How To Network

Words by Stephanie Soh
October Cohort 2011

The media industry is widely perceived as being difficult to gain access into, with preferential entry given to the friends and family of already established journos. And to some extent there is some truth in this assumption. But not every fresh-faced aspiring writer can claim Rupert Murdoch as a relative, so how does one go about cultivating media contacts? In other words, how do you – successfully – do that elusive thing called ‘networking’? Here is what I have learnt thus far.

1. Be persistent, but not aggressive.

So you’ve sent off an email to that journo from that magazine you really want to intern for, but haven’t heard anything back in weeks. Don’t be deterred – journalists get inundated with emails asking for work experience on a daily basis, and whatever their good intentions will probably end up forgetting about individual requests. So be persistent and keep up your correspondence even in the face of no replies. But keep it polite – there is nothing to gain from venting your annoyance at their stony silence!

2. Demonstrate an engagement with their work

If you’re chatting to a journalist, the one topic guaranteed to stimulate conversation will always be about their work. This isn’t because they are inherently egocentric (necessarily…), but because it is the very nature of their job to engage others with their writing. So by asking questions and showing an interest in their work, not only do you demonstrate your engagement with their work, but you also stand of good chance of engaging them.

3. What can you do for them?

Obviously an editor from Dazed & Confused or The Guardian can do a lot for you, but how will they benefit from knowing you? Think about the skills they might value from a young person like yourself – such as your direct experience of youth culture, or your knowledge of a specific subject. Who knows, if they are made aware of your specialities, you might become their go-to person when they are thinking about writing a feature on that topic.

4. Don’t think of it as ‘networking’

If you can’t bring yourself to go up to a media bod because the thought of networking brings to mind smarmy brown-nosers, ruthlessly manipulating others for their own personal advantage, then re-conceptualise your idea of networking. It doesn’t have to equal exploiting others as a means to an end – there is much to gain from just getting to know people. Approaching people with the aim of actually wanting to get to know them as an individual will ensure that you come across as genuine, rather than calculating. And who knows, you might even make friends.

 

p.s. just don’t forget to get that all-important contact detail…

Recessiongrad: Trusting in the process.

Words by Zaneta Denny
October Cohort 2011

I hate to say it, but I’m a recessiongrad; someone who graduated right in the middle of the economic downturn in the summer of 2009. I’ve tried and failed at various graduate and entry-level positions and the bank of mum and dad just won’t permit hefty Masters fees, or rather, I just don’t know if I can take on any more debt.

So I’ve resolved to better myself by other means.

Recently I took on the mammoth task of trying to become a professional spoken word artist in 5 weeks as part of the Spoken Stories workshop at the Lyric Hammersmith, at the same time as tackling a 14-week course on essentially, how to become a journalist with the Catch 22 Academy in South Tottenham.

Halfway through the Spoken Stories course I panicked, was the poem I had written good enough? Were my concepts too far fetched? Did I make any sense? Where on earth was I ‘going’ with this? My visible trepidation provoked my tutor, the inimitable MC Angel, to interject, “just trust in the process, you’ve got to trust in the process.” She asserted that I needed to “trust in the creative process,” and trust where the story was going to take me. For me, trusting the trajectory of my own idea, not knowing where I would end up was challenging. Having faith.

The next evening, on my Catch 22 weekly lecture, Toks, the tall charismatic founder of the Academy uttered the same fateful words. In his motivational speech, in reference to the successful habits of a Catch 22 trainee declared, “you need to have trust and faith in the process.” I freaked out, he almost repeated word-for-word the advice from MC Angel. Was the big guy upstairs trying to tell me something?

