every time someone has asked me if I was an actor because of my degree, I would have a fair few pennies. Yet, I would still not be a rich woman. I work with a team of very, very talented people in my day job. One has a PhD, some have degrees in art, others have degrees in history, some are in really good local bands, yet, we work in online marketing, which, we’ll admit, was not part of our plan, but it’s where we are for now. Your degree doesn’t control you, it doesn’t bind you to a certain industry or job, and remember that it can only hold you back if you let it hold you back. Your degree is a small part of your life; that doesn’t mean that it is your life, and it doesn’t mean that it will be part of your future.

Never, Ever Let Anyone Make You Doubt Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in the years after graduating was listening to the wrong people. At that time, there were people in my life that liked to remind me of my limitations, and in doing so, held me back.

For example, during a conversation with a former friend last year, I mooted the idea of moving away from Edinburgh, possibly Scotland, maybe even the UK, to find work, to travel, or just to start anew. This former friend then reminded me that I own a flat, that I was very lucky to own property, and that there were so many other people out there that wanted to get their feet on the property ladder, which wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what it was that they said exactly, but their argument was that because I owned property and because other people didn’t/couldn’t, then I should never, ever think about travelling, ever. I was made to feel guilty and selfish for committing the terrible crime of Expressing a Desire to Travel Whilst Owning a House at the Same Time.

There are many reasons why this way of thinking is completely wrong, but when I thought about the conversation later, I realised that this person was talking about themselves, “I don’t think you should travel”, “I want to buy a house, how can you be so selfish when you have something that I want?” Don’t get into this way of thinking, anything is possible, even if you own property, have a small family, or a well-paid job. Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams, don’t let others have too much say in your life, this is your time, be your own person, create your own adventure.

The Scaredy Cat’s Guide to Blogging

9 May
Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

My Ultimate List of Fears [UPDATED]:

1. Heights

2. Bigger Heights

3. Flying Through Turbulence

4. Blogging

It took me three years longer than it should have to start blogging.

Let me explain; when I was at university, and training in arts journalism, the internet was still seen by many in the journalism industry as less of a standalone publisher, but more of a support to traditional printed journalism. By the time I graduated, it was becoming clear to many in the industry that online journalism had taken on a new dimension, and was seriously threatening traditional print journalism.

Back in those heady days of higher education, graduation and working in a job with no prospects and a weekly pay packet that paid just-above-minimum-wage-but-not-quite-enough-to-live-on, a lot of people I knew started to say things like, “You should have a blog. People like blogs.” I understood their reasoning; blogs would make my work more visible, a blog would give me an online presence, where I could write and hone my craft, and it might even get me noticed by some big time publisher/editor who’d send me an email starting with “Hey Kid, I like your style, here’s a writing job and a comfortable wage.” As if.

But for all the benefits of blogging; networking, work, the unreachable goals, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The thought of blogging led to questions, big, horrifying questions that I couldn’t answer. Every time I thought about blogging, a little voice in my head would raise all sorts of questions. What would I blog about? What if nobody read my blog? Which platform should I use? How would I design it? What will I say? What if everyone thinks I’m an idiot when they read my blog posts? What if I am an idiot? What if I’m a terrible, terrible writer?

These questions went on and on, terrifying me, putting me off blogging, and so, the little voice would fall silent, until I started thinking about blogging again. After all, who was I? I was a theatre critic, just another underpaid and undervalued arts journalist. Why would anybody take me seriously? Why would anybody want to read what I have to say? Why should I bother blogging when I can’t get regular and paid writing work anyway? Sometimes, I would be brave, I would make vague commitments to creating a blog, like the time I registered a domain that I ignored until it expired. I set up various Tumblr accounts and even a lonely Posterous account that I promptly forgot about. Then, last year, I decided the fear was holding me back; it was time to have a blog, at least to showcase my work, and use in job applications.

