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To Blog Or Not To Blog?

blog screenshot

Does your blog’s homepage look something like this?

If you’ve ever set up a blog without knowing what to write about, you’re not alone. Student Alexander Woolley shares the pitfalls of personal blogging…

Lots of money can be made out of advertising revenue on popular blogs and today they commonly employ several people full time. During the 1990s blogs were the preserve of masturbating teenagers; today they’re business.

I was recently asked by someone whether I keep a personal blog. I sheepishly replied that I don’t, and gave some excuses about not having enough time.

I felt I was being judged. I felt inadequate, as if I’d been caught trying to avoid handing in homework. I felt all the more pathetic because, actually, I have a blog.

In fact, I have several blogs. But in each instance when I’ve ‘founded’ a blog (i.e. handed over personal details to some American corporation), I’ve failed to upload any articles.

The furthest I’ve got is to put up a pretty picture for the background – the digital equivalent of re-ordering notes with nicely-coloured dividers in the days before an exam. The more I think about keeping a blog, the more impossible the task seems to be.

Yet I am constantly advised that it would be in my best interests to have one. Why? I’m usually given some generalities about “getting my name out there” or “getting my writing seen”. “Just start a blog, and all the world will be reading it,” I am told.

I would really like to believe that. I’d love to genuinely think that if I begin a blog in earnest, everyone will want to read it. But I am sceptical. The only personal blogs I have ever read are those of friends who would be offended if I didn’t read them.

It isn’t just my cynicism in the ability to build a readership that makes me hesitant. There are other reasons for my reluctance to start blogging. For one, I am terrified of self-editing.

I don’t worry about being able to spell or form coherent sentences (that’s what spell check is for, right?), but I do worry about having no one who can look at an article as a whole and say, “Alex, why did you even bother writing that?  Hell, why did you even get up today?”

There are only so many times you can ask friends to be your editor without employing them; plus, it gets awkward when they say things like that to you.

And then what if you produce something dull and tedious – or, even worse, something unintentionally offensive? Perhaps you’ll get a few facts wrong. Maybe you’ll lose a follower or two. But what if you write about something that others out there are more clued up on than you? And what if it’s a really sensitive issue?

What if, through ignorance, or through misunderstanding, you write something that comes over as nasty and bigoted? Then you get attacked on Twitter for your unfounded or uneducated opinions.

Even if you take down the blog post, those tweets will be public for all to see – and all for the sake of some blog post that you hadn’t researched thoroughly enough before you wrote it.

Okay, so that may seem like an extreme situation – but there are still other issues with writing a blog. Even if I plucked up the courage to edit my own work, I would then have to find something to write about.

Blogs only work if they are regularly updated. That means I would need to find a topic I’d want to write about around fifty-two times a year (roughly once a week). That’s a huge number of articles. There are lots of things I’m interested in, but I really struggle to think of a subject that I could produce fifty-two interesting, original articles on.

I suppose I could revert to the 90s and blog about my everyday existence. I wouldn’t struggle to come up with fifty two articles about that. But I cannot imagine anyone else cares about the details of my life to such an extent that they’d want to read fifty two blog posts about it – I’m not even sure I’d want to read that.

Have you had trouble getting your blog up and running? Or do you feel the importance of having one is something that is exaggerated? Share your thoughts via Twitter @Journograds 

Where Are All The Journalism Jobs?

Danielle McGarry

English literature graduate Danielle McGarry

Content and social media management intern Danielle McGarry gives her thoughts on the differences between London and Hull when it comes to the journo jobs market.. 

As a recent English literature graduate who had far too much fun at uni and subsequently blew her bank balance, I know only too well the difficulties that arise when looking for work after study.

Times are tough and unemployment can often be a reality for graduates – as previous blogger Ellie Matthews highlighted.

That’s not to say that there aren’t opportunities out there – providing you take advantage of your situation. (Take it from me – I live in Hull, a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country).