Since leaving university, I’ve found it hard to think relatively, when your plans don’t go to plan it has the power to meddle with your dreams and your identity. Forgive me for navel-gazing, but I think I’ve had a quarter-life crisis.  Personally, I don’t think I would have taken the poetry course if I were in some high-flying job in the city. Not being able to see your end destination can be overly confusing at this age, but if you try and focus on the now, rather than the never-never land of the future, each day will get easier. I’m trying to “trust in the process”; tomorrow evening I have my first spoken word gig at the Lyric Hammersmith, then again at the Battersea Arts Centre on Thursday evening.

You still have life, count yourself lucky for that. The world still turns on its axis (albeit a few centimetres out now) and according to the Grammy Award winning platitudes of Lauryn Hill in Everything is Everything, “After winter must come spring, change comes eventually.”

The show must go on!

How are you trusting in the process?

For short creative courses and opportunities please see: http://www.ideastap.com/opportunities

Sir Trevor McDonald: My Inspiration

Words by David N’Jai
October Cohort 2011

“Welcome to the news at 10.” I knew it was well past my bedtime but to me as a child, it was almost fun to watch the 10 O’Clock news on ITV. I don’t know whether the fun stemmed from the game that I was forced to play when my Dad walked near my room at night (switch off the TV when I hear footsteps coming near my room knowing I should be fast asleep, and then back on again) or the chimes of Big Ben (hoping maybe one day it would chime nine or 11 by mistake). Whatever it was, for 20 minutes plus, my attention was well and truly devoted to Mr Trevor McDonald. I felt like whatever happened in the world, this was the man that knew everything.

I immediately knew that being like Trevor was my ambition when I grew up, somehow someway. Being a news reporter was not actually what I wanted to be though, I just wanted to be in the know about everything and be able to communicate and share my knowledge. Writing had always been a strength of mine and speaking to a primary school teacher about my ambitions, we decided journalism was for me.

During secondary school and college I flirted with the idea of journalism, though through puberty with the desire to appear more masculine amongst my peers I would also often ignore it. It was not until university choices were needed that I once again thought about my childhood aspirations, but once again I ignored it. I studied music management and marketing which was definitely not for me, leaving that course after a year. A year later when I eventually decided to study journalism at university I felt like all I was being taught was not very poignant in helping to teach me how to become a journalist. Another epic fail, maybe this was not the career for me? Or was I just a college drop-out with no balls to work hard and succeed?

As these questions revolved around my head, here I am four years later having had a successful blog, worked at two successful music magazines with a personal portfolio of over 50 articles and produced my own documentary – some journalist, hey?

The Catch 22 Academy Introduction to Multimedia Journalism Training Programme has given me the needed adhesive to now put the pieces together properly, as I complete the puzzle more I see there is no defined way or route how to become a journalist. But one thing I can say is that there was no better way of preparing for the real world of journalism than the Catch 22 course.

 

Accidental Journalist

I never intended to be a journalist.

At least, not when I started out…

I ran into Toks the other day. This blog post is the result of the conversation I had with him. I’m going to give you a summary of how I made Catch work for me, and hopefully there will be something here that you can use as well, wherever you are in your media career.

I don’t want to overload you with a life story but here’s some background information on how I ended up at Catch to put everything I write in context.

Backstory – Conned By Science
observatory on a sunny dayI applied to Catch because I wanted to be a proper freelance writer. My background is in science. I did a mixture of astronomy and physics at university. All of it was overly abstract information, which got me nothing apart from the opportunity to freeze my arse off on the Brecon Beacons and have interesting conversation at parties about supermassive black holes.

The study was mostly fun but essentially pointless if you want to get paid. And nobody tells you this when you are signing up to get a BSc. There should be a little disclaimer that says: “Job not guaranteed, big f***ing debt very much guaranteed.” But they don’t, and here I was…

As I said, I hadn’t even considered journalism at that point.

More Backstory – I Find Catch 22
Anyway, I was stuck in the catch 22 of wanting to be a writer. I’d worked for free for various people and was getting sick and tired of the ‘must have experience to get experience’ thing.  No doubt it pisses you guys off just as much as me. My experiences were in technical writing and science communication: eg. making stuff about space more interesting and readable for the general public. That’s what I thought I’d end up writing more of… eventually.

Then I found Catch, and because I really, really wanted to be a writer I applied…twice. They didn’t interview me first time around, but after some friendly but persistent emails and phone calls they interviewed me when the course re-opened, and then, here I was.

Experience at Catch 22 Academy
Anyway, so I did my time at Catch, working hard on all the assignments and embracing this journalism stuff in a crushing bear hug. I was not, and am not a very good technical journalist. My grades where OK, but many others did far better. I knew more about stellar nucleosynthesis than stenography. I knew next to sod all about the commercial publishing industry in the UK. But I absorbed all the info I could, like a sponge.

That said, I loved the whole experience and met a ton of interesting characters. My cohort were just a fantastic bunch of people, who I am sad to say I see much less of since we’re from all over the place.

I ‘Graduate’ Catch 22
So I completed the Academy portion of the course, but the main thing about Catch is the industry placements. This is where s*** gets real. The academy program is merely a prologue to the wonderful adventures that are to follow, if you are willing to (please excuse the American cliché) ‘step up to the plate.’

‘Cos, just in case you didn’t know, the enterprise is networked in to the industry like you wouldn’t believe. Formally and informally. For example, Toks and the admin staff have excellent working relationships with most of the major publishers in the UK, but the tutors have even more on top of this. Simmy, Matilda or Kate may be able to make you the informal introduction you need to get that foot in the door at your chosen publication. And all you have to do is ask them!

You want the placements like a malnourished man wants vitamins. But you knew that.

Where I Am Now?
Thanks to an intro from Catch, I’m at Bauer Media, the rather massive international publisher. I write for FHM Online and when I’m not doing stuff for them, I’m badgering the other publications (mainly Empire at the moment) with pitches and ideas. When this placement ends, I go to Incisive Media to work on Computer Active and wangle my way into the British Journal Of Photography. My overall goal of deriving a significant income as a freelance writer is taking shape.

All I can do is keep thanking Catch 22 for putting faith in me. And I do! The staff is most likely sick of it by now, but a little gratitude never harmed anybody, right?

Remember, as an alumnus or a current trainee, you are part of the Catch family and we have our very own little old boys/old girls network now. And it’s bloody powerful at that. Trainees are all over the place. As of yet there is no central place to connect with everybody who’s been on the course, but Toks implied there’s something in the works.

Conclusion
I’ve got far more out of Catch 22 in under half a year than all my time at university.  Clearly, someone needs to give Toks a goddamn medal for services to journalism and jaded young writers. However I think he gets enough satisfaction just from watching trainees kicking arse and taking names in media.  So if anything, do it for Toks!

Tips based on what worked for me

  • Always be pitching.
  • Accept all challenges Catch throws at you; you are there to prove yourself.
  • Take on more challenges. Laugh at your workload. Though Catch wants to help you, the one thing that the staff has stressed they want most in candidates is hunger. Devour your assignments and look for more.
  • So if you aren’t hungry why are you here? You do want to be in the industry, right?
  • Be open to new experience. Never discount anything. Before Catch, my little world was being a science communicator, but being open to all the opportunities, and trusting the staff to know what was best for me was critical. FHM wasn’t on the cards but I’m glad it is now.
  • Don’t let any bullshit about the industry being overly competitive get you down. Only you have the unique experiences and skills that you do, and can do what you do. All you need to do is find a way to demonstrate your unique value to the market. Catch can and will help you do that.
  • Give back to Catch when you can. For me, this has so far included being a complete evangelist about the whole thing to all the writers I know, spreading flyers around Croydon (lol), and writing a PDF doc for Catch about Twitter. I guess this little blog post counts too. Give to get.
  • Help everybody you can. Earl was right.  Karma is real. And even if it isn’t, if everybody believed in it the world would be a lot nicer and easier.
  • Have a personal angle. How do you demonstrate that you are different from everybody else? One of mine is the owl thing. I think it makes more sense when you meet me.
  • Network to get work: just talk to people. No agenda. Just converse. Talk about publishing if you want! Learn stuff and make friends. Easy peasy.

