Aspiring journalists share their experiences and tips

Last week, a network of budding journalists met for the first time. Wannabe Hack Alice Vincent was there. She shares some of the conversation and advice highlights

Wannabe Hacks, as the name may suggest, is a website founded by and dedicated to aspiring journalists. Friday night saw our first ever meet-up – a chance for all our online readers and budding journalists to meet face to face. As one of the five "hacks" running the event, we had no idea what to expect. At 6.30pm post-work drinkers glowered at the empty space that had been reserved for an hour. A barman came over to ask if anybody else was coming. But eventually, the meet up was what we'd hoped it would be and more: a room packed full of tomorrow's media professionals, talking shop.

We exchanged experiences and tips – here are some of the key areas we discussed.

Start building a network around your niche

Us aspiring journalists are constantly being told that we have to find our niche, although the meet up showed that for many, that's why they want to write. The event gave an opportunity for people to share different routes into specific areas of writing. "I was just having a conversation with someone who's doing their post-grad in communication for the developing world and her colleague was doing a post grad in political communication at LSE" said Ruth, a student from Kingston University interested in politics. "They're quite useful potential contacts to have".

Meeting people with your same area of interest is a great way to share contacts, experience and advice, as Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University, recognises. "Journalists have always needed networks of contacts, especially for jobs. With Fleet Street gone, it makes sense to have a virtual Fleet Street in its place, especially for those who are trying to break into the business."

Aside from events like the meet up, Twitter has proved to be a virtual Fleet Street for aspiring journalists. Searching for #whmeet or following the 'meet up' list on the site is a great way to start meeting other young journalists. Other Twitter lists we like are are studentjournos andjournalism-educators. If you have any of your own to recommend, let us know in the comments below.

Nearly everyone has a blog – consider starting up your own project

Nearly everyone at the meet up had their own website or blog, but some journalists at the meet up had set up bigger online publications. Sebastian Paine edits The Graduate Times as well as studying investigative journalism at City. Although he hopes an unpaid internship will lead to a paid career, he recommends setting up your own project. "I think that there is so much competition that you have to go the extra mile to prove to employers you are passionate about it. I'd advise anyone looking to start an online journalism venture to plan and keep at it – but make sure you take a step back to appreciate all the hard work."

It's a changing industry – prepare to adapt to whatever comes your way

While the common career fear at the meet up was simply not finding a job, most stressed that this was because of the rapidly changing industry. "Once everyone figures out how to make some money out of online journalism it's going to be a very promising time", said Jordan Bassett, a magazine journalism MA student at City.

"It's such an uncertain time for journalism, nobody knows what the future's going to hold. I wouldn't say I'm scared of anything, you've just got to be willing and ready to adapt yourself to whatever comes your way," added Raj Rai, a newspaper journalism student at City. How then, can you prepare yourself? Raj believes knowledge of online publishing and content management systems, coupled with the ability to find your way through the network of networks that make up the web, will be invaluable assets.

Internships pay off

Chatting to young journalists who had recently been offered work after internships offered inspiration to others. Lizzy Anderson, a graduate of Cardiff's broadcast journalism post-grad course, works at Management Today magazine after interning with Bloomberg TV. Lynsey Barber also found success after a two week internship, working at M&M magazine. "So far, I love what I'm doing, media and marketing is a really, really interesting area, but the insecurity of working a mixture of part and full time is quite an issue. You never know what's going to happen," she said. Now assistant editor at AOL Music, Sam Parker spent months interning and learned valuable skills. He said: "Do as much research as you can about the team you'll be interning with and the content they produce before you arrive. Offering to write smaller pieces for a magazine's website is often a good way to find an 'in' and demonstrate your ability. Finally, make sure you stay in touch with any contacts you make by occasionally updating them on how you are doing, but don't over do it. Someone will remember you at the right time, but patience is key."

The meet up initially aimed to see what would happen if we openly invited other people trying to break into journalism to come together for a drink. What I don't think anyone expected, aside from the turnout, was the level encouragement and dedication. The internet might be pushing the industry toward an uncertain future, but it was that same technology that enabled the meet up to happen. If the future of journalism really was in a pub in Waterloo, it seems to be in good hands.

Alice Vincent is 'The Maverick' and blogs about her experiences in journalism at Wannabe Hacks

Alice Vincent

The GuardianTramp

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