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Insights From: Deputy Social Media Editor in The Independent

By skye.aitken, on 26 November 2019

Written by guest writer, Ben Kelly from The Independent.

Photo of Ben Kelly from The Independent

Ben Kelly, Deputy Social Media Editor in The Independent shares some insights into his career so far…

I work in the Audience team at The Independent, who sit at the main news desk and help draw a majority of traffic to the website. By looking at what is doing well on social media, and what people are searching for, we help the news editor shape the agenda for the day, and when stories are written, we get them out there for people to read and share across the main social channels like Facebook and Twitter. Essentially, my team makes sure that our host of great writers are having their work presented in the best way, and that it is being exposed to as big an audience as possible.

News is very much a 24/7 operation, so I can be expected to do late nights and weekends sometimes, but most days it’s a case of working on a list of key stories we want that day, and then spending the rest of the day making sure writers have the best headlines, and that we’re getting all the best stuff out there at peak times for readers. Most of the writers at The Independent want their stuff to be performing best, which makes my team very popular!

I like being at the forefront of the news agenda. Spotting something on Twitter quickly means we can write it up as a story within minutes, and this is often a race against competitors, which pays off if we get there first. Equally we have the ability to draw attention to lesser-recognised stories, or suggest alternative takes to stories which everyone else is already covering. Often my work environment is very busy, and can feel quite pressurised, but that’s part of the cut and thrust that most people in the industry enjoy.

Obviously my English degree helped me as a writer, but most of my current work skills have been learned. Partly this was on the job, but it’s also been through my own personal interest in news, which means I have a good idea for what makes a good story, how they should be written, and how things should be prioritised.

Most of my colleagues at The Independent, and even in the Audience team, have arts and humanities degrees like English, and some people have done postgraduate degrees at City University. But my role – like many in the industry – are fast changing with the evolving ways we consume news, and with changing technologies. So while a traditional education is essential, I think any digital-based work is largely a case of learning as you go.

In a similar way, I find news rooms are very fluid places where you can progress, or move to different departments if your skills are suited or required elsewhere, and that’s what I like about working in such a big company like The Independent – there are always opportunities to grow and expand as a professional.

Personally, I don’t think postgraduate study is necessary. Most people I work with simply got stuck into a job on their local paper, or for a small magazine, or an independent production company, and learned as much in skills, savvy and connections in a couple of years than they would have through study. The best way to learn most of this trade is on the job.

Many people will probably come into the media sector looking at a traditional angle like writing or reporting, which is how I began too. Any basic entry level job at any publication should be sought out and used to improve for your next position (sites like Gorkana, LinkedIn and Mediargh are great). But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you must learn to adapt to the changing market.

So while you should learn the basic ‘pyramid structure’ of how to write a story, you should also learn how to record and edit audio and video to go with it, how to do a piece to camera so you can do a Facebook Live when you’re out on an interview, how to write the best headlines so that your story stands out on Twitter. It’s no longer enough just to be a good writer, so learn all the various ways you can tell a story, and this will make you much more attractive to employers. Over time then, you’ll find a niche that really suits what you’re good at, and what you enjoy.

If you are interested in getting involved in the media, my advice would be to get writing on your own blog or for small publications wherever you can, and if you want to get into a more production side of things, then start making video clips or podcasts of things that interest you. There is more technology available to make this happen than there ever has been before. Look to people whose work you admire, and find out how they did it, and maybe even reach out to them for advice. Keep an eye on the media world, what’s going on, who’s who, and what jobs crop up. The best thing you can do is get a job – any job – in a media organisation, as this will start you on the ladder, and help you learn and create contacts in your early professional years. From there, you can then carve out the direction in which you want to go.

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