How to make it as a writer in magazines
Thursday 31 May 2012
Closer’s Lifestyle Editor Maddy Biddulph (below) gives her guide to getting the media career you want, with a brief history of how she did it
Work experience on a newspaper aged 22 landed me a full-time position, and 13 years on I’m doing my dream job on a magazine I love. There have been several career highlights over the years – a few that stick in my memory are securing the only exclusive UK interview with twins who were separated at birth for a social experiment, catching up with Spice Girl Emma Bunton every week to write her column in NOW magazine and securing several front covers for Closer. These include Danielle Lloyd’s miscarriage fears, Imogen Thomas admitting she was drinking too much and Natasha Giggs’s desire for another baby with betrayed husband Rhodri, all of which went on to get national pick-up in newspapers and on websites. And let’s not forget one of the funniest shoots ever – reality star Maria Fowler dressing up as Jessie J, Madonna and J-Lo for our Queens of Pop theme. That’s what I love about being a journalist. When you turn up at work you never quite know what will happen.
Work experience is crucial and could even land you a job. My first position as a feature writer on the Oxford Mail came about because I got an exclusive story, which nearly made the front page, while on work experience (it made page three!). The scoop was about street traders who had been using black hair dye, marketed as ‘black henna,’ which doesn’t exist, for temporary tattoos. The dye contains a dangerous chemical called PPD, which burns and scars when applied to skin.
Working on a newspaper is fantastic but another way to build your reputation is to get web experience or start your own blog. Not only will your develop your own voice, many bloggers are now being picked up by publications as guest columnists and writers.
Do an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course. I was lucky enough to be sent on a five-month fast track course by my employers where I learnt my trade, including the very useful and ancient art (!) of shorthand (great for writing secret notes with.) Fees for a fast track NCTJ course will set you back at least £3,000 (see nctj.com for more info). But many journalists I know have come into the industry without traditional training simply by working their way up the ladder, so don’t despair if you can’t afford it. Apply for internships on newspapers and magazines you read and enjoy – it is a great first step into the industry and can often land you a job either there or at another title in the same company. Take a look on Gorkana.com for a listing of jobs in journalism - you don't need an account to do so!
Be willing to move for work. After five years as a feature writer and later a senior news reporter in my hometown of Oxford at the Oxford Mail, I moved to London to write real life features for Splash News Agency. This involved finding case studies with interesting human interest stories, interviewing them and writing features, which were then sold through the agency directly to newspapers or women’s magazines. Writing for such a variety of publications was a brilliant way of getting my name out there and building my reputation.
Tap up your contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for help. When I wanted a new challenge I emailed a journalist who had interviewed me for a job I didn’t get two years previously because I didn’t have enough experience. Turns out she had moved jobs and was the editor of women’s weekly NOW magazine and they were looking for a feature writer…
Do a bit of everything until you find out what you like and don’t despair if you start writing about something you don’t have a passion for. I started out writing about property and flower shows, then at NOW I wrote real life features, showbiz news stories and when the Health Editor went on maternity leave, I took on a lot of her diet, fitness and health pages. This gave me the experience to take on my current position as Closer’s Lifestyle Editor.
Find a mentor. My lovely Dad was a journalist and taught me a lot of what I know, including the golden rules for success in this business – use your initiative, follow your gut instinct and never give up on your pursuit for the truth.
Want to know more about our rookies and how they're getting on? Head over to www.theexclusives.tv/closer and you can find some great tips and advice on how to make it in the industry!