Pimp Your Portfolio

25 04 2012

by BJW graduate Simon Fogg

When you slam your NCTJ portfolio down on the table during your first interview, the hope is that it will procure you that highly coveted job in journalism.

But to ensure you actually get the interview, there’s a better way to show off what you can do.

In Reporting lessons you’ll be told to maintain a strong social media presence and start a blog to showcase your writing. These are good ideas but I recommend going one step further and designing a dedicated online portfolio. I credit mine for getting me a job.

Firstly, If you haven’t already, check to see if your name exists as a dot com address. If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it, buy that shit. You can always choose .co.uk, .net, or .org instead, or even .xxx, although that might not be the effect you’re going for.

You can buy a domain name of your choosing through a company like GoDaddy, 123-reg, DreamHost and countless others.

This will really improve your Google search ranking. Which is important because as a journalist in a digital world, you need to prove you know how those internets work. Plus, if you’re vain like me, it’ll give you a buzz to have your name as a writer dominate the first page of results. Although I have the top spot on mine, I’m still battling for prominence with a cameraman from Downton Abbey and a middle-aged Christian from Bradford, which is not ideal.

Anyway, when you’ve got your own domain name, you’ll need to host a site on it. I recommend downloading the WordPress.org software instead of using WordPress.com the free blogging site. It’s pretty much the same content management system except you can do a lot more with it.

Setting all this up is a bit of a bugger so look for a company that do a ‘1-click’ install. There’s a list of web hosting services here. The monthly cost for hosting is not expensive but shop around for a good deal anyway. I went with GoDaddy because they are known to be (reasonably) reputable and the installation was simple.

Once this is set up, it’s time to make your site look pretty. To get a shiny portfolio theme you’ll need to have a browse through a site like themeforest.net or find an independent developer like the ones on this list of places to buy WordPress themes. The better the theme, the more expensive they tend to be but you’ll have a fully customisable website rather than a standard blog. WordPress have a selection of free themes here as well as a selection of premium ones.

When choosing a theme, my advice is to be as minimalist as possible. Use the front page as a concise opening statement and utilise html to put your social media links right where they’ll be seen. The most important part in my opinion is the option to categorise posts as portfolio items and have them appear in an organised and accessible fashion. Find a template that does this and you’re set.

To inspire you, this blog post on great journalism portfolio and  CV websites  shows some of the sites the pros are using.

This isn’t a step by step guide but half the fun is figuring it out as you go along. If you’ve lasted more than a few lessons of shorthand, this will be easy in comparison.

Simon Fogg / www.simonfogg.com / @simonfogg

Simon completed his NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Brighton Journalist Works in January 2012 and is now deputy web editor at a B2B company.

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How to make a lasting impression on journalism work experience

19 04 2012

If there was ever an argument for how valuable Brighton Journalist Works can be in later life, Euan Ferguson made it, writes Liam Westlake.

The colours and fabrics of Euan’s clothes as he stood in front of the class was immediately noticeable and you could tell he was going to be an interesting speaker as well as an interesting person.

After graduating from Brighton Journalist Works in 2009 (he claims he knew he had made the right choice in a few weeks!) he had some work experience in Edinburgh for an arts and culture magazine before moving on to ‘Time Out’. There, he asked the sub-editor for as much work as possible, and he obviously made a good impression because he was offered an entry level position there before working his way up over three years to become the Deputy Chief Sub Editor.

It was apparent to everyone that Euan had become a success, and set the bar high for all of us yet still filled us with optimism that we could follow in his path. The advice he gave, whether it was ‘getting to know the publication inside out’ or becoming the office tea-mule, will be remembered by all and certainly be put into practice over the coming months. His humble manner led to students approaching him at the end of the class for guidance and questions, and it seems he’ll certainly be appreciated if he is ever invited back for another talk.

The gently-spoken Scot provided me and my fellow students with a top-ten of tips for prospective work-experience candidates, writes Philip Williams.  While elements of the list should be as intuitive as breathing – although worth reiterating, as humans are often forgetful and ignorant creatures – there were several that stuck in my mind like a girl with her tits out.  Most notably, one should treat work experience as an extended job interview, approaching the tasks set with enthusiasm and verve.

Being slightly morose, and often sarcastic, I am aware of the tendency to treat menial jobs as disheartening, useless experiences. Yet these are merely obstacles that must be overcome, challenges to accept and thrash like my beloved New Zealand Cricket team are so often. And, in the tradition of the greatest cricketers, one must play every ball (or work experience) as it comes; with equal guile, tenacity, perseverance and a bit of luck.    

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Work experience really does pay off, writes Neil Hawkins.

That was the message BJW students received on a visit from ex-student Euan Ferguson, now deputy chief sub editor at Time Out magazine.

“Treat your work experience like an extended job interview,” was the message Euan put across to BJW’s newest recruits. “Editors remember enthusiasm.”

After leaving BJW in early 2009, Ewan jumped from placement to placement, taking in regional newspapers and nationals like The Observer.

After a month’s placement at Time Out, Ewan got himself a job there.   BJW students were glad to hear Ewan saying that editors find NCTJ students “favourable” for jobs. “Spending your time and money on a course like this it shows your commitment to the job” Euan enthused.