I set up my blog in April, but didn’t write my first post for a month. I was so overwhelmed in the beginning; I didn’t know what to say, and that little voice kept telling me I had no place blogging was sometimes unbearably loud. After that, I used my blog to republish my reviews from other websites. It wasn’t an impressive blog, so I fannied around with free WordPress themes to make it look better, and added new widgets, categories and tabs. But, I still felt like my blog wasn’t working, it didn’t inspire me and I knew I wanted to write about more than theatre. So, I did. I wrote about the government, I wrote about abortion, I wrote about libel, I wrote about pseudonyms, I discussed disappointment, I lamented the lack of money in journalism and rejection in the industry. As I wrote, I grew more confident and that little voice that liked to tell me that I had no right to publish my work online grew weaker.

It’s been just over a year since I started this blog, while it has been difficult at times, and I’ll admit that the little voice of doubt hasn’t gone completely, I’m glad I started blogging, I only wish I’d started earlier. I wish I’d known that blogging doesn’t have to be so scary, I wish I’d known that the only way to be comfortable blogging is to blog regularly.

If you’re thinking about blogging; don’t think about it, do it. The more you blog, the more you will find your voice, your angle and an audience. Listen to feedback – if you get it – but don’t be afraid to share your opinion, to keep writing, researching and finding stories that you want to write about. Your blog is your space, where you can express yourself freely, and conquer your little negative voice. My blog definitely helped me get over my fear of blogging, next up; I will conquer my fear of flying through turbulence. Maybe.

Trash On Disappointment

6 Mar
The Ultimate Disappointment

The Ultimate Disappointment

Remember when you were little and you were caught doing something you shouldn’t have been? Something so bad that your parents would shake their heads and say; “We’re not angry, we’re just very disappointed” and you felt completely and utterly crushed at the mere mention of the word ‘disappointment’? We all do, because that is probably one of the worst things a parent, guardian or someone in a position of authority or trust can say to another person: “I am disappointed in you.”

Of course, being disappointed is something that does still crop up in life; I was disappointed when my long-term relationship ended, I was disappointed when I found out how much post-graduate training costs, I was disappointed when I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. All these events were very disappointing, but nothing hurt more than those long hours I wasted watching that Indiana Jones sequel, where I spent almost the entire time in the cinema thinking: “Aliens! This had better not be about bloody aliens. OHGAWDIT’SABOUTALIENS.” It was so traumatic that I vowed then and there to never watch it again. I even considered trying to find somewhere I could hide, somewhere this terrible film wouldn’t be able find me. (I’m lying, of course, the breakup was the worst; when that happened, I felt like I was full of shattered glass; it coursed through my veins, cutting through me, every breath hurt, but I digress.)

In journalism, you must expect disappointment. You will not always get that interview you’ve been trying to secure for months, you might get passed over for a promotion, you might find that your work somehow gets published without your byline, and of course, you won’t always get to write about the things that you want to write about. You might get yourself an internship or secure a place of a work experience programme that doesn’t lead anywhere, but remember, it’s all part of the learning process. After I had a particularly disappointing internship last year, that turned out to not only be very expensive, but also pretty dull as the journalists there were reluctant to give me any work to do, a former friend of mine snapped, “Oh, you had one bad internship, get over it.”

As dismissive and as unhelpful as her remark was, it got me thinking about the nature of disappointment, especially in the journalism industry. Trying to avoid the inevitable crushing pain of disappointment is useless; it’s going to happen at some point in your journalism career, so learn to roll with the punches. A few months ago, I wrote about rejection in journalism, something which even the best journalists in the world admit happens to them too. Don’t simply attempt to get over it; get angry, channel that anger into something positive, there is no point bearing grudges against people or publications. Don’t waste your anger on others, they don’t deserve it. Use it to better yourself, and change your feelings of disappointment into something much more useful; belief.

Journalism is a competitive industry, an evolving industry, but one that has so much potential for the next generation of journalists.=, and there will be a place for you in it.

Believe in yourself. Don’t give up.

Trash and The Quest for Higher Education

3 Feb
Journalism Postgraduate

Postgraduate Prospectuses

I graduated in 2009, after spending four years at a pretty chaotic university in Scotland. At the time, I was glad to escape and happy to get away from the university’s inability to return essays on time, their refusal to listen to student feedback, and most importantly, their desire to shut down the drama department of which I was a student. A department which had, at one point, been one of the leading drama departments in the country, and had helped the university gain conservatoire status. But that’s another story.

Since I graduated, I’ve achieved a lot; my writing has improved, I’ve written for a number of publications, I’ve worked as an editor, I’ve got a good ‘day job’, I’ve bought a flat, and I’m paying off my student loan. But I am struggling to get regular paid journalism work, and I can’t afford to take time off my ‘day job’ in order to take unpaid ‘editorial work experience’ that sees me making coffee, doing menial tasks, or worse, being ignored.

Since last year, I have been considering going back to university to do a postgraduate course in journalism. I know many people who have, and all of them are doing well; they work for big publications, they are establishing themselves in their field, and some of them are even moving abroad to further their careers. For me, I’m now at the point in my career where I have to make this decision; at the moment, I am still doing a lot of unpaid work, and I have a strong portfolio, yet when I have applied for journalism jobs, I have never even managed to get feedback on my application, let alone secure an interview.

I suspect this is because my degree is, to all intents and purposes, a drama degree, although I specialised in arts journalism in my final two years, I feel that potential employers are looking at the words ‘BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts’ and throwing my CV in the bin. My lack of journalism qualifications is counting against me, despite my experience in the industry, but it’s time to face facts, I need to have a journalism qualification in order to progress.

However, postgraduate degrees, lest we forget, are expensive in the UK, disproportionately so, compared to fees in Europe and the system seems to be tailored towards attracting international students, as opposed to teaching domestic ones. Support for postgraduates is also low, and a recent report has revealed that 1,000 postgraduate students turn down places at Oxford University each year, because of the ‘financial demands of study there’. It’s ridiculous how expensive it is to study in the UK; some universities will change £6,000+ for a journalism postgrad, while others will charge more than £9,000 – and that’s just for fees, if you factor in basic living expenses, such as food and rent, then the average postgrad student is paying a lot of money for the privilege of further education.

So, last week, instead of doing my usual and just thinking about doing a postgrad, I made a decision. I went to a postgraduate fair organised by Target Courses at the University of Edinburgh, to see what I could do, and spoke to various people about my options, both financial and otherwise. To my surprise, the whole afternoon was very positive. The representative I spoke to from SAAS (Student Awards Agency for Scotland) which handles fees and loans, was very helpful, and while they can only offer loans towards part of the cost of postgraduate degrees, they took me through the specifics of the loan and explained everything clearly.

I also spoke to a number of university representatives, including those from Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, University of Salford, Manchester, UCD College of Arts and Celtic Studies, Study Options, Strathclyde University and the Fulbright Commission. Some of these conversations were very helpful, very positive and friendly, whereas others, weren’t. Just a quick heads up to anyone representing a university at a fair – answering questions with “Well, if you go to our website…” isn’t helpful, it’s lazy. I’ve spent time researching your courses, I’ve spent countless hours on many university websites – which aren’t always easy to navigate – and I’ve come with a list of questions, so the very least you can do is be prepared. Although, I had to laugh when I approached the ‘Study in Germany’ stand, just out of curiosity, because I didn’t know if it was an English-language college they were representing, and asked about their courses. The woman manning the stall paused, blinked slowly, and answered, “Are you German?” Whether she meant to say, “Do you speak German?”, I’ll never know, because the conversation quickly descended into farce from there, as she told me several times that I would need to speak German in order to study in Germany, gave me a website address, and sent me on my way with the most patronising of smiles. So, it wasn’t an English language college, then.

The people who were willing to talk to me, and had answers to my questions made me feel like going back to university is something I can do; of course, I’m still trying to figure out which universities, which courses, and most importantly, how I will pay the fees, but it doesn’t feel like an impossible task any more. Yes, the fees are too much, we shouldn’t have to pay in order to better ourselves through education, and further education shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich and the well-connected, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stop me.

Have you done a journalism postgrad? Are you thinking about it? Or are you determined to do it, like me? Got any advice? Get in touch, let’s talk.

Journalists, Watch Your Language

19 Jan

Rosie DiManno

As ledes go, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno’s “She lost a womb but gained a penis” is pretty awful; it’s sensationalist, unclear, and laughably insensitive. However, the next sentence, “The Former was being removed surgically – full hysterectomy – while the latter was being shoved into her slack mouth” reveals just how inappropriate the lede is for the story.