I’m on Twitter (like everybody else) – follow me for a combination of useful journalistic discussion, utter gibberish, Zen fragments and razor sharp aphorisms.

Good luck with your journey, I hope to run into you guys everywhere. Let me know if I can be any help to you, cos we really are all in this together.

Breaking out of a Catch 22

After growing tired and frustrated with the lack of opportunities available in the media industry, the Catch 22 Academy programme has injected me with a renewed hunger for journalism and given me a solid platform to fulfil my potential as a writer.

Under the guidance of the widely respected and experienced journalists who tutor here at Catch 22’s north London HQ, I am currently learning about every aspect of journalism and gaining the tools needed to become a successful journalist.

Every day is uniquely different on Catch 22, with every task and activity challenging you to improve and learn new skills which will hopefully be put into practice in a busy news room sometime in the not too distant future. My fellow course mates are extremely encouraging and it is great to bounce ideas off fellow creative types.

The academy provides a practical working and learning environment for its trainee journalists who are put through a rigorous three month training programme designed to enhance every aspect of their writing and ultimately boost their chances of full-time employment in the media.

I particularly enjoy listening to the guest speakers who regularly come in and talk to us about different aspects of both online and print journalism, offering an invaluable insight into an industry we all hope to establish ourselves in.

From court reporting to interviewing, feature writing to pitching, I have enjoyed learning each of these essential skills which can be continually practised and improved upon.

I am looking forward to the rest of my time on Catch 22 and the challenges that await. I also hope to establish some media contacts and secure a placement with one of the academy’s established media partners.

Having studied Sport Journalism at university, I already feel I have learnt more in the short space of time I have been with Catch 22 than I did in my three years at college.

In my current retail job I had grown discouraged and frustrated, I am now gaining the confidence and belief needed to get ahead in this fiercely competitive industry.

Mark Molloy

Catch me if you can!

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. And that’s exactly how my time has been at Catch 22, it’s certainly been a journey. From the uncertainty of the first day, to bonding with the other trainees and tutors, it’s hard to believe there are only three weeks left. So what have I learnt? How to pitch features, writing features, developing ideas, court reporting, finding news stories… it’s a constant learning curve and a steep one at that.

What makes Catch great is that we’re set a task then, simply, sent out to do it. There’s no better way to learn, seriously! Matilda, Kate, Simmy, Mike and Toks push us hard, making each of us look within ourselves and develop self-belief, discipline and professionalism. A personal highlight was when my Michael Franti album review was considered the best in the class! It’s now being printed in the Independent thanks to Simmy. I just need to make sure I get paid… But all jokes aside, that just shows the opportunities that are here: make the most of them!

The diversity of my fellow cohorts makes everyday interesting. With time you naturally warm to people. We’re just not classmates now, we’re very much a family. We’ve shared our knowledge, expertise and goals with each other. I’ll definitely be in touch with everyone once I’ve finished.

I came here and I wasn’t sure where I was going. Now I know, thanks to Catch, I’m ready to take flight.

Daniel Hall

80 words per minute (on a good day)

If you want to be a British print journalist, you are very, very, very, very likely to need the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism.

If you don’t believe me, ask every editor from every local, regional and national publication.

It’s on the NCTJ course that students are taught the practical elements which are essential when working in a newsroom.

The main disciplines learnt are Public Affairs (pretty easy), Media Law (a bit harder but still relatively easy), Reporting (Hard) and Shorthand (Ridiculously difficult).

The experience of the Catch 22 Academy draws a great parallel.

I would go as far as to say that the weeks spent training at Catch 22 provided a unique opportunity for me to ground myself with the mechanics of journalism.

