How you can become a journalist too

Written by Layla Haidrani 

Since graduating with a History degree from University of Kent in 2014 and Press Association Training in 2015 in multimedia journalism, I’ve written for national magazines and newspapers including VICE, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, The Pool, The Debrief, Time Out London, The Pool and Grazia and have made appearances on BBC Radio and BBC Kent.

I’ve also won awards for my writing, including New Journalist of the Year at the PPA New Talent Awards. I’ve also been shortlisted for five more, including ‘Best Newcomer of The Year’ at the Medical Journalism Association Awards in June 2017, ‘Young Journalist of the Year’ at the GG2 Leadership Awards in October 2017 and ‘New Talent Breakthrough’ at the PPA New Talent Awards 2017.

I’ve worked across trade magazines (Nursing Standard and nine other specialist nursing journals), national newspapers (Metro.co.uk) and lifestyle magazines (Sloane Square and Mayfair Times).

Looking at all this, it can seem like I’ve “made it”. But trying to become a journalist wasn’t exactly easy. There were the painstaking weekends of sending out work experience placements without hearing back and the internship where all I did was send out subscribers’ copies. It made me wonder when I was *ever* going to climb the ladders of the glossy magazines I had always wanted.

Spoiler: I did make it there. But the biggest thing I learned? Start small. To hear how I made it work, here’s my advice:

There are lots of opportunities available 

But how you may be wondering. It’s easy to assume that getting into journalism is impossible if you’re a Muslim woman. And there’s no sugarcoating it, it is tough to see people just like you. BAME representation across the creative industries in the UK had fallen to just 5.4% (https://creativeaccess.org.uk/opportunities/). But there *are*SO* many great Muslim female journalists out there who’ve managed to make a platform for themselves despite not always seeing them reflected back. Women – and Muslim women at that – have so many stories to tell and you have access to communities that other journalists may not have.

Write for online zines

I didn’t start off writing for glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan. Instead, at university I joined my student paper. OK, so it wasn’t exactly glamorous reporting about student societies but by reporting on stories like that, I learnt the basics of putting an article together, how to interview and practicing my writing skills.

If you have a 9-5 and options are limited in your area, look online. There are all sorts of magazines out there and they’re almost always looking for new contributors. Galdem (https://twitter.com/galdemzine/status/990954996668817408) and Khidr Collective (https://twitter.com/khidrcollective/status/990628406080561153) are both looking for submissions for their next issues so it’s worth sending ideas. That way, you can build your portfolio so when you contact bigger magazines, you have a body of work to show.

Start your own blog

When I was studying, I contacted The Independent’s student editor to submit a few pieces. That way, when I was applying for internships, I had my own biography on a national website which gave me the edge over other candidates. So, make yourself stand out – it doesn’t have to be a few pieces on a national newspaper. Whether it’s a photography project, a podcast or even poetry writing, this will give you an edge when applying for internships and show you have other interests.

Journalism isn’t about having a 9-5 office job

I’ve spent most of my career having a staffer job at magazines but that doesn’t mean that’s the only route. When I worked at a nursing magazine, I continued freelancing for other magazines including Cosmopolitan, VICE, Refinery29, The Pool, The Debrief, The Independent and The Telegraph.

So, don’t just assume you have to have a 9-5 to write. You can freelance or contribute to loads of magazines whether you’re working another job or as a part-time hobby.

Intern at smaller magazines

Don’t always assume the glossy magazines are where it’s at. When starting out, I was always attracted to the glossy magazines. But when I interned there, the only responsibilities I was given were endless errands around town, tea rounds or sending out magazines to subscribers which didn’t do my CV any favours.

Instead, it’s the small magazines are the ones that teach you everything you need to know. My first job internship at a nursing magazine gave me lots of new opportunities such as how to edit a contributor’s first-person piece to the house style and how to seek out new writers on Twitter. And interning at a smaller title worked in my favour – a year later after being hired, I received five award nominations and PPA New Talent New Business Journalist Of The Year Award.

Do a short course or masters

Most jobs in journalism require some level of formal training. There are different types: journalism masters at universities which usually last a year or short-courses which can be anything from nine weeks or three months if you’re looking for something quicker. I did a short course at Press Association Training but there are so many on offer from Lambeth College to City University. Just do some research on what fits you better.

There are also lots of opportunities to get assistance with funding: http://www.journalismdiversityfund.com/can-i-apply/

Mentors are crucial

I was lucky enough to be given a mentor through a scheme run by Muslim Women Connect. Not only can a mentor give you a confidence boost, if you have monthly meetings you can chart how much progress (or how little) you’ve done since you last saw each other.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me on lhaidrani@outlook.com

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