Yet as horrible as these sentences are, the story itself is much, much worse: an anesthesiologist, Dr George Doodnaught, is currently standing trial accused of sexually assaulting 20 female patients whilst they were unconscious during surgery in Toronto’s North York General Hospital. The crimes that Dr Doodnaught has been accused of are abhorrent, shocking and inexcusable; oral rape, forcible touching of the breasts and ‘French kissing’ one patient while she was having hip replacement surgery.

Clearly, the story is one of a trusted medical professional abusing their position in order to exploit vulnerable female patients for his own sexual fulfilment, and the failure of North York General Hospital to protect its patients by investigating previous complaints against Dr Doodnaught. However, DiManno’s clumsy wording, which included describing one anonymous witness, known as D.D. as an “…attractive married mom” – are her looks, marital status and children relevant to the case? – Switch the reader’s anger from Dr Doodnaught to DiManno herself, crushing the real horror of the story and creating a different, and much more vitriolic kind of outrage.

Whether DiManno intended to sound ‘edgy’, or dramatic, or she was simply having an ‘off day’ remains to be seen. However, this isn’t her first questionable lede: in a piece published earlier this month on the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, DiManno gleefully cried: “Give Lance Armstrong this much: The guy’s got, um, ball.”  Jokes about Armstrong’s anatomy and integrity aside, journalists, whether they’re writing a column or a news story, have a responsibility to write objectively, and in the case of writing about sexual assault with care and compassion.

However, as recent articles, such as THAT Julie Burchill article, and the furore surrounding Suzanne Moore have revealed, words have power, they can be simultaneously uplifting, informative, destructive and damaging. Burchill’s dismissal of transsexuals as ‘trannies’ amongst other hateful words and Moore’s angry tweets on transsexuals and feminism serve only to make people angry, and further feel alienated. Whereas DiManno’s over simplified description of oral rape as “…gaining a penis” minimises one woman’s horrific tale of sexual assault. After all, would you ever say to a rape victim, “Hey, don’t worry about it, remember, you weren’t horribly violated, you gained a penis”? No, you wouldn’t, because that’s not what rape is.

Words carry so much weight, they influence and teach the reader. So when DiManno describes oral rape in the way she has, when Burchill dismisses transsexuals as “chicks in dicks clothing”, when a 12-year-old gang rape victim in Texas is described by a defence attorney as a “spider”, “who lured the boys into her web” and when the gang rape of two 12-year-old girls in Reading is described by a “park orgy” and the victims as “schoolgirl Lolitas” then we have a serious problem. Not just in journalism, but also in society in general.

Words move worlds, they have the power to enlighten, destroy and corrupt, and it’s time to face the reality that what we say and write can move people in all the wrong ways.

What I Learned About Theatre Criticism in 2012

27 Dec

The Critic

This year has really flown by. It seems like last week I was preparing for the Fringe and now, suddenly, here I am, sitting in my living room, surrounded by Christmas chocolates, wondering what the Hell happened this year. So, in the spirit of reflection, procrastination and a slice of goodwill, here are the vital lessons I learned about theatre criticism this year.

You Will Never Be Popular

There’s one thing I can confidently say about being a theatre critic; you will have  a very interesting relationship with those around you. Directors, actors, the public and even theatre FOH staff may not like you. Unless you’ve done something really personal to offend them, don’t sweat it, this is part of the job. If you write something people agree with, they will celebrate you; if you write a piece that they disagree with, then they will probably dismiss you. Your name will be celebrated by some, but unfortunately, it will become mud in some circles – accept it, wear it as a badge of honour, but don’t let it get you down.

Arguments on Twitter Are Never a Good Idea

I love Twitter – it’s probably my favourite social network – and while I don’t update my Twitter feed daily, I’m on the site every day, sometimes several times a day. But, like social networks, it has its downside, in fact, it has many downsides at times.  The 140 character limit of a tweet can be frustratingly limited, and we’re all guilty of leaping to the wrong conclusions because of one misunderstood tweet from time to time. So, even though so-called ‘Twitter spats’ can be very, very funny to read, they are nowhere as fun to be involved in – especially if you’re on the receiving end of another person’s unrestrained and completely unexpected bile. If you find yourself being drawn into a Twitter spat, don’t rise to anything, keep a clear head, and a sense of humour.