IN PLAIN ENGLISH: Without Catch 22’s guidance I doubt I would be doing so well at NCTJ right now.

Students have been known to cry, laugh hysterically and lose the ability to use a pen during Shorthand lessons. To pass shorthand, you must be able to write 100 words per minute:/

A great skill to have but a nightmare to get!

Despite wanting to do an NCTJ, I couldn’t afford it.

HOWEVER ONE DAY……

Surfing the net reading everything from The Mirror to The Socialist Worker, I stumbled upon a website titled ‘The Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF)’.

To my astonishment I found out that these guys at The Journalism Diversity Fund, pay for your NCTJ course and even give you money to buy books and course related items.

My first Thought = Brilliant

However there was an obstacle in the way.

An application form!

I’m not a huge fan of application forms. I understand why employers use them but for the more lazy of us, it’s a hassle.

Unsurprisingly I left it until 2.59 (deadline was 3pm) to send in my completed form, which I felt was absolutely rubbish. And of course I felt that way because it was rubbish.

Well not according to the JDF, before I could call myself skippy, I had an email congratulating me on getting to the next stage of the application process.

WOOOHOOO              Queue: *PUSHING AIR*                                WOOOOOHHOOOOO

Anyways, so I had got through to the interview stage, which was great. I was only one step away from the Holy Grail (OTT I know).

Admittedly I felt very confident about the interview stage. Out of the tens of interviews I’ve had in the past, I’ve only been rejected once.

Additionally, I had been quite a few weeks into the Catch 22 experience, whereby I was growing in maturity and professionalism as well as in my journalistic skill.

After all, when you are being taught daily by experienced, top class journalists (who work for publications some of us can only dream of), you soon realise that the promise land isn’t so far from your reach.

But like most times in my life, there was a problem. I HAD NO COLLEGE TO GO TO! Before I knew it I was on the website, brochure and hotline of every NCTJ teaching establishment.

Soon I set my sights on the News Associates. At the time of my interview, they had just been crowned number 1 UK fast track centre by the NCTJ. So basically I was signing for Chelsea (for £50 million less than Mr Torres).

During my interview I spoke of the skills I had learnt at Catch 22. It’s a big understatement of the year to say they were impressed. You see it’s amazing how many people apply for jobs/courses in journalism and don’t even know what a ‘par’ is.

Unbelievable, I know!

Every features meeting and every lesson in sidebars, shortcuts, court reporting, etc built me into a more rounded journalist.

IN PLAIN ENGLISH: It made me a hell of a lot better than my competitors!

The NCTJ accredited Sportsbeat/News Associates course is run by a sports news agency in Wimbledon, London. I am doing the course full-time over 20 weeks for £3,500.

Unlike most NCTJ courses, students don’t need to have a degree to be accepted onto the Sportsbeat course. You must sit an entrance examination and interview, conducted by the course director or one of the heads of journalism training and a senior editor.

After both JDF interview and News Associates interview, I was successful accepted by both. Suddenly, becoming a journalist seemed easy.

Then I started my first Shorthand lesson. It all goes downhill from there!

As for Public Affairs, News Reporting and Media Law make sure you keep your Catch 22 folder and notepad and they will be an absolute godsend.

While everyone else is scrapping around furiously in frustration you can recline (if it’s a fancy chair) and relax with your well-prepared and concise notes.

In all seriousness, I am into my 7thweek and I am having a fantastic time. I have learnt bucket loads and have met some great people.

I can even write (almost) 80 words per minute (on a good day) – Glorious times!

However, I can’t thank Catch 22 enough for preparing me for the rigours of the industry.

At a time, when journalism is shrinking and becoming more and more and more (and even more) middle-class, Catch 22 opens the side-door for working class candidates (like moi) who have the ambitious and determination to be a top journalist professional.

And as our very own Simmy once said, to me and my cohort:  “I LIKE people who have good ideas, but I LOVE people who are driven enough to make them happen.”

Jermaine