Kayleigh Tanner writes:

We all want to know how to make a lasting impression at work experience, and we all love a success story about someone in our current situation. Fortunately, Time Out’s Deputy Chief Sub, Euan Ferguson, visited Brighton Journalist Works today, to tell us about his experience since completing the course himself three years ago.

Euan told us about how subbing is a way to achieve a consistent ‘voice’ throughout the publication, to iron out the inconsistencies in the personal styles of each section’s writers.

He said: “If it was somebody talking, what kind of person would they be, and who would they be speaking to?”

Another interesting aspect of Euan’s talk related to multimedia journalism. Time Out, he told us, has seen the same inevitable decline in its print sales as the rest of the print journalism industry. Time Out has remedied this by taking advantage of the technology available, using iPhone, iPad and Facebook apps to bring its reviews to the public.

Some fresh ideas came from Euan’s work experience tips. Asking for feedback from the professional journalists around you can be invaluable, but is often overlooked. Also, something as simple as making the tea can get you remembered, as you end up speaking to the entire office. As Euan pointed out, this is the ideal situation for most work experience candidates, as the more people who remember you, the more likely it is you will be invited back.

Most importantly, Euan’s reminder to avoid clichés is a point I will definitely remember, to avoid annoying future editors with any uninspired copy. I suppose, though, that I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

On day three of our jam packed NCTJ course, many of us are already feeling a wealth of emotions, ranging from excited to exhausted, writes Katie Smith.  So it was a great to relief (and pick me up) to hear from successful past student, Euan Ferguson, who has made a name for himself in the competitive world of Journalism. As the deputy Chief Sub at Time Out Magazine, he explained the work he does and the opportunities the magazine and other publications can give to people work on experience.

Be prepared. Know the publication, its sections and regular writers. Arrive with appropriate ideas and show you are willing to get stuck in. Sitting at your desk updating Facebook is not a good look.

Act like part of the team. Arrive early, stay late and never decline that sneaky drink after work. Talking of drinks, tea making is up there on the list of skills. It’s a chance to break the ice and strike up a conversation at a desk you wouldn’t normally be at. Make a bad tea and you’re remembered for all the wrong reasons. Decline a tea and you’re not remembered at all!

Euan’s success shows the hard work we are putting in now does pay off. We have made a commitment, through time and money, to the future of our career. And I am sure that in time the commitment will pay off. Now where’s that kettle?





43 and never been spanked – don’t read this

5 04 2012

Got your attention?

Fleet Street Fox, the now-legendary tabloid reporter came to talk to Brighton Journalist Works students this week and said her most-read blog posts were headlined:  DON’T READ THIS and 43 AND NEVER BEEN SPANKED (about Michael Gove).

Her blog – fleetstreetfox.com – gets 100,000 hits a month, so she’s clearly doing something right.

Students lapped up her tales of tabloid fun. She said: “I’ve been lied to, lied about, travelled the world and wined and dined on someone else’s dime.”

Student Emily Noszkay writes:

“Posh voice but potty mouth. This was one of the first words uttered as Fleet Street Fox’s bushy tail exited the room at Brighton Journalist Works.

Never before had a guest speaker been so highly anticipated and although Esquire’s Jeremy White will continue to be talked about on a regular basis I expect Foxy’s leather skirt and leopard print heels will do the same for her.

Once we were all happy that Fleet Street Fox was not Samantha Brick and was in fact far more “lovely looking” (Brick’s words, not mine.) We were taken on a colourful rollercoaster ride of Foxy’s rise to fame.

Fleet Street Fox had always wanted to be a journo and pestered her local newspaper from the age of 14 until the age of 18 when she got a job. Two years later she was Chief Reporter.

She jumped feet first into the blood-thirsty jaws of Fleet Street and worked her way around several high profile tabloids. She got married, travelled the world, wrote a book, became a twitter phenomenon, hacked her husband’s phone, heard Denise Welch reach an orgasm and got divorced. Although, not in that order.

While this was all very entertaining, and provided me with my favourite quote of the year so far: “I hacked my husband’s phone but he was shagging a fat bitch, so that’s ok.” The real message we got, although littered with unprintable words, was that the highs of being a journo completely out-weighed the lows.

Fleet Street Fox told us we would be treated like second class citizens, called liars, have no employee rights,  exposed to sexism and people would never understand why we wanted to do our job.

If we hadn’t of been too scared to try to leave, a good portion of us probably would have. However her next point made us feel more like we could reach our dreams, albeit with a strong drink.

We were regaled with stories of deaths, births, scandals, expenses, sex, sex, bad breath, sex, and why we would hate our job most days.

However the glimmering hope was that we would not only be witnessing the events that everyone wanted to know about but would be writing that every one would be reading.

The spectacular opportunities that would come our way just by doing what we were passionate about was an opportunity too good to give up. Who knows, maybe we too would find out just how bad Eric Pickles breath really was.

In the words of the great Fleet Street Fox: “Where else would you be paid to down a pint of Jagermeister with jet lag for an experiment and survive.”