Well, that’s the end of my MA.
After a pretty bloody unpleasant three weeks, in which I’ve juggled a media law exam, three massive project deadlines, and the occasional shift, I’ve somehow come out the other side with my mind intact, and I’ll be starting in a full-time reporting job at The Independent very soon.
The day in September when we started the course seems like an awful long time ago to me – I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s been fun and hard, I’ve made lots of wonderful friends, and I feel that I’m actually a journalist now – something I don’t really think I was when I started.
City continues to be the go-to place for people wanting to get good journalism training, and there’s going to be another influx of bright-eyed and enthusiastic recruits starting in September.
So, despite the risk of sounding like a patronisingly wise graduate who thinks he knows everything, here’s a few pointers for future City people that should hopefully make the course go a little smoother.
Start everything early.
This is the dweebiest thing ever, and I’m not suggesting you skip having pints at the Blacksmith with your mates just so you can go home and make a start on your features. But there’s a lot of work to be done at City, and a lot of it is fairly long-term.
Things like your FOI project obviously depend on sending Freedom of Information requests, which can take ages to come back and are often denied. Just start pinging some off early in the course to get to grips with how it works – it takes all of 15 minutes to think up and send an FOI request – it’ll save you stress and further work down the line.
If, like most City people (and me), you come from a humanities background at undergrad, there’s a lot more work to be done at postgrad. But by being slightly organised and doing things when you think of them, rather than thinking “the deadline’s in three weeks, I’ve got ages”, you’ll protect your mental health and social life later on in the term.
The course, unlike other MA courses, only runs from September to the start of June. That’s only around 9 months. There’s a lot of work to be done in that time, and a lot of it requires you to be working throughout the year.
Basically 9 months isn’t really that long, and if you can put up with working really hard and burning the candle at both ends for a short period, you’ll do pretty well.
You’ll have lots of crises and stress and deadline rushes, and it won’t be helped by the amounts of beer that you’ll be drinking. But if you can get your head down and put up with it, both with your uni work and work experience duties, you’ll come out smelling of roses on the other end.
Don’t be timid
Patch is a pretty big part of the first term – basically, you’re assigned a small area in London and you have to go find stories there. At the end of the term, you have to submit six (I think) of these stories for marking.
There’s plenty of nice diary stories that you can get from looking at the council websites or keeping an eye on Twitter. But the best stories you’ll do come from just walking around and talking to people – maybe you’ll see something that’s tipped you off online, or you’ll hear a passing comment from someone you interview. The best thing to do then is just to suck it up and go and have a chat.
If you’re anything like I was, you won’t have too much experience of this. It is pretty nerve-wracking, and it’s hard to shake the suspicion that you’re bothering someone or they won’t want to talk to you.
When you actually do it, you’ll find out you’re wrong. People are generally pretty nice, and they’re usually more than happy to talk to journalists. So just throw yourself into it and get learning. You don’t get classes on ‘how to talk to sources’ at City, so you have to learn by doing.
Just keep in mind that your mistakes don’t really matter too much right now – your stories are going into the Islington Gazette, not The Guardian. If you screw up, then you can learn from it, and you can feel confident that it doesn’t really matter anyway. So just do it.
This also applies to meeting people and networking. Journalists, generally, seem to be unnaturally friendly and cool people. If you’re at some kind of networking thing at the pub (I can heartily recommend Hacks/Hackers), then just go up to people and start chatting.
It might just help in your career. If it doesn’t, you’ve just made a new journalist friend, which is cool too.
For all the work, late nights, and constant fear of unemployment, City’s actually pretty fun. ‘Work hard, play hard’, while being a repulsive cliché, is actually pretty suitable. At least before the last part of the year, there’s plenty of pub trips, nights out, and being in close proximity with your classmates for hours every day will mean you’ll make great friends pretty quickly.
Just embrace the madness of it and do your best, and hopefully you’ll finish with a foot on the career ladder and some valuable new experience.
It’s a process, and just because a bunch of your mates got on a graduate scheme and you didn’t, doesn’t mean that you’ll end up on the streets. It’s difficult to get a job in journalism, but City puts you in a pretty good position, and with a bit of hard work you’ll manage it.
So that’s my advice. Hopefully I didn’t sound like an inspirational coach from an 80s American high school movie.
*Simple Minds play as the credits roll*