As part of her role as a Worldly Wise Ambassador, Sarah was recently asked to give a presentation to students from Kent Health Needs Education Service, around her profession, job and career.
The theme was ‘Myths & Legends’ – giving her the opportunity to let them know what it’s really like to work in journalism, marketing and public relations.
She was totally blown away by their questions and thought that by sharing them (with permission of course!) it might be useful to others thinking the same things.
Here they are with Sarah’s answers – do contact us if you want to know anything else, or want to know more about Worldly Wise, who seek to inspire the next generation, from their bank of professionals – all with stories to tell of how they go there – most haven’t plain sailed in!
A few myths to start with:
1: Journalism is a man’s world…
Aged 17, the careers teacher told me that ‘journalism is a man’s world’. Which I thought quite strange, seeing as I grew up watching news reported by the likes of Kate Adie and Moira Stewart! It made me determined to succeed and prove her wrong!
I posted her my first front page story that I wrote for the Medway Messenger 5 years later with a Post-It note on the front saying ‘Turns out you were wrong’.
2: You have to pass all your exams to get into journalism
I learned all of my reporting skills over the first two years of my career, through the Kent Messenger’s in-house training.
I didn’t get the degree pass I wanted but I had missed a lot of my first year due to illness. I contracted meningitis, and the recovery was longer than I had expected, which then held me back a bit in the second year. I passed though, and no one has ever asked me what I got since – they just wanted to know that I got a degree!
Exam results may be disappointing sometimes but all it means is that it leads to other options, and through other doors – don’t look back, just look forward in a different direction.
3: You need the right exam results and qualifications to get a job
It’s who you know, how you adapt, who you are and what you’re looking for. You can do your journalism training on the job – I did.
For PR, there is no need to pass an exam; just be good at writing and a team player, easy to work with, a bit thick-skinned when people want to re-write your stuff but you can go into writing as a good writer – no exams necessary!
THE AMAZING QUESTIONS THE STUDENTS ASKED:
How did you know what you wanted to do?
I always knew I wanted to write – I had this worry that if I couldn’t find a job writing, I didn’t have a clue what else to do as it was the only thing I felt good at back then!
Do you get/have you had the opportunity to travel the world?
I worked in regional news, so although I didn’t travel the world, I did spend a lot of time travelling around Medway! We did get to go on nice press trips for feature pieces occasionally!
What’s the most exciting story you’ve covered?
Court stories were always my favourite – murders mainly I’m afraid to say! There’s a certain thrill of chasing the deadline, trying to beat the competition.
I did once get asked to judge a youngsters’ singing contest too, so had two days out of the office doing that, but also interviewing the young people and hearing their dreams was amazing!
Have you ever had to over-exaggerate with headlines/stories?
Sometimes, you have to try and make a very dull subject sound interesting, but I always try to stay accurate and factual rather than add exaggeration.
You will of course, see salacious stories in the tabloids – but they have the money to pay for the legal challenges that may follow.
Also, here’s something many people don’t know…headlines aren’t written by journalists – sub-editors who check the stories through for accuracy, missing info, spellings and grammar etc do that bit and I’ve worked with some fantastic headline writers in my time!
How do you think of things to write as a journalist?
As a reporter, you have your contacts and know where to look and who to speak to. People will get to know you and tip you off. Court lists, council agendas and now, social media village groups are great places to find tit bits that lead to a bigger story.
You’re looking for something unbelievable, something that outrages, something that doesn’t sit right, sounds strange, sounds like bureaucracy goes mad, an injustice, something that affects lots of people, tragedy, triumph over adversity, someone going over and above etc.
Did you meet any celebrities?
I did meet lots of celebrities when I was working in journalism – some were lovely, a few were terrible but mainly they were just like you and me!
In real life they were plain Janes…only turning on the charm for the camera.
Some of the ones I can remember are from the EastEnders cast; Letitia Dean and Sam Womack; Louis Theroux, Paul Daniels (actually the worst person I have ever interviewed), Simon Weston (Face of the Falklands), the boyband Blue (who serenaded me!), some of the Neighbours cast, Vernon Kay (we shared a burger!), Max Clifford, and some of the Hollyoaks cast.
Is journalism a very high-up, demanding job; you need to be confident and intelligent?
It depends if you’re on a national or regional and the topic. National reporters can be a bit pushy!
I’ve worked with all sorts of personalities as a reporter. I’m very outgoing and lively myself, but I’ve worked with some really shy people who brought in fabulous stories, because they were investigative and asked the right questions. You don’t have to be gobby and over-confident to be a good reporter! You just have to be someone trusted and a good listener to get all the details and listen out for that golden nugget!
I’ve worked with journalists who went to Uni and studied journalism, and others who trained on the job after working in admin jobs, so there’s no room for snobbery in newspapers!
If you can ask questions, think around a story and be a good communicator and team player, journalism could be a very good choice!
Do journalists ask lots of questions?
Yes! You have to, in all different ways. Let people talk – the more silent you are, the more they fill the silence and tell you all sorts!
Whenever I meet someone, I want their life story…never off duty!
(Don’t ever sit next to me at a wedding if you don’t want me to interrogate you!)
Do you always have to look smart and proper?
As a professional, I always did and do, but I have also worked with some very scruffy reporters too!
TV and radio reporters have the worst reputation for being scruffy!
An assumption might be that journalists are biased in the news or hungry for information.
We try not to be, and we have a Code of Ethics, plus an Editors’ Code to stick to, that keeps us balanced and fair.
Reporters have a lot of training including legal training and you have to pass exams on it, so most will know the boundaries.
Getting it wrong can be expensive, not to mention the reputational damage!
There is a lot of travelling involved.
Again, it depends what kind of journalism you’re doing. International and national, yes, but regionals and locals, no.
My patch was Medway, so I ended up knowing it like the back of my hand!
Journalism can sometimes be dishonest and spread false information in an attempt to sway public opinion
It’s the job of the journalist to write fairly and balanced – even from a press release that is clearly biased!
But there are some reporters who have lower morals, shall we say, than others!
Journalists can be opinionated depending on what party (political) they lean toward.
Yes, but we all have natural bias and things we sway towards. Parents, veganism, fitness, smoking, health etc.
Politics does play a huge part in journalism though!
Working in journalism can involve not respecting others’ privacy.
There is always respect but we have a free press and free speech here in the UK. Reporters can only usually report within restrictions – privacy laws and court reporting restrictions, public interest, for example.
E.g Celebrities who do a ‘Hello’ cover with their new baby but want privacy on their holiday – it’s double standards and the press don’t like it, nor do the fans!
You have a lot of free time in between stories.
Not really, you’re onto the next edition, plus today’s multi-media requires various versions of the same story being written for a website or social media etc too.
You’re always looking for the next one; interviewing, fact-finding, writing it, researching, checking, keeping in touch with contacts etc.
If you’d like to have a Worldly Wise Ambassador speak to your young people or help with something you are doing, take a look at the bio bank on the website, then make contact via the contact page to speak with Nick Inge or Trevel Henry.