Do nine kinds of journalism
THE FREELANCE Salon in July inspired journalists to be feckless and have fun, it seems. Our first speaker, David Quantick, admitted "I've done lots of things and the only thing they have in common is me doing them." He studied law and "discovered I had no aptitude". He took a Civil Service exam and nearly failed.
He wrote to the New Musical Express, "then a famous music paper". He had no contacts and no CV except for a short story published in London listings weekly City Limits. But at the time music journalism "was like writing the whole internet every week - you had 60 pages to fill, so sometimes we filled them with random stuff... I started writing music reviews in the form of comedy sketches."
From that he got work on hit satirical puppet show Spitting Image. Back at the NME David's column with Stephen Wells led to fortuitous networking which in turn led to his current gig as head writer on BBC children's cartoon Dangermouse.
Diversification helps: "There's no reason why you can't do nine kinds of journalism... if you have a talent for financial journalism, should you not ever do a crossword?" And: keep trying things. "I didn't know I had an aptitude for Twitter until I went on it." He now uses Twitter "as a showcase for jokes".
Remona Aly is a journalist, commentator and broadcaster with a focus on faith, lifestyle and identity. She presents BBC Radio 4's Something Understood.
"I had a dream," she announced - "to become a pharmacist". But she did work experience, dropped sciences and did literature. She wrote her first piece while a student, then "entered niche media" - freelancing for the British Muslim lifestyle glossy emel launched after 9/11 with a mission to "articulate the achievements of the British Muslim community". For over three years Remona was its deputy editor on a shoestring budget: "I had to do everything - commissioning to proofreading."
Then Remona had a bereavement and left. "Two days later I had a call from a company that wanted me to head a faith-based PR campaign". She "had not done PR before but took it, because it was promoting universal values we all share." At the same time Remona met the Guardian's Head of Diversity "and he said, ‘pitch me'. I did a bit on hijabi headbangers." Her role on the Guardian leads to a "burden of representation" - standing in for an entire community. "Often when there have been terrorist attacks I get asked to talk on the TV." That's a responsibility - "you will get an appearance fee if you ask."
Networking "somehow" got Remona into radio too, on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. "If people have met you and trust you, if you build relationships," it can lead to work.