Nasty Critics Get Nowhere

Have you ever had to work with, or had the misfortune of being around a nasty person? Someone who thought nothing of being rude about other people in order to make themselves seem better by comparison? Well, some people seem to think that this is the way forward in theatre criticism. All too often, I have seen new critics attempt to ruffle feathers by writing very harsh, or downright rude reviews – this doesn’t get you very far, it gives you a bad reputation, and it makes you seem bitter. Don’t do this. The way to make your mark is by writing good reviews and being a reliable writer, you want to make friends and influence people, not be rude and alienate them.

Other Critics Will Irritate You

Believe it or not, critics are people too. And just like every other human beings, we are as irrational and emotional and as fallible as everyone else on the planet. This year was the year that I really managed to get out there and meet lots of critics; from established critics, to brand new critics, to up-and-coming critics, and I learned something new from all of them. However, as with every vocation, it’s almost impossible to get on with everyone, and some critics will naturally clash. Why? Because we are human; we share our opinions, we don’t always agree with each other’s opinions, and we have to work together in very confined spaces. So, accept that people will annoy you, and accept that you probably annoy other people too, and for the sake of a quiet life, try to avoid the ones you don’t get on with, they’re probably not really worth getting annoyed about.

Content is King

Sure, some publications will get read regardless of the quality of their content; perhaps the best example of this is The Daily Mail, but please excuse the cliché for a moment, because content is king for critics. We have to get our facts right first time, we must be impartial, fair, and we have to make our points with care our signature style. Everyone’s got a different way of writing, and that’s what’s really beautiful about the critical game – we’re all very distinctive in our own way. But remember, when writing reviews to research the production, question its themes and direction and write well. Believe me, editors and readers always remember the critics that write well.

Online Publications Will Be the Future (In the Future)

The people that lament the apparent death of print journalism (see below) and it is true that the industry is losing more money every year; we haven’t quite worked out how to make money from online journalism just yet. Yes, some publications, like The Times, have a paywall, and Newsweek recently ended their print edition to go online only, but the recent death of The Daily,Rupert Murdoch’s paid news app for the iPadproves that while demand for quality online journalism is high, we haven’t quite found a way to make real, sustainable and regular money from it.

Print is Not Dead

Just a few years ago, traditional print journalism was in its prime, and online journalism was seen as more of a support to the print format. Now, of course, online has overtaken print, and many commentators, pundits, journalists and writers have been quick to cry that print journalism, for the most part, is dead. I disagree, there is still a market for print journalism – a lot of magazines can only work in the print format – and a lot of people prefer them. It’s true, publishers, even some leading ones, are losing money – but the presses are still printing our daily, weekly and monthly magazines. In fact, until every company stops churning out a print version of their publication, then the medium is very much alive.

Know Your Worth

When you take your first wobbly steps on the sticky path towards becoming a recognised, respected and paid theatre critic, you will have to do some work for free. This is a great way to start building up your portfolio and getting your name out there, and the good thing about building up your portfolio this way, is that there are always lots of websites looking for voluntary writers. However, the bad thing about this situation is that there are always websites looking for unpaid writers. Like I said before, we’re still trying to find a way to make money from online journalism, and so, many websites and editors can’t pay their writers, because there is no money. This is true for a number of sites, but some sites can and do, pay their writers, but often use voluntary writers too. It’s important to know your worth, though, and don’t get stuck doing unpaid work for years and years or for the sake of ‘getting a link back to your blog’ or ‘having your name published’. Get some writing work, get some experience, and then start looking for ways to get money for your work if you can.

The Joy of Rejection in Journalism

2 Dec

Journalism Rejection

When I was 16, I was dumped by my then-boyfriend via text message. This was not just any text message. It was a three-part text message, in which parts one and three arrived promptly, but part two, which was, incidentally, the most important part of the sorry texts (it said why I was getting dumped, but I can’t remember his reasoning now) arrived three hours later. I was completely crushed at the time, and while I can laugh about the entire situation now (dumped via text message? I mean, really?) my work as a journalist had re-acquainted me with the sometimes harsh realities of rejection.

