Credit: Rhys Thomas (above)

What comes to mind when you think of a reporter? It is easy to cling to a notion of a 24/7-working, satchel-wearing, coffee-spilling creation that answers to a relentless editor, slapping together copy for an impending deadline?

In reality, there are many journalism jobs which defy that idea. Freelancers, for example, tend to work in their own time and space on a variety of unusual topics and beats.

One such freelance journalist is Rhys Thomas, who last month landed his first men's advice column for Vice Media called 'Hey Man'.

His passion for journalism sparked in the second year at Nottingham University, where he studied an undergraduate English and creative writing degree. Writing for the student magazine, Impact, he produced reviews for local music gigs with the added perk of free admission to the shows.

With this newfound passion, he enrolled on a postgraduate magazine journalism course at City, University of London, last year. After graduating, he spent six months as an editorial assistant at Square Mile magazine. It was here he realised he was better suited to a life in freelancing.

Now, writing for Vice, he explores personal issues affecting men. Thomas spoke to Journalism.co.uk about adapting to a personal writing style and how to get your foot in the door with editors.

Making a strong first impression

The new column shows that Thomas must have done something right during an internship with Vice in April last year. Keen to make this opportunity count, he treated every task as a chance to impress.

"They're one of the magazines that I loved reading at the time," he reflects. "So I went there and just kind of said yes to everything: took on all of the transcriptions they wanted me to do, and pulled late nights to come up with ideas just to make sure I was genuinely bossing those couple of weeks."

Opening up in first-person pieces

The contacts he built during the internship proved crucial, as he now pitches them article ideas and receives story commissions. He has, however, carved a niche in first-person articles and short documentaries.

Before the 'Hey Man' column came, Thomas wrote a first-person article called 'I tried to get hench over lockdown’, with Vice editors also wanting to bring the idea to video. It documents Thomas's own progress to lose weight while stuck indoors during lockdown.

"I’ve never been confident in front of camera," says Thomas. "It was really nerve-wracking, but I thought, it's better than me having slight panic attacks now and again. Overcoming that on camera is probably more motivational for the average person anyway."

Filling the gaps

This has helped him to be comfortable exploring very personal stories for his column. While Vice had a much more light-hearted column for male-related topics called ‘Why, Bro?’, Thomas saw a gap to cover masculinity from a different perspective.

He pitched to do more serious articles for that column, but editors were so taken with the idea, they instead chose to launch a separate column entirely.

"There’s a real space missing where men talk seriously and vulnerably about how they're doing or what their concerns are," he explains.

A final piece of advice

Thomas said that confidence is the biggest inhibitor for young writers who always doubt their validity or second-guess their worth. He encourages fresh graduates to be bold with their ideas and believe in their value.

"I think journalists are often their own worst enemy in terms of promoting themselves and putting themselves out there. My main advice would be: just allow people the chance to say yes to you," he concludes.

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