In his guest post for Wannabe Hacks Laurence Green said that when times are tough and you’re not sure whether journalism is going to work out for you, the best thing to do is to get out there and network. I certainly know successful people who have done that. But my story is different. It’s far tougher not to give up when you doubt the practice of journalism itself. I know, because I nearly did.
Just after my NCTJ in Multimedia Journalism last July I started a placement at my local newspaper. Within my first week I was feeling inspired in the middle of an interview with a girl who overcame her disabilities to compete in the Special Olympics when my phone rang. The other reporter, responsible for two newspapers while the senior reporter was away, passed me a tip-off about a fatal road accident. If I wanted to cover it today it might make the front page tomorrow.
The first big assignment! I got the bus and arrived at the scene (it was all cleared up when I got there) and interviewed witnesses in shops who relayed gory details. I waited to feel enjoyment but I just felt a bit sick.
And then I watched CCTV footage.
I saw a guy on a motorbike change lanes and I saw the oncoming truck. I saw a split-second decision end in a horrific death.
And the last thing I wanted to do was take notes.
When I got home I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t stomach dinner or why my hands were shaking as I wrote up my story. But when I finished and sent off the story late that night I wondered if reporters were meant to feel excited about this kind of horrific story.
The next morning, I received impatient, sarcastic and scathing emails back from the unimpressed assistant editor. And after several drafts sent back and forth I began to lose sight of the point of it all. Someone unexpectedly lost their life and I’m supposed to care about syntax?
I thought there was more to journalism than the facts of death. I wanted journalism to be inspired by other people’s stories and achievements and love and art and, well, life.
I came to London straight after University in New Zealand. I left best friends, good contacts and a few journalists willing to help me out. I had left a boyfriend in New Zealand too, to do journalism in London. Now I was far from him, in complete doubt and behind on networking.
But this crisis wasn’t going to be solved just by talking to journalists who felt more excited than I did. You can’t always rely on others to pick up when some journalists I had met were in their cliques and sometimes you don’t get invited to drinks by a professional friend when you’re low. The pressure to network can make you feel worse, especially if another journalist in your network suggests you’re not cut out for journalism. Other people don’t always know best and you have to trust yourself even if no one else does.
Sometimes the difference between making it and giving up isn’t networking. It’s you.
I went to the Wannabe Hacks meet-up last year when I had these doubts – and it led to a friendlier opportunity. I met founder/editor of The West Londoner Gaz Corfield, and eventually ended up committing to this local news website in my free time. When the team came up with the idea of a Weekly Crime Roundup I volunteered to face police reports every week to prove to myself I could do better crime stories and become a better journalist. Meanwhile, I contributed and dabbled in any topic I liked.
Eight months later, this February, and several different unpaid gigs and contributions later, the amazing thing happened – I was offered my first graduate, permanent and well-paid job.
Sadly just six weeks later I was made redundant. So I am job hunting again with a limited contact network.
But, while I am looking for a job, I know that despite my doubts I am inspired by journalism. In the arts, culture, politics and social issues/ethical debates. It’s taken me this long to pursue it with a confidence gained from nearly giving up and learning to trust in myself. And I can network way better now – it’s not even scary, it’s fun! I’m gravitating towards the right circles because I’m genuinely interested, not because I need a crutch for my career.
Networking is amazing for opportunities and, hopefully, friendships, but it’s important to remember your career is about you not others. When journalism doesn’t feel like the right choice, or you have a terribly day, it’s okay to un-plug yourself from the media sphere. It’s better than socialising without a purpose. When you come back because you know yourself that’s when you’ll find the right people and the right opportunities for you.
Amanda Leek is Assistant Editor/Reporter at The West Londoner. She has interned at Beatwolf, New Empress, Movie Ramblings, two Newsquest papers and politics.co.uk after starting her career interning in New Zealand. She blogs and tweets @aleekwrites.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look