As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, The Guardian’s media reporter Josh Halliday talks about what got him the job, what it involves, and where it might go next.
I did an NCTJ-accredited BA (Hons) Journalism degree at University of Sunderland, but it is what I did around my degree that landed me a dream job at the Guardian.
That’s not to say my degree was unnecessary – it gave me an invaluable broad-brush knowledge of the theory and practice of journalism, yet it’s just not enough nowadays. Learning outside the curriculum – playing in the digital world, doing journalism – is what ultimately scored me a highly sought after job. I think myself really lucky, but I also know I worked my arse off and you make your own luck.
So I set up a personal blog, tried to keep it focused – usually on journalism education, ever so slightly wavering into local news – got my CV on there, a portfolio, contact details, an explanation of who I am. I tried to keep it personable but professional. I realised personal branding was a big thing when seeing US j-students really paving the way – of course I was a little daunted by that initially, it was a bit of a brave new world – and I’m not the big I am anyway – but I realised it had to be done.
The hardest part is being likeable, interesting and honest at the same time. As personal blogging boomed I decided to turn more attention to my Twitter profile and microblogging, following relevant people, sharing pretty much everything I read, retweeting.
Then the chance came along to set up a hyperlocal news site for a four-miles square patch of Sunderland where I lived – I grabbed it with both hands as a chance to experiment and hone my news-gathering skills. Best decision I ever made.
In and around this I edited the Students’ Union magazine – frankly, it was only useful because of the weekly paypacket. I didn’t throw myself into the job solely for that reason though – I did it to improve a diabolical product, turn it into something to be proud of. Turns out you can only do that with the support of the University and the Students’ Union, so I just did my best.
I’d advise journalism students to think about getting their mates together and building their own online news/magazine – all the traditional ways of standing out are shrinking in importance, there are plenty more new, inventive and exciting opportunities to be had.
The role and the future
My role is quite wide-ranging, but everything I do sits inside media and technology. One minute I could be reporting on telephone masts, the next on the Sunday Times. This brings a brilliant freedom to explore areas of personal interest and it’s pretty much what I’ve been tweeting/blogging about for the past couple of years.
As well as this I’ve been given a bit of leeway to work in new, improved ways of delivering content to users. I’m convinced there’s a better (for producers as well as users) way of doing manual tasks like the morning media briefing, or the morning linkbuckets. I’m interested in freeing up time for reporters to report.
Impossible to predict where I’ll be in two, five, 10 years time but I’ll still be doing journalism – that’s all I’m bothered about. By the end of my career, my dream is to have been a foreign correspondent in Africa or the Middle East (expendable cash going towards educating myself in these areas!) and to have improved the UK local news offering somehow.