Home > Careers > Graduate view: How I’m enterprising my way into journalism

Graduate view: How I’m enterprising my way into journalism

Wannabe hack Nick Petrie has discovered a wealth of opportunity on the web for aspiring journalists who want to do their own thing. And he’s not alone

Journos are doing it for themselves: Dave Lee has launched The Olympic Borough – a hyperlocal blog looking at the effect the Olympics has on local communities. Photograph: EPA

I want to be my own boss and I want to to work in journalism. I realised this a while ago and I am convinced the current economic climate provides the perfect opportunity for all those people like me to throw caution to the wind, put pen to paper (or should that be fingers to the keyboard) and hit the ground running.

I am not the only one, if you take a step outside the world of Fleet Street there is a budding entrepreneurial undercurrent sweeping its way through the soft under-developed belly of journalism. Where some established newspapers have been slow to embrace and adapt to a world built around the internet – new projects are being built for it.

There are new tools being built too, new discourses framing the never-ending “what is a journalist/journalism” question. There are also new buzzwords that have not yet been so overused they carry no meaning anymore (such as innovation): hyperlocal, crowdsourcing and niche journalism. We talk of communities rather than readers, content engagement rather than content delivery.

The concepts behind these words are important because they redefine how people engage with journalism.

So what does it take to run your own project? Can anyone just drop what they are doing and start? In answer to the second question: well, yes (you don’t even have to stop what you are already doing). In answer to the first; it takes a range of skills both technical and not and the ability to self motivate and take on new challenges.

Dave Lee, who runs The Olympic Borough – a hyperlocal blog looking at the effect of the Olympics on local communities – said that starting the project was perfect for him: “I live here [East London], I’m interested in sport, and I’m fascinated by the effect sport has on communities.”

Dave currently runs the project on his own so he doesn’t have to contend with a potential stumbling block; that of working with mates. Joseph Stashko, one of the team at Blog Preston – another hyperlocal is run by a small team including Andy Hall – has said that it can be weird sometimes: “I do feel a bit strange if I ask them to do something; I don’t like being a ‘boss’ in that sense, but I guess that’s only because most of them were friends first and then co-workers later. It’s never caused any problems, if anything the fact that I get on and socialise with a lot of the people I work with only helps.”

This is similar to how things work at Wannabe Hacks (my current project), where the team has gone from friends to project co-workers. The trick is to set out some rules early on; determine who is responsible for what aspects of the project and then to check up on each other.

You also cannot be precious about ideas and suggested directions for the project. Taking criticism from friends is a steep learning curve, but one you will do well to master as quickly as possible.

The technical side of your project is important too, and although this is getting easier everyday you should will do well to spend some time with the software / services you use so that you have a solid understanding of the tech that backs up your project.

Hacks, Blog Preston and The Olympic Borough all use a combination of WordPress and Google Apps as the front-end and backbone on which their projects function. They are by no means the only options, but they are quickly becoming the tools of choice for a combination of low cost, high functionality and reliability.

The other key for success to those of you looking to start something of your own is motivation and commitment, Ed Walker (who founded Blog Preston) was spending 15-20 hours a week on it. Dave spends “about an hour a day” on his side project and the Hacks probably an hour to three each, everyday.

When asked about motivation Ed said: “We’re building a community around what we do and that’s a very hard thing to give up on.” That is a feeling I can second; we have seen a clear demand for the content we are producing and walking away from that, despite the challenges we are sure to face is not a thought we are prepared to entertain for long.

At Wannabe Hacks the motivation comes from the response we have received, the skills we are learning and perfecting and the opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Some of the Hacks have been offered various pieces of freelance work from the project, those doing the MA have found they have a strong basic knowledge in many areas being covered.

Skills such as extensive time management, forward planning, a strong knowledge of content management systems and social media engagement and promotion are all incredibly useful.

You need to know very little to actually get started and what you do not already know you learn along the way – motivation, commitment and thinking outside of the box are far more important.

My final piece of advice, as we were once told: “Just get started. Tomorrow.”

Nick Petrie writes as ‘The Intern’ for the Wannabe Hacks blog and you can find him on Twitter too: @petren


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