Despite the grim odds, and much to my surprise, I eventually managed to find an internship as a content and social media manager. I’m not sure if it was through hard work, determination or luck (or maybe a combination of all), but after showing them my blog and having a successful interview, I was offered the role.

Regardless of my good fortune, there is little debate as to whether or not journalism is a tough industry to break into -  I’ve been warned countless times that it can be an unrewarding and competitive career. It is especially tough for someone like myself who is looking for work in the regions, at a time when it still seems like all the jobs are in London.

On my latest online job search, the search term ‘journalism’ yielded just fourteen results for roles in Manchester (the majority of which were unpaid) and just one in Hull. Compare that to the 400 that I found in London.

There is no doubt that London is the hub for wannabe writers. There really is nowhere else with anywhere near that level of jobs – particularly ones where we can actually get paid!

The old rhetoric of young people lacking the drive to go out and find jobs is often given as a reason for our woes. Obviously this is something I disagree with.

Young people, specifically graduates, are working harder than ever to secure work in journalism, with the vast majority of paid jobs asking for significant experience first.

The real issue here is nothing to do with our lack of motivation, but our proximity to the actual jobs and the disparity of between the capital and the regions when it comes to the opportunities available. There are a lot of jobs in London, but if you don’t already live there, the cost of living is a significant barrier.

It’s difficult enough to afford a living even where I am based – I have two jobs (and have recently attended an interview for a third) but I still can’t afford a living.

Have you struggled to find work outside London? Or have you been forced to relocate to get a job? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @JournoGrads

The Life Of A Diarist – All Glitz & Glamour?

Champagne Glass by 1.Raymondo

A half-empty champagne glass – every diarist’s best friend? (Pic: 1.Raymondo)

Ever considered looking into newspaper diary writing as a line of work? Student Alexander Woolley fills us in on what life is like for those in the trade…

“Are you Scottish?”

I was wearing a tartan-looking tie. Well, striped, at any rate. “No,” I reply, a bit taken aback, in a very un-Scottish accent.

“Most of us are Scots, Catholics or Jews, that’s why I ask.”

It was the end of a week I’d spent in the office with the Mail on Sunday’s diary department, and I was chatting to a journalist friend of a journalist friend. “They’re all on the margins of society, you see,” he added.

Diversity of staff and diversity of roles – that was his message. And it’s something I’ve come to agree with this summer. Who knew that newspapers employ people to go to parties?

A diarist’s work revolves around reporting the comings and goings of the rich and famous, often in a light-hearted way, and appears somewhere towards the middle pages of a newspaper.

The Mail on Sundays diary is imaginatively called the Mail on Sunday diary, whereas other papers give theirs more exciting names. The Evening Standard has the Londoner’s Diary, the Telegraph has Mandrake, and the Mirror calls theirs the 3am column. The articles are often printed anonymously.

The life of a diarist is hardly what you’d expect journalism to be – which, in my imagination, was either sitting behind a desk armed with a telephone, email account and various caffeinated substances, or it was looking into a TV camera to the sound of gunfire.

Diarists, on the other hand, make a living out of going to parties, hunting celebrities and getting gossip out of them. “Go for the up-and-coming celebrities,” I was told. “They’re not so well media-trained.”

Diary work gets you in to places you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance, or reason, to visit. I’ve been to a Freemason’s lodge, the bar at the top of the Gherkin and a former fish market – all in the past couple of months. The job also makes you a pro at quaffing bubbly. “I’m just so used to drinking champagne,” a freelancer I’ve met a couple of times confided in me. “I drink so much of it for work.”

But it’s not entirely fun and games. Working at a party is never as enjoyable as simply being invited to one. Although the half emptied champagne glass is a potent tool, it doesn’t take long before you can no longer think of incisive questions to ask. You’re always slightly on edge, looking out for celebrities and determining when the best moment to approach them is.

But it is the sort of journalism that involves going places, meeting people and reporting on events that are taking place in front of you. It’s not just coughing up text to put around pictures.

