17 June 2010

My interview with Alice Wignall

Where can't you find Alice Wignall. If she's not busy writing for Stylist magazine, or for 'Sex and The not so single girl' in cosmo magazine, she's probably working in her new post as 'Features Director' at Elle Magazine I find out her top tips, best reads, and how she's achieved her sucess.

What made you want to pursue journalism?

I can’t really remember now! I think I was always interested in writing in a vague way and when I was growing up my mum worked at the local newspaper in York (not as a journalist, but in the research department). I would go in and help her on Saturdays or in the school holidays and loved the atmosphere of the paper so that probably planted the seed. When I was at university I worked on and eventually edited the student paper and that’s what decided me – when I graduated I moved to London to pursue a career in magazines.

Which journalists do you admire?

Ooh, lots! I think anyone who can communicate clearly and who has their own distinctive voice is great. I love Oliver Burkeman on The Guardian – his writing style is very understated but very compelling. I think Caitlin Moran on the Times is great – a lot of people try to do that informal style but it’s actually very hard to achieve without sounding forced. Robin Givhan on the Washington Post writes about fashion with real intelligence – she gives the subject the proper thought that it deserves (in my opinion!). I really like David Aaronovitch’s columns in the Times too; I tend to agree with him and he can get right to the heart of a subject.

How did you get into the industry?

I did the work experience at the local paper and on my student paper as I described above. Then I moved to London and did temp work for about two years while trying to break into magazines. I was really lucky on two counts: first, that for the last year of that time I was working for a market research agency that worked with media clients, so I got a chance to see the ‘business’ side of media. We even worked on the launch of Glamour and to see how a company like Conde Nast (who publish Glamour) put together the ideas for a new magazine, how they tried to target readers and appeal to advertisers gave me a whole new angle on the industry.
Second, I entered a writing competition in The Guardian (which doesn’t run any longer unfortunately) and though I didn’t win I was a runner up. I wrote a letter to the fashion editor there (who was one of the judges) asking for advice and she suggested I send some ideas to her. I wrote a couple of really little things for her off the back of that, but it meant that when I was applying for entry-level jobs on magazines I had some cuts to show.

What 5 tips would you give an aspiring journalist?

One – the very obvious one of doing work experience. It’s boring (and a bit hypocritical of me because I was very lucky in that I got a job without doing any). It can be hard to do if you don’t have much money, but even a two week stint somewhere can help. And most magazine intern jobs (for six months or so) pay something, even if it’s not very much. It’s just a good way to make contacts, make a good impression and it’s the best way to break into the industry.
Two – when you’re doing work experience/internships – be nice! It can be tedious and frustrating making tea and doing the filing when you know you’ve probably got more potential and good ideas than half the people on the team but I can’t tell you how much people you work with pick up on it if you’ve got a bad attitude. The media is a very closed world and people do ask each other for references and recommendations of which new people are good and you will do yourself so much damage if you get a bad reputation. So always be happy to do whatever is asked of you, and be enthusiastic to find out as much as you can (but don’t act like you think you’ve got a better idea about whatever it is, even if you’re sure you do!). Journalists are always overworked so if you prove yourself to be keen and reliable you’ll soon be asked to do more interesting things.
Three – read as much as you can. It’s an obvious point but in interviews you need to show that you are familiar with what a title has been doing recently, and what their rivals are up to as well. So make sure you know!
Four – read critically. Magazines and newspapers are businesses. The people who work on them think all the time about the reader, what he/she wants and how to give it to them, as well as how to keep the ‘brand’ of the publication strong. So do the same. Look at a magazine for example and think: ‘Why did they choose that celebrity for the cover? Why in that dress? Why those colours on the cover? Why those articles? What are they writing about and what do they leave out? Who are they trying to appeal to?’ Look at how newspapers and magazines try to differentiate themselves from each other, and in what ways.
Five – don’t give up. It is a hard industry to break into, but good people do make it in the end. The media is a really fast-moving industry and there are always opportunities.

Be sure to pop back next week for more of Alice's tips and industry advice!

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