By Guest Blogger, on 28 November 2011
UCL’s latest Alumni Professional Networking Event tackled a tough question: how to break into the incredibly competitive fields of PR, broadcasting, and journalism. Arguably some of the most sought-after jobs in today’s already cut-throat job market, careers in media are growing in popularity every day, although the path to securing these jobs is anything but straightforward.
Wednesday’s panellists shared their own – often circuitous – routes to the media work they do now, and then fielded questions from the eager audience of alums. Emily Everett, UCL alumna (English Language and Literature 2008) reports on the event.
Chaired by Professor Jonathan Wolff, UCL Philosophy, the panel covered all sectors of the media industry with four successful alumni experts. Sue Heady represented what she described as the “the fluffy end of the media world”, PR.
After working for many years as a lifestyle journalist and travel writer, Heady was offered a job leading the PR efforts of the Belgian Tourist Office, and moved on to manage PR for a luxury hotel group. She now owns her own consultancy business.
Alex Wilkinson is a broadcaster and sports journalist now, but he first worked as a radio DJ and host in Italy and the UK. After working his way up the ranks (his first broadcast job was making tea and fetching biscuits), Wilkinson now works on a freelance basis.
Award-winning film and TV director Harry Bradbeer emphasised the importance of patience and perseverance when recounting his start in the business. He spent more than four years working and waiting for a break, and warned that his first paying work didn’t come until he was 29 years old.
While no one would dispute his success now, he also warned about the temporary nature of all film and TV work; “A director’s career is a series of jobs – if you’re lucky.”
Catherine de Lange worked first in media, helping to produce science documentaries. When she decided to try out the journalistic side of her field, she landed a very helpful internship at New Scientist magazine. As a freelance science journalist now, she writes for New Scientist and several other publications.
She shared valuable advice about pitching to editors, stressing that your ideas as a freelancer are more valuable than your talent – if you don’t bring interesting material to the table, it won’t matter how nicely you write. When the Q&A session brought up questions on the best way to pitch a story, de Lange emphasised the importance of matching your ideas and topics to the publication, so you don’t risk wasting your time (and theirs) on topics that aren’t a good fit.
Internships were much talked about during the Q&A, since many expressed frustration at having to “start at the beginning” if they wanted to change fields. De Lange suggested keeping job prospects in mind when applying, since ideally an internship will lead to full employment (she writes in detail about the dos and don’ts of internships in a recent New Scientist piece).
Unfortunately, as Alec Wilkinson reminded everyone, “you’re going to have to make the tea”.
Watch panel discussion in full here: