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How do I become a journalist?

Written by Nasim Asl

For a young writer, Alice Vincent has already clocked up an impressive CV; she’s currently an arts and entertainment writer for The Telegraph, and before this was an editorial assistant at The Huffington Post. She tells Young Writers’ Nasim Asl how she’s come such a long way in such a short time…

Like a lot of young aspiring journos, Alice first began to pick up experience at university. “I realised I wanted to be a journalist when I was a teenager. I started when I was in Newcastle – I went to the Fresher’s Fayre at University and signed up. I went to all the meetings and wrote something about music almost straight away in fresher’s week.”

It was here, too, that Alice got involved with NARC. Magazine. “I got in touch with Claire Dupree, and then got more writing experience from there – writing longer pieces and for different audiences. I just kept going.”

Shortly after she graduated, Alice got involved with Wannabe Hacks, an online blog which tracked the lives of recent graduates hoping to make their way into journalism. The site now features a large array of graduates: some worldwide, embarking upon the same career.

“It emerged weeks after we all graduated – we didn’t graduate together though. I met them all online. We were just writing about how we were trying to get into journalism. I was working to try and get some money, but all the time I would be freelancing and writing and trying to get interviews for jobs. It would have been a very lonely time, just moving to London and living with strangers, if I didn’t know that four people that I was in contact with daily were going through the exact same thing.

“What became apparent when the blog went live was that there were a lot of us in that situation: young journalists who didn’t know how to do it.”

Though it’s common now to use a blog as a springboard to a career in journalism, this wasn’t the thinking behind Wannabe Hacks: “We never did it for the CV or jobs. The others kept me sane!” Alice laughs.

She is, however, acutely aware of the importance of online journalism in the age of the Internet. “I’ve only really been paid regularly to work online, so that makes me quite unusual in comparison to most. My generation of professional journalists are the first to have really worked online – it’s a natural change because that’s how everyone reads things and print is dying, but I would strongly advise any aspiring journalists to look at digital. Look at what you read and how you read it. Just because an article online is consumed in a different way to 800 words in a newspaper, doesn’t mean that it’s worse.”

This is certainly a sentiment that Alice has carried into her work at The Telegraph. “Like every traditional print product, we’re having to think about what digital journalism means, and that means my job is pretty exciting at the moment. We’re working out new ways of doing things.” The versatility required by a career in journalism is made obvious when Alice admits that “If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have said that I didn’t want to work online and that I didn’t want to do any news at all – now, I do both of those things all the time.”

After a couple of years of writing for student publications and NARC., Alice found herself at a crossroads. “I was incredibly aware that I wanted to get into journalism, and had an important choice to make – to go and do another course at university, an MA in London which would have cost like £15,000-20,000, or to go and take an internship in New York with no guarantee that it’d be fun and that you’d have anything to show at the end of it.”

“The course had a claim that 99% of graduates where employed. My parents are supportive, but they were like ‘Go and do an MA, then at least if you change your mind you have a Masters’. I got onto the course, but I turned it down and I went to New York. It was super fun, the internship was really great.”

Alice is part of a wave of the new generation of journalists who have had to pave their own path into the field. “I remember asking really-established journalists what I should do,” Alice mused. “No one could really answer me.”

As such, she is keen to demonstrate the multiple ways in which the career is possible, and has some advice for other young people with similar aspirations:

Top Tips

– Make your own contacts.

– If there aren’t opportunities apparent to you, that’s because you have to make them yourself.

– Getting an internship is a useful and beneficial thing.

– Make sure you use your time well when you’re there. Know what you want from an internship – we get a lot of interns who think that interns can just waste their time.

– Don’t be scared if you don’t know what you want to write about specifically, or whether you’re doing the right things. As long as you’re doing something, you’ll learn from it and it will be useful.

– The point is to not give up – if you want to be published, set up a website and do it yourself. If you want to edit, get in touch with people and get involved.

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