Diarists aren’t the only type of journalists who attend these parties – which are almost all in London, by the way.

A lot of the events diarists work at are hosted by fashion brands, who like to promote new lines of clothing with glitzy parties. “Him? Oh he’s a famous fashion blogger,” a photographer told me at a recent event. That’s a thing you can make a living out of, apparently.

Mostly when people talk about journalism, it’s in sad and hushed tones, like you’d use at the funeral of a fondly-remembered great uncle. But with such a variety of ways that people are making a living in this trade, diary writing included, I’m struggling to see it that way now.

Do you think diary writing sounds like an exciting profession? Is it something you would pursue? Join in the debate on Twitter @Journograds or post a comment on Facebook

Unemployment A ‘Reality’ For Graduates

Ellie Matthews

Fashion journalism graduate Ellie Mathews

A look behind recent graduate employment figures suggest that prospects are bleak for those looking to break into journalism, according to Ellie Mathews…

At school we are told that good grades get us ahead and that hard work will get us into the university we want. University convinces us that working our backsides off for nine months of the final year gets us a first class degree. Graduating has taught me, however, that all that hard work is usually not enough.

Unemployment is not just a fear for graduates – it’s a reality. Even the top universities for journalism and media studies cannot seem to ensure jobs. For example, take a look at Newcastle University – despite UniStats reporting 100% student satisfaction, only 75% of last year’s media graduates are in work.

At first, that seems like a healthy figure – until you read that 30% of those are in non-professional jobs. That’s a large portion of graduates who aren’t putting their degree to use.

And this theme is common across the board. Nearly half of employed UWE Bristol graduates are working in non-professional jobs. At Bedford University, the figure is 55% and at Cumbria University it stands at 60%.

The most shocking statistic is from Derby University, where 80% of employed media graduates are working in non-professional roles.

Even those who have found work aren’t guaranteed much financial security. The University of the Arts, which ranks at 53 in the Guardian’s University Guide for 2014 (and which I attended) has an employment rate of 65%, who are earning, on average, just £16,000 per annum.

This wage hardly covers the rent of living in London, let alone travel costs and bills. Georgina, who graduated from UAL this year with a 2:1 in journalism and works full time as a copy writer, tells me: “I am having to rely on my parents more since graduating. I haven’t been asked about [my degree] at any interviews I have been to and I’ve been told by recruiters to list it far more briefly on my CV than I have done so in the past”

With recruiters placing less emphasis on the importance of a media degree, what are the reasons tempting new students into university? More often than not it’s the idea of accessing tutors’ little black books of contacts and the possibility of internships that they bring.

Georgia says: “University essentially taught me that you have to fight for your own rights, opportunities and equality as nobody else will. I feel very strongly about the fact that universities sell this concept of ‘industry contacts’ and help with ‘work experience’ to lure students into paying fees.”

As we all know, the fees universities are able to charge are steadily rising. English graduates in 2012 reached average debt levels of £43,500, according to The Telegraph.

In 2013 The Mail on Sunday reported that up to 85% of students will never pay their debt back and, with rising university costs, more and more taxpayers’ money will be used to cover student payments.

Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Despite mounting costs, debilitating statistics and the negativity surrounding employment, there are ways to put a journalism degree to use.

Many courses now cover the development of digital platforms for the media, a skill which graduates can use to create their own websites – something which, in the digital era, has become a necessity for job seekers.

Even if graduates cannot find freelance work at entry level, blogging continues to be a huge trend. Those with journalism degrees can set themselves apart from other bloggers with their skills and understanding of the media.

Do you agree with Ellie’s post? Do grads face a lack of job prospects or are you optimistic of finding work? Share your thoughts by commenting below or joining the debate on Twitter with @Journograds

How To Pitch Your Story To Editors

Oli Rahman

NCTJ graduate Oli Rahman

What are commissioning editors after from their freelance writers? How do you get published? What do you need to know about how the whole process works? Oli Rahman shares his tips…

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a free pass for a Guardian Masterclass to find out how to write the perfect story pitch.

