This evening I spent about an hour and a half at the Careers in Creative Industries event, the biggest careers event of the year relating to media and communications at Cambridge University. I’d been trying to psych myself up for this event for some time, because I knew it was supposed to involve that dreaded thing called Networking. I think networking is all well and good when you actually have something to say for yourself about who you are and what you do, but when you don’t, it becomes sort of like “Hi, my name’s Rebecca and I … er … am currently wasting your time.”
I went to a dedicated session on networking in the creative industries (specifically aimed at building up the skills needed for this event) last week, and I was less awful at it than I thought I’d be; but there’s a difference between doing roleplay exercises with a lecture theatre full of students who are exactly as clueless as you are, and staring down an aisle lined with tables manned by suited professionals trying to decide who looks least intimidating to talk to, or hanging around trying to look like you have a reason to be there while you’re waiting for a particular person to be free for you to talk with.
On Monday I attempted to cut up A6 pieces of white card to make blank business cards, but for some reason, even when you’re really careful and always cut in a straight line and measure the dimensions exactly, they will never look like anything other than pieces of cut card. Not the kind of thing for making a professional impression on people. As it turned out, though, anyone who wanted my contact details had a place for me to write them down anyway, and those who didn’t probably wouldn’t have been too impressed with having a home-made not-really-business-because-I-don’t-have-a-business card foisted on them.
Rather than networking, it turned into more of an information-gathering session. I’m at a bit of a crossroads at the moment in terms of trying to decide what would best fit me for a career in journalism; I have my heart set on an MA in Magazine or Digital/Interactive Journalism, but I’ve realised that there are other qualifications out there which teach many of the same key skills, like fast-track NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualifications. I was talked out of doing an NCTJ course by a man from the Press Association, and then talked back into it by a woman from NCTJ, and overall decided that I would see how my MA applications went and go from there. I don’t think any of the options available to me would be a disastrous move (of course, I’m saying that without having done any of them yet, but still), especially not when allied with some good work experience or internships.
But the best part of the evening by far was the time I spent talking to two men I hadn’t even (initially) planned to approach: Roger Trerdre, a journalist, editor and lecturer in fashion, lifestyle and the arts; and Sam Jordison, a journalist and publisher. The key thing that I took away from speaking to both of them was this: there is hope for the things I want to write about and the way I want to write them! I approached Sam Jordison to ask for advice on getting into journalism online, and he was encouragingly positive about what I clumsily referred to as “niche-geek-hobbyist-journalism” being a good way to get into journalism. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I talked about wanting to write about fanworks, and when I ventured that perhaps fanworks might be too niche, he countered that it might not actually be niche enough. He was absolutely right that there are reams and reams of people out there writing about geek topics, and in order to stand out you have to find a niche that no-one is really covering and be really knowledgeable about it. If you can do that, then more power to you, and he seemed to imply that it was even a better route into journalism than more “mainstream” methods. Either way, of course, it’s an extremely competitive market.
Roger Tredre had a table with an inviting sign taped next to it reading “I give advice!” This plus his relaxed and open manner and the general feeling that I should be doing more with my time at the event made me work up the courage to approach. It turned out to be extremely easy to join in a conversation. Roger leaned against the table and chatted with two or three people at a time, and anyone who stood nearby looking purposeful was welcomed in with a summary of what was currently being talked about. I joined in as the conversation was revolving around the topic of freelancing; Roger Tredre’s advice was not to try freelancing straight away, but to break into the industry first via another means. I was pleased to hear that he recommended writing for lesser-known publications, the reasoning being that they would give you more creative freedom to write about what you wanted whilst still being a good source of income. Although a big-name publication would always sound impressive, the amount of work it took to produce writing of the right standard made the pay less worthwhile.
Before too long I got the chance to ask my own question: did he think that doing unpaid work was worth it simply to have your writing published? After I clarified that I meant submitting unpaid pieces to websites and so forth, not working in the offices of a random organisation running errands for free, he replied that it was absolutely worth it if you were guaranteed to have a good piece published under your name. The only danger is that since a lot of free online publications don’t employ sub-editors, your work will be published as-is, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of a standard that ought to be published.
And some online publications will not only put up articles unedited, but make them worse than when you submitted them… I thought, but didn’t say so.
All in all, I’m extremely pleased with the time I spent at the event. I might not have made any contacts as such, but I did hear from two experienced industry professionals who asserted that the first steps I’m taking as a journalist – that is, writing for free about niche geek topics – are very worthwhile ones. That’s not to say that everything I’ve ever done in the name of geek journalism has been a brilliant move (see above), but neither has it been a waste of my time. I will forge ahead with renewed vigour, assuming I don’t expire from the stresses of my uni workload.