From Fine Art to Online Journalist - An Interview with Jemima Kiss
For all those interested in a career in online journalism we interview Jemima Kiss - Fine Art graduate, News Editor and Chair of the NUJ New Media Council.
News Editor of www.journalism.co.uk Jemima Kiss, is so much a part of the online journalism community that you would be forgiven for not guessing that she graduated with a degree in Fine Art.
So how did someone who plans to one day escape back to the West Country with a stack of Thomas Hardy novels end up working in web publishing? I found out when I interviewed Jemima about transition, RSS and application pitfalls!
Having studied Fine Art at Dartington you then followed what you refer to as a "circuitous" career route. What was your experience of the transition between university and stable employment?
Well, I studied Fine Art in quite a rural location and I don't think I made it easy for myself! I studied what interested me, not what would guarantee a job. Once I found myself outside of the education system for the first time since the age of five... I don't know if floundered is the right word, but I certainly found it difficult beyond that infrastructure of resources, libraries and so on. It was also so much harder before the internet - that makes me sound ancient - this wasn't that long ago but it was before the internet enjoyed the sort of popularity it does today. I think the internet now helps enormously, with access to resources, job listings etc.
After I completed my studies I started work in a tiny fudge shop in Totnes but even there... well, I don't do things by halves. I drew up a franchise plan for the owner and they are still using the hand drawings I did on some of their promotional literature. From there I got a job on Burgh Island... it was only working on reception but again I got really involved in the running of the business and then when I applied for work experience at Brighton Media Centre (BMC) that really helped. After my work experience with BMC I was offered a job as a Gallery Manager which was wonderful, but somehow it was like working in a chocolate factory - it took all the fun out of it! Then I thought (as I'm sure many disaffected graduates have through the years) about becoming a teacher. My course was quite academic and I'd always been reasonably confident about my writing.
Eventually I started freelancing and got a job with journalism.co.uk which is based at Brighton Media Centre - so that was the link. I think it's very difficult to get in anywhere without some sort of connection whether that's networking, friends or even (dare I say it) family. Then you just have to work really hard!
Do you feel degree programmes should prepare you for employment or incorporate vocational training?
I think it really depends what you're studying. I would definitely say it is essential to have guidance on roles and resources for when you 'get out'! More vocational training is necessary in the sense that you need someone to make you realise that you do actually have to get a job at the end of the course.
As Chair of the NUJ New Media Council ( the body which represents those working in online journalism) what do you feel the current strengths and weaknesses of sector are?
We're a very young part of the Union, we only launched last year (not before time I might add!) Obviously the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) is grounded in the traditional media but I feel there are now huge numbers of people working outside the print press who would benefit from knowing what the Union can offer. The difficulty is of course that those working outside the newspaper world may not have an awareness of the Unions existence and therefore it is our aim to try and raise their awareness and of the issues that may be affecting them. Just as an example there is a whole issue at the moment around the production of free content and citizen journalists which you may be a ware of... there are people providing free content to large commercial profit making sites because they want to get a foot in the door or whatever but this can be exploitation and it can also have a knock on effect upon the freelance community who are therefore not getting paid for that work. This is not perhaps widespread but it's just one aspect of the work we still have to do. To be honest that question is probably an interview in itself!
Journalism.co.uk recently advertised for freelance journalists. Based on the responses you received what advice would you give to those applying for a position online?
My colleague John (John Thompson - editor of www.journalism.co.uk) actually wrote a piece on this. You'd be amazed at the mistakes budding and more established freelancers made. Some got the spelling of John's name wrong, various people telephoned the office despite the fact that the job advertisement explicitly stated no telephone calls. It was also obvious that certain applicants hadn't viewed the site and had little idea of the areas we focus upon. Finally, the covering letters were a minefield! I would suggest avoiding jokes, spelling mistakes and typo's and trying to avoid making it too long and 'waffly.' Basically, my best advice is: "tailor what you can do to what you know they need".
You have a keen interest in new technology and online journalism (we have even seen the word 'geek' bandied round on your site!). What are the key technological advances which have captured your imagination or significantly altered your working practice over the last few years?
Have you heard of RSS? RSS is basically an annoying, geeky acronym for Really Simple Syndication (Rich Site Summary). It's a simple piece of code which can pick out headlines and RSS is a simple tool that delivers news stories and headlines directly to you as soon as they appear online. RSS also makes it much easier to browse headlines from lots of different sites in one place.
It's really simple to set up you just choose a news reader and then subscribe to feeds from your favourite news sites and that's it! This is an invaluable tool for journalists. News from a wide range of sources can be monitored much more efficiently and it is easier to keep up with breaking stories. Most major news sites, blogs and even some PR services now offer RSS feeds once you know about it you'll see that cheeky orange RSS logo popping up all over the place!
I've signed up for literally hundreds of RSS feeds and for me to visit each website and trawl through the new content would take days but with RSS I can just view the headlines and it really has completely changed the way I work. I can't tell enough people about this incredibly efficient tool! It's particularly relevant for journalists but it was actually popularised by bloggers who are of course incredibly competitive about being the first to get information.
For more detailed information on how to set yourself up with RSS read Jemima's 3 minute guide at: http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/story1435.shtml
What online resources do you find useful as a new media journalist?
There are so many but this really can end up being navel gazing so I'll just give you a few:
http://www.news.bbc.co.uk - sets the standard for online news
http://www.paidcontent.org - great example of niche online news done well
http://www.Poynter.org - amazing resource - wish we had a UK equivalent
http://www.hoder.com - amazing blogger
Do you have a favourite work or life related quotation?
I was thinking about this one and how I didn't really have anything enlightened to add but then I discovered this one which I'd written down ages ago on a piece of paper and rediscovered a couple of days ago down the back of my desk! It's a quote about drinking (rather topical at the moment):
"Moderate drinking has long been known to have health benefits. Immoderate drinking has long been known to lead to journalism." (Radio 4's News Quiz January 2004).
Actually I'm a complete lightweight myself, so please don't put me down as a lush!
Could you describe an 'average' day as news editor of journalism.co.uk?
A fair proportion of my day is spent answering, reading and composing emails. Reading through the headlines on my RSS feeds and also still to a lesser extent looking through email newsletters. As I come across ideas I start to write them up and email out interview questions to those outside the UK especially people who are in different time zones. I sometimes get to leave the office for the day or the afternoon for launches or when we hold drinks events and that's usually to London. I also work with others in the office on advertising, site promotion and general site maintenance. Basically, no two days are really the same!
Which of your contemporaries do you most admire and why?
That's easy - Rafat Ali who for the past several years has run the website paidcontent.org. He's just an incredibly good journalist and very fast, he breaks stories but also runs the business which he started from scratch. He saw a gap in the market and has made it into a profitable business. I just don't know how he finds time to sleep - there is so much content on his site, I'm absolutely in awe of the amount of work he does!
Finally, what do you think your graduate self would have made of your position today?
It's a funny one to try and answer because when I'd just graduated I don't expect I'd really have known what my job was. I would definitely have been surprised that I'd ended up being a journalist because I had a conception of death knock journalism and there are so many types of journalism that is really removed from what I do. Although I wouldn't have expected to end up in journalism I think I would have been proud because I have worked extremely hard to get to this point. I guess that's it really - there's no substitute for hard work!