There’s more to journalism than the Fairfax newspapers, women’s glossies, unpaid web content and The New Yorker… although you might not know it from the way I write here. Fortunately, freelance journalist Mitchell Jordan is here to fill you in on a whole world of (paid!) publishing opportunities that often go overlooked. And for the record… my first journalism gig? Was at a small architecture mag in my final year of university.
Over to you, Mitchell…
We all know the magazine industry has a reputation for being fickle, but journalism graduates and aspiring writers cannot afford to turn their nose up at working for titles that make the community paper look glamorous in comparison.
Unlike a select and lucky few who, upon finishing uni, find their way through the doors (or elevators) of ACP or Pacific Magazines, many graduates – such as myself – are left wondering how they will ever break in to an industry that seems to require some sort of magic password.
During my degree, I worked on every edition of my student magazine for three years, interned at magazines including FilmInk, Yen and the no longer existent TV Hits, but none of this was enough to save me from the fate that so many journalism graduates dread: working in PR.
Years ago, I accepted the job as an assistant at a Sydney-based firm because working in an industry that was at least related to the degree I had spent three years and twelve thousand dollars studying seemed more appealing than continuing on at a call centre where abuse was the norm, not the exception, and because this firm’s clients included (albeit briefly) rock and roll bible, Rolling Stone and CNN (who, ironically, I would end up writing for five years later).
Soon enough, I realised that what I wanted most was to be on the other side of the fence. In short, I wanted to be the pitchee – not the annoying PR assistant interrupting journalists to pitch ideas for stories they had no interest in.
I continued to apply for any and every journalism job advertised, but my break came at a small publishing house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs which produced a bi-monthly magazine for the printing industry. Jealous much?
I was previously unaware that such a title even existed, let alone the fact that in Australia there are at least three different titles dedicated to this clandestine industry that is in fact the heartbeat of publishing.
My boss – a former editor at ACP – was upfront and honest. No, printing was not an industry for young people, yes it had both a commercial and technical aspect to it, but after two years he believed I could, like my successors, go on to more mainstream (and fun) things. I believed him.
For the first few months, all that mattered to me was that I was doing what I had always wanted to do: write every day, and get paid for it. There were times when the technical nature of writing about big, monstrous printing machines baffled me, but I took comfort in the knowledge that Chuck Palahniuk – a writer who I was reading a lot of at the time – had started out writing instruction manuals for fixing trucks. At least I got to write headlines and use adjectives.
And yes, whenever someone asked what I did and I replied: “Journalist” I watched their faces sink like a failed soufflé when I told them the title I worked for. Their disappointment that they were not speaking to a writer at Who was palpable, to say the least.
Yet trade magazines such as the one I worked for far outweigh mainstream, consumer titles and it’s also true that a number of now experienced journalists first cut their teeth on such publications. To potential employers, they can also demonstrate that you are able to understand complex information and distil it into engaging subject matter.
As if by way of reward, I eventually got to experience some of the glamour that those on fashion and lifestyle titles encounter when I was sent overseas on several occasions for no other purpose than to attend media conferences. Who would have thought writing for a trade title would have taken me as far as the Chateau Marmont?
Just as my boss knew would happen, I eventually outgrew my job and left both it, and Australia, behind. Now, when I talk to anyone studying or hoping to work in the media, my advice to them is not only to do as much work experience as they can to at least be sure this is an industry they want to work in, but to think outside of the square, too.
Perhaps you’ll end up writing about the transport industry, or like one journalist I met, vacuums. It might sound boring, but if writing is what you truly love then chances are you won’t even notice. At the very least, you might score a trip overseas out of it.