I’m currently in that spot in life as a journalist where I am scrabbling around on the floor of my room of dreams desperately grabbing at any old opportunity or possible future-securing job that would give me that opportunity to beat the very millennial problem of not being able to afford to move out of your parents’ house.
Clearly, then, unlike many of the SPA, I am not merely unqualified but I am incapable of passing on any sage advice about what to do once graduating (please, tell me! I’d love to know) or what it is like to be paid to work as a journalist (again, do let me know if anything pops up). Instead then, I thought I’d talk about something that both frustrated me deeply while doing student media but is something that can offer countless story possibilities and experience.
Yes, I’m talking of that delightfully slippery quality, ambition.
When I talk about ambition I’m not talking about the ‘I want to earn Chris Evans’s salary’ or ‘I must work on a National in my career or I have failed’, because that sort of ambition is, frankly, useless to anyone working in student publications of any sort. In life in general as well, those who set targets like those are more often than not left disappointed.
But enough about my bitterness about not earning £2.5m a year. The ambition I’m talking about is the determination to be the very best you can be with the resources and skills that you hold. That last qualification is important, don’t expect to turn out a Guardian-style quality long read about the Syrian Civil War unless you have the money to do some on-the-ground reporting, what you can do is take those student stories and develop them to their fullest extent, wringing the life out of them as you go.
Ambition in this sense is unique to student journalism and student journalists. You’re tasked with, often, developing your own stories from scratch, many of you without the help of more experienced editors above. Ambition, therefore, is more about initiative and pure, old-fashioned guts. On one side you have the terror that comes with emailing an MPs PA or a local professional football team’s PR in an attempt to score a story. That takes guts (and don’t listen to the folk who tell you it’s a waste of time, it isn’t, it’s how you get used to rejection and, every now and again, one will be successful). The worst that can happen is that they say no. The best is they say yes and you get some kick-ass stories and experience.
I mentioned earlier that this aspect of student media frustrated me, and it’s important to get across why. People, including those more senior to you on editorial boards or committees, will often be ambivalent or uninterested in a story that you pitch. That might be because it is in an area they’re not comfortable in (I feel your pain fellow sports editors at pitch meetings), it might be because they simply don’t know what is staring them in their face. I have witnessed countless instances where student journalists are demotivated by someone not being as enthusiastic about a story as they are. Don’t let other people hurt your ambition.
That story you just pitched might well be a dud, we’ve all had them. But you do not learn unless you write a few duds (I’m looking at you, horrendous first year pieces on tennis). So take that determination and your skillset as a journalist, follow that hunch, and go be ambitious.