Artlee Mhlanga is a final year student at Coventry University, studying Journalism and English. He is currently the editor of ‘The Source,’ Coventry University’s student newspaper and an intern at Communicate Magazine. He spoke to Freelance Journalist Judith Townend and got her tips on how to break into the industry as well as her thoughts on Al Jazeera’s growth and the fallout from the Leveson inquiry.
Most young hacks nowadays are training to be efficient across all media platforms from broadcast, audio, online to print journalism. There is a never-ending debate about whether a modern-day hack should be a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Speaking at the first instalment of the Coventry Conversation series 2012, Judith Townend, a digital journalist, gave young journalists some insight as to how interactive media is changing journalism. With copies of her CV being distributed across the room, few could doubt her credentials. Boasting a degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge Townend trained in journalism at City University London in 2006/7.
Like many hacks, Townend developed the passion for journalism early on. “I’m not sure when I first got the idea. Media and journalism was something I was always interested in and while I was an undergraduate – doing social anthropology – I decided to have a shot at making a career of it. In my last year I organised a jam-packed summer of work experience and applied for the City University newspaper journalism course.”
While many strive for that ever elusive early career break, the industry demands experience and it is what you have done that will get you noticed. “While I don’t like the increasing tendency for unpaid internships in the UK, work experience is incredibly useful for those first contacts and getting your foot in the newsroom door,” she said. “That summer of back-to-back work placements set me on my way, I think. I was lucky to meet a few journalists that summer who gave me very useful advice that has stayed relevant.”
That summer included placements at The Independent and The Australian. Freelance pieces for AP soon followed earning her roles at Journalism.co.uk, Index on Censorship and the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.
On the list of guests scheduled to attend the first term of Coventry Conversations, beneath her name was the title ‘Digital Journalist.’ Is it not the case that these days all journalists need to have online and multi-media skills? “Good point: I can’t see how any journalist can work without the internet. Even if you don’t have active social networking profiles (and there could be good reasons for doing that if you’re an investigative hack who needs to keep a low profile) you’ll need to use them for research.
“I think it would be unwise for any journalist entering the profession not to prioritise digital skills and awareness. Having said that, traditional methods are still tremendously important – it’s about getting a balance between the two.”
With an increasingly large number of journalists being trained on all fronts, Townend spoke of her adapting to this change. “I was covering developments in digital journalism and inevitably that changed the way I perceived the industry. The process and product of my journalism changed as a result – I tried to be more conversational in my approach and was aware of the multitude of free digital resources available.”
For those who have been in the industry before the rest of us young hacks had completed our UCAS forms, the role of a journalist has been redefined through technology. “There has been massive upheaval since I first trained in journalism. I have seen rapid change in the prominence and importance of online journalism, the digital tools at our disposal and the types of jobs available,” she said.
Al Jazeera is another name that Townend has been associated with and speaking on their rise to prominence in the last 12 months she said: “It’s been really exciting to see the Al Jazeera network grow, especially during events last Spring. It doesn’t surprise me because I think there’s demand for high quality news content from under-covered areas of the world, with original angles. I look forward to seeing what they do next.”
The Leveson inquiry is a cause for concern for every journalist and more so young hacks. “It’s certainly placed press behaviour and ethics centre-stage – whether it will change the way newspaper journalists work remains to be seen. We’re very likely to see a new newspaper regulatory system emerge,” she said. “My own view is that regulation is going to become more complicated in practice, as the platforms become increasingly inseparable. Is it logical to regulate a television website differently from a blog or a newspaper? Module two on media relationships with the police should be fascinating to follow too.”
A final piece of advice for those aspiring to build a career in journalism, Townend simply said: “Digital skills and understanding, coupled with age-old journalistic nous – a nose for a story, cynicism and curiosity.”
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look