Speakers included Time Out’s features editor Caroline McGinn, The Guardian Comment Is Free editor Natalie Hanman, and Delayed Gratification’s Editor Rob Orchard.

They all gave us their insight into how to pitch to editors, starting with something that rarely gets discussed: what does an editor’s job involve?It turns out (perhaps unsurprisingly) that they’re extremely busy people.

They’re struggling to keep the advertising team happy by ensuring that their copy contains a few references to toasters or some other irrelevant product, but they’re also trying to make sure they don’t break too many hearts by ‘spiking’ stories (killing them off before they go to print). And then they have to think about the budget and deadlines on top of that.

Being an editor in short, can be a stressful job. That’s why, when sending in a pitch, you need to be sure that it is something they feel is worth taking the time to read.

Imagine your name is John Doe and you are the features editor for Country Living Magazine. An email arrives in your inbox:

“Dear Joan,

I’m a journalist and I have a great idea for a feature for County Life Magazine.

I know that County Life is an amazing magazine with lots of amazing stuff to do with the county. So I was thinking of writing a feature about amazing stuff in the county, such as riding on horses and rolling in hay scented fields!

Please let me know how much you will pay me for my awesome skills with words.

Regards

Ben Smith”

Hopefully there aren’t many out there who would write something quite as bad as this, but it serves to illustrate my point. It captures everything wrong that can go wrong with a pitch email. It states the obvious “I’m a journalist” (No, really?) and is clearly a generic email that has been copied and sent to lots of people and only hastily edited.

The idea is mentioned but not actually elaborated on. There’s no talk of pictures, and the slightly pushy question about pay is inappropriately early. The pitch doesn’t seem to be tailored to the publication in any way. To add insult to injury, the editor’s name is misspelt, as is the publication’s title. And the idea itself sounds awful.

What an editor actually wants is a person who takes away the stress of them having to use their imagination – they already have far too much on their mind as it is. They want the idea to be almost fully formed so that they can picture how it would look on a page.

Including pictures or at least giving ideas about where good images could be sourced from is always advisable. Being polite can also work wonders. If an editor suggests a change it’s probably because they know their readership a lot better than you do as a freelancer.

The template pitch below is from Timeout’s features editor. She described it as the best pitch email she received in 2012:

“Hello Caroline,

Hope you’re well. I’d like to pitch this story to you as a potential 2-page feature for Time Out magazine. You’re always great at finding a new angle or new way to see the city, so I think Time Out would be the ideal place for it.

Urbex- London’s Secret Explorers.

SELL The rise of place hacking in the capital

When it comes to secret spaces there isn’t a better place to be than London. The combination of dereliction and development in the capital means there are dozens of places people don’t want you to go.

But that hasn’t stopped ‘place hackers’, professional urban explorers who, every night, go in search of the city’s off limit areas. The movement is spearheaded by Professor Bradley L Garrett, a researcher at the University of Oxford, who used the activity as the focus of his dissertation, and subsequently became one of Urbex’s key members in the process. He’s also developed a reputation among police and building site owners as a menace, and has subsequently been arrested (on a plane on the way back from Singapore), and had his house searched by the authorities.

The feature goes in search of the activity known as ‘urbex‘ and the man who leads it- Garrett is releasing a book on his time as an urban explorer later this year.

Links to images below.

I write regularly about new happenings in London on my blog, which you can see here: xxxxxxx.com

I’d love the chance to speak to you about this idea and whether you think it might be appropriate in some way for Time Out.

Many thanks for your time,

John Smith”

There are no clear rules for the right way to pitch, but according to the editors I heard at the masterclass, the above email is pretty close to perfect.

Always remember: the more you’ve thought about your piece and why you’re the right person to write it before you pitch, the less likely it is to end up being deleted or ignored.

Have you struggled to get your story pitches picked up by editors? Or have you been successful with your ideas? Share your thoughts by commenting below or joining the debate on Twitter with @Journograds

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