It is never too late to try to break into journalism - and in many examples, life experience can be invaluable for journalists starting out.
Katie Orchard was one of the ITV’s Breaking Into News challenge finalists - and like other entrants before her - the competition is a way to increase diversity in journalism run in partnership with the Media Trust.
Orchard - a single mother of two, and still a part-time youth worker - explained on a podcast with Journalism.co.uk how the scheme gave her a route into the industry she has always dreamed of entering.
"I was a bit stuck and thinking ‘How do I now get into journalism?" Orchard explained.
For many people like Orchard, who are still looking for their big journalism break but are a bit older in life, it is easy to feel like the chance has passed them by. However, Orchard proves that not only is it never too late, but it can also be beneficial to be bit wiser than the competition.
She entered the Breaking Into News competition, which would give her the opportunity to work on a story of her choice and have it broadcasted onto ITV News. She was then selected to represent ITV London and visited ITV Studios in Leeds where she was paired up with her mentor Katie Barnfield to discuss and plan her story idea.
Her story comes from a personal place: the positive impact that Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) can have on students. Having worked with many teenage parents and done a lot of gang prevention work in schools, she knew precisely how she wanted to tell the story.
"Unless you work in these fields, you don’t know these struggles and issues do exist," she said.
“I’m an advocate for young people, so me representing the positives that PRUs provide was fuelled by my background."
Barnfield was on hand to suggest with framing shots and questions to ask, but it was Orchard's first-hand experience of working with young people which led to the decision to film the piece outside, on the grass and in an informal setting.
"This group of young people would not have wanted to be in a formal situation," she explained.
"Sometimes when I do one-to-ones at work, I would say ‘Let's go outside or go for a walk’. It was my idea to make it as informal as possible and not put them on the spot. I wanted to make this more like a conversation as opposed to an interview where I’m questioning them and they are put on the spot to answer right or wrong answers."
But the life experience of being a parent, she said, also opens up a world of insights and understanding that many young journalists might struggle with.
"I have had children, so I have good knowledge about the issues that presents. Then working in a completely different industry, I have built up knowledge about pockets of society I wouldn’t have got necessarily being straight out of university - like domestic violence."
Some skills are only taught through experience - like cutting down a two hour film shoot into a four minute piece. But it goes to show that all experiences can be of value to newsrooms and for audiences consuming the news. For that reason, she said other older journalists should never talk themselves out of pursuing their dreams later in life.
She encouraged others to seek out other paid employment schemes like Breaking Into News and send in cover letters to newsrooms.
"Really express in those cover letters who you are as a person and the qualities you have to give - even if you think it doesn’t relate to journalism - we all have life experience, and if you have passion, good ideas and are articulate, and you are prepared to work hard, you have something to offer that might not already be there in the newsroom," she said.
While continuing to work three days a week, she now is on the ITV London planning team on her days off. She called for other newsrooms to introduce similarly flexible working hours to help others like her in these situations.
"I have financial responsibilities, so I wouldn’t be able to do much for free. This scheme meant I didn’t have to sacrifice my other responsibilities, which is such a big deal,” she said.
"You need to be honest with your manager to explore flexible working hours. It will not only allow you to be less stressed at work, it will also mean when you are there, you can completely submerge yourself in your work."
She is optimistic about her career in journalism and will move into a full-time role when the time is right.
"This is them seeing something in me and wanting to develop me. I’ll be moved around and figure out where I’m best placed. I’m on a journey and it’s moving," Orchard concluded.
Find out how to regain audiences’ trust by driving diversity in your newsroom at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets
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