I’m now much older, and a little bit wiser than I was back then, but now I work in journalism, and rejection is part of the job description. Because freelance journalists spent most (read all) of their time pitching to editors, and perhaps even applying for other journalism jobs, they will have had their pitches and applications rejected a lot more than you think they might. Whether a journalist is established in their field or not, they will still get their ideas and work rejected by editors on a weekly, or perhaps even a daily basis.

Having a pitch rejected can at first feel like the end of the world; you’ve worked hard on an idea, or an application, sourced the right publication and pitched your idea for an article in a clear and professional way. Or in the case of applying for a job, provided lots of relevant information and previous work in the job application. However, having a pitch rejected is most definitely not the end of the world, and once it happens to you a few more times, it gets easier. I’m not saying that you are going to develop a rhino skin overnight, but remember that rejection is something that unites a lot of industries, from journalism, to writing, to design, to acting, dancing, music and much, much more.

So how do you deal with rejection? The writer and journalist, Kirsty Logan, wrote a few choice words about having her work rejected in her IdeasTap column in the summer, and they are words that I have decided to live by. I would highly recommend reading her piece and her other work if you get the chance, but the crux of her argument is this; rejection in the writing industry is inevitable, so we should learn to embrace it, and see it as an indicator that we are seizing relevant opportunities.

To Kirsty’s words of wisdom, I would add the following advice:

  • It’s not you that they are rejecting

Try not to take the rejection personally; the editor you are pitching or applying to probably doesn’t know you. They are only judging your writing, not your character.

  • All editors are different

You could work with one editor that loves your voice, your work and agrees with everything you have to say. Then you could work with one that just isn’t that into your writing style.

  • There wasn’t a space for your story

Even if you pitch the right publication or editor, your story might just not suit them at that time. They could even have run a similar story recently, and don’t want to revisit the subject. Don’t panic, this happens more than you might think.

  • Ask for feedback – if you got a response

Most editors will give you a reason why they didn’t commission you, or why they didn’t invite you for an interview, but if they don’t, ask for feedback, especially if you have applied for a job.

However, some publications don’t respond to job applicants, who could benefit from feedback on their application. But when they do, it can be invaluable, in fact, here’s an example of when I did ask for feedback on two separate job applications, one year apart, for the same magazine.

Last year I applied for the role of Assistant Editor at an Edinburgh Fringe publication that I had written for previously in 2010. I didn’t get the job, but when the editor of the publication emailed me to let me know, I responded and asked if they had any writing jobs available. They did, and I built up a rapport with both the editor and assistant editor, and I ended up writing for them, plus taking on extra commissions when they asked.

This year, I applied to write for the same Edinburgh Fringe publication, and because of the amount of work I put in the year before, I was hopeful that I would get more work with them. However, the people I had worked with previously were no longer working there, meaning that the editorial team were almost all brand new.

My application was refused this year, and while the new editor was very polite in all correspondence, when I asked for feedback, they said that I needed to “…build up my writing portfolio, as that was what we are looking for.” Considering my past work for the publication, my existing work within the Scottish theatre community and the fact that this was the fourth Edinburgh Festival Fringe I was going to review at, this rejection was tough – I had a very strong portfolio. I didn’t respond to the editor, because they had made up their mind that I wouldn’t be writing for them this year. But like that ex that dumped me by text message, this is another experience to learn from – not all editors like my writing style, and that’s ok.

So, to all you young creative types, I say this: we’ve all faced rejection, we will continue to face rejection, the trick is how to deal with it; how to learn to roll with the punches and to keep persevering.

Seven Tips for the Arts PR

28 Oct

Ah, PR types, press releases, media officers, press offices, I love you all dearly, and I need you in my professional life. But there are certain things I simply cannot abide in arts PR, and they must end, frankly, as they annoy me, and they give PRs a bad name – and there are a lot of good PRs out there that I enjoy very good working relationships with – and I don’t want to lump them into the same category as the bad ones.

So, to be blunt, if you work in arts PR, or if you want to work in the industry, here are some tips from one cynical, hardened arts journalist to you. Pay attention, and we’ll get on just fine.

