What a time to be a budding journalist in this digital age. News organisations are hiring reporters to work on TikTok accounts, digital media can be created and uploaded straight from smartphones, and communities for young journalists have sprung up on social media and private messaging platforms.
But as you flick through your Twitter feed or Facebook Group and see people posting about their accomplishments, have you ever caught yourself feeling incompetent or as though your achievements are somehow undeserved? Chances are that is your imposter syndrome talking; feeling like your successes are the result of luck and not ability.
Social media platforms have made it much easier to build connections. There are few better examples than the Young Journalist Community Facebook Group, which stands today at 4,700 members. People frequently use the group to post useful articles, online events or job openings, as well as to ask for advice or story contributions. Its founder Asyia Iftikhar said these platforms offer "a sense of community and support in an incredibly isolating industry."
Journalists at the start of their careers who lack industry connections or experience have found the group useful. One of them is Kyle Russell Frazer, editor of the student-run news website The Tab and a Masters student at Queen’s University Belfast.
Frazer said that the group has been a place to connect with fellow young reporters, find journalists who cover similar beats and share contacts. Another useful online space is Twitter's #journorequest, which is widely used by journalists for editorial queries. Twitter communities pitch in by retweeting those requests far and wide, and that has helped Frazer to land stories. It has been particularly useful for getting sources on the record for difficult stories like a series of articles on homophobia.
There are also pages floating about providing tips and resources for journalists, like Chandni Sembhi’s Instagram page So You Want To Be A Journalist. Sembhi is also a content editor for ViacomCBS, where she creates social media content for Channel 5.
There is a sweet spot in terms of her experience. She graduated in 2018, so knows what it takes to find one's feet in the industry, but has not forgotten what it is like to be a student.
"Although there’s so much value in getting advice from people who are established in their careers, there’s something quite comforting [about] hearing from people your own age," she said.
Despite Sembhi’s progress in the industry so far, even she finds herself comparing her achievements with others.
"I see people who are so much younger than me achieving really amazing things, obviously I’m really happy for them, but also it’s easy to think 'why aren’t I doing that? Am I not good enough?'"
Many young journalists say they are feeling the weight of imposter syndrome and there are many online resources on how to deal with it.
But that does not stop people from having mixed emotions when seeing their peers’ celebration posts which often make them feel demoralised or disheartened. For Frazer, the competitive nature of the journalism job market means social media generates "pressure to sell ourselves."
But it is also important to put these achievements into perspective - social media is a highlights reel, as the cliche goes, and nobody wants to post about the mountain of rejections that preceded the big breakthrough. But sometimes, young journalists are more transparent about their knockbacks.
🧚🏼♀️🍄🛸Inspired by many great freelance journos, I thought I’d try do stats for my first month of full time freelancing, in the hopes of demystifying the process🧚🏼♀️🍄🛸— Sian (sh-arn) Bradley (@sianabradley) January 31, 2021
📮Pitches sent: 18
👻No reply: 5
🤔Maybe/on hold: 3
Those treading the same path can feel a bit more human after seeing these posts, according to Rebecca Johnson, a journalism Master’s student at the University of Sunderland. Of course, we all want to be happy