How journalism shaped my career

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

At 8.30 on Tuesday night I was asked to give a talk at Leeds Trinity University Journalism Week the next morning. My diary was clear, I said yes. I prepared it in less than an hour.

The talk was about my career, or as PhD student Rebecca Whittington framed it, the continual reinvention of my career, starting at journalism and ending up at running my own business.

I have to admit, I’d never considered that my career had been a series of reinventions, leaps yes, sometimes abrupt changes which resulted in life-changing moments of fear and a distinct voice in my brain yelling “WTF are you doing?”. But not reinvention. Reinvention sounds exciting, it sounds deliberate. And honestly, I don’t know if that’s a word I can attribute to my career trajectory.

That’s not to say I didn’t have goals and plans. I didn’t freewheel down a hill with a hope and a prayer that I’d end up somewhere good. But to quote the alcoholic, womanising Bard that’s my homeland’s national poet of choice: “the best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft-a-gley”. In other words, what I’d planned didn’t often match what actually happened.

Some of it was fortuitous serendipity, some of it was brutal and unexpected and each time I changed my job title felt like a logical next step from my current position. I’ve been a journalist, copywriter, columnist, in-house PR manager, scriptwriter, agency PR manager and now, a PR agency owner.

When I think back and look at the roles I’ve done in media and communications they seem, to me, like branches off a central trunk, variations on a theme that I can’t let go. I am, at my core, a writer. I write more eloquently than I speak, I type as easily as I breathe, I’m never more than an arm’s stretch away from pen and paper. Behind each job title on my CV is this fundamental root of writing which prevents me from straying too far from familiar lands.

That’s why, I think, it’s hard to see it as reinvention. To me, my career history is more like a recipe of a good story; an evolving narrative, worthy antagonists, a flawed protagonist, a few plot twists and ending on a dramatic cliff hanger.

Image courtesy of Leeds Trinity Media Deaprtment

What I told the students in the audience came from my heart, from my lived experiences. It was, at times, a little rambling and perhaps disjointed, but it was honest and not sugar-coated. It showed them (hopefully) that journalism training has multiple opportunities beyond graduation. For the writers in the audience, I wanted them to know that they can exist as writers in many ways. For those unsure of direction I wanted them to know that it’s ok to not know – the training they’re going through now will give them transferable skills. And for those with an eye on entrepreneurship I wanted to leave them with the importance of self-belief, even in the darkest days, and to make mistakes but to learn from them.

This is the second talk I’ve delivered to students and, as an employer, it’s an important thing to do. If we want our industry to change in relation to diversity and modern working practices, if there are skills gaps we need to fill, it is up to us to engage and communicate this to the people preparing to move into the field. For me, Leeds Trinity has identified and acted on the significance of this; the employer involvement for students is considered, varied and effective – for both the students and businesses involved. Over 97% of their students are in employment or further study six months after graduating and they’re way ahead of the game on other universities for employability.

This partnership with professionals and businesses must become the norm as we address the challenges of the multiple roles collected under the umbrella of media, from skills to diversity to adopting better working practices. Though last minute, the talk resonated, as the subsequent twitter mentions highlighted, but it also provided valuable insight into the concerns and interests of the up and coming entrants to the journalism and communications field.  Insight I can take on board to make InFusion better for staff and clients.