1. Email the Right Publication

Granted, this may sound like obvious advice, but in reality, emailing the editor of Auto Trader magazine about a new performance of  Othello isn’t going to get you coverage. Granted, that is an extreme example, but it’s important to remember that creating a suitable and relevant list of publications to contact is a good idea. This will involve some work and research on your part, but it will be worth it, so make sure you know what publication to contact for arts coverage, and whether they are relevant to you. For example, if you are trying to drum up media coverage for a final year show at a local arts college, email publications that deal with visual art coverage, never assume that the term ‘arts’ – which usually stands for film, TV, theatre and radio – includes visual art as well. Research, and find out who is best to contact or you will waste your time.

2. Email the Right Person

While time and effort will go into identifying suitable publications to contact, the same amount of time must go into contacting the relevant section editor. While some PRs think it best to contact the Editor-in-Chief, this can be pointless, as the Editor-in-Chief will be busy sorting out the whole paper/magazine/website and not have the time to pass on your email to the relevant section editor. Find out who you need to contact directly, so if you’re representing  a band, find out the name, email address and/or phone number of the music editor. If you’re looking for theatre coverage, contact the theatre editor. If you can’t find an email address for these people, find out if there is an arts editor you can contact, because they will be able to point you in the right direction.

3. Get the Editor’s Name Right

Again, this sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how easy it can be to use the wrong name in email correspondence. During the Fringe I was called many names by PRs and theatre companies in email correspondence. I was referred to as Andrew on more than one occasion, I was usually called John by most people, which was logical, as John Roberts is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TPR. A very nice sounding man started his email with ‘Hello Ben’, by which I assume he meant Ben Judge, the editor of Fest magazine, although I have never found out if Ben in turn opened an email that enthusiastically cried: ‘Dear Amy’. Another person began their email with ‘Dear Anne’, while some stuck to more formal titles, with Ms Taylor, Miss Taylor and even Mrs Taylor all getting a look in. For future reference, please call me Amy, or Ms Taylor – Mrs Taylor is my mother.

The trick is to make it personal, there’s nothing more disheartening than opening an email that begins with ‘Dear Edinburgh Fringe Reviewer’, ‘Dear Journalist’, ‘Dear Editor’ or my favourite, ‘Dear Writer.’ Find out the editor’s name, spell it right and use it in the email.

4. Remember a PR is an Invitation, Not a Demand

In all email communications, it’s nice to be nice. Introduce yourself to the journalist if you’ve never contacted them before, be conversational, be polite, but don’t forget to tell them precisely why you’ve contacted them. Inform the writer that the reason you’re contacting them is to invite them to review your show/film/album etc. If a journalist sent an unsolicited and pushy email to a PR, that said something along the lines of: ‘What does it take to get a pair of tickets to your show?’ Then, the chances are that the PR might think the journalist, is, to paraphrase, a little bit rude. I’ve had emails from PRs to that effect, that have no greeting, just a demand to ‘come and see our show’, or to insist that I ‘send a reviewer along, because we’ve not had any reviews, yet, and we’re getting a bit pissed off’. Giving your email a title like ‘REVIEWER WANTED’ will not inspire me to send someone along – tell me why you’ve contacted me, be welcoming, make me want to spend what little time I might have in the evening or at the weekend reviewing your work.

5. Answer Your Emails In a Timely Manner

I know journalists can get a little lax with their emails, but while we can only work on that, we need the support of a good PR who responds to our emails quickly. There have been times when I’ve received an invite to a show, and responded asking for tickets for a certain date, only have to follow-up 8 days later when I’ve still not had response from the PR. In one case, I had to email the PR two more times; in the first email I asked for clarification of the press tickets, and in the second email I had to say that I needed a response by a certain date, or I couldn’t confirm that I’d be able to attend. I hated issuing a deadline like that, but it worked.

6. Keep Your Promises

If you state in your PR that you can accommodate a reviewer on any given date or any given venue if the show is touring, then please, stand by that promise. Recently, I received a PR for a show that said reviewers were welcome on any of their tour dates, but when I requested press tickets for a certain date in the run, I was informed that they only wanted reviewers to attend on the opening night, as that was ‘easiest’ for them.

They did offer to see if they could get me tickets for the date and venue that I had requested: “I could try to contact the venue and see what can be done…” but they made it sound it like was such an effort for them, and you know what? I wasn’t asking for the moon on a plate, I was merely requesting what their PR had promised – that any date, and any venue was fine. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.

7. Communicate, Communicate, Dear God, Communicate

Similarly, I’m hearing more and more stories about critics at smaller publications and websites receiving invites to review work, but when they requested tickets, they were rejected by the PR, as they really wanted reviewers from ‘bigger publications’, such as The Guardian. This is rude. It’s like sending an RSVP to a wedding only for the bride to write to you to tell you that you’re also not welcome on the big day. During the Fringe, one of my writers had a press ticket request turned down by a PR with no reason given – what made this even more irritating was the fact that TPR had reviewed the company in question at several times previously and had given them very positive reviews each time. Always check with the company/band/performer before turning down requests, as they could have good working relationships with a number of writers and editors.

Essentially, if the PR fucks up, it reflects badly on the company that they are representing; don’t be the PR that fucks up.

Six Tips for the Young Arts Journalist

30 Sep

Image courtesy of NS Newsflash, under a Creative Commons Licence

So, you want to be an arts journalist. You want to write about the arts, interview influential people and perhaps even travel the world in search of all things culture-related. So, before you go out into the world, and start trying to make a name for yourself as a promising new writer, here are a few things that you need to know. I know that some of them sound very obvious to most of us, but believe me, some people need to be told these things.

Leave Your Ego At The Door

Even if you’ve studied journalism in some form already, had work experience at a paper, or even, managed the holy grail and got some money for your writing, your ego can and will be your downfall. Writing is obviously a very useful talent to have in the industry, but listening and having respect for others is too.

This means that when your editor asks you for something, you do it.

This means that if you attend a show, gig or screening, you are a representative of your publication, you need to be on your best behaviour.

This also means that you should be polite to people you deal with, such as press officers PRs, editors and other writers. Being rude will give you a bad reputation, and also make people less likely to want to work with you.

Be Persistent

In journalism, persistence is key. Editors are very, very busy people; our inboxes fill up quickly with emails, and so if you’ve emailed someone looking for work, or pitching a piece, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up email. The same goes for PRs and press officers; if you’re waiting on a response to a ticket request, get back in touch and ask for confirmation.

It once took me 17 emails and a phone call to arrange and confirm an email with a director, so if you don’t receive a response to your initial email, keep trying.

Listen to Feedback

Some editors will give you feedback on your work, others will not. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback on your copy, then listen to it. As an editor, having a writer that refuses to listen to feedback about their work, and who continues to make the same errors over and over again, is extremely frustrating.

Editors don’t have the time to keep correcting the same errors in a writer’s copy time and time again; they want writers that will listen to feedback.

Be Reliable

Like persistence, reliability is another skill that any young journalist should have. This means turning to shows/gigs/events/interviews on time, and then submitting copy by the deadline.

Turning up to something that you are meant to cover late, or indeed, failing to turn up at all destroys any trust your editor may have in you. Similarly, attending an event and then not submitting copy will blacklist you from that publication, and perhaps others.

Editors like to talk to one another, and if you behave poorly for one editor, others will hear about it, trust me.

Pay Attention to the Word Count

Word counts exist for a reason, and for print publications, they exist in order to make sure that the piece will fit into its allocated space without messing up the entire page its set to be printed on.

Although online journalism is obviously different to print, word counts are just as important for online publications as well. This means that you stick to the word count, so if an editor as for a 300 word review, the review needs to be 300 words, not 200, and most certainly not 600.

Speaking from an editor’s perspective, receiving an email that begins with the words “I know it’s over the word count but…” is infuriating. Learn how to self-edit, it’s a skill that will never leave you once you’ve mastered it. So don’t be lazy, stick to the word count.

Never, Ever Plagiarise 

Plagiarism is another word for ripping off or copying other people’s work. Plagiarism, while not illegal, is highly immoral and a very serious problem in journalism. Being caught plagiarising can and will end your career as a journalist, as no editor or publication will work with any journalist who is caught passing off other people’s work as their own.

It’s a despicable and unforgivable thing to do, and there is never any excuse for it. Do yourself a favour, and never let yourself and your publication down by doing it – ignorance is not an excuse.

Again, I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, but spreading the word about these problems will help tackle the common issues that young journalists and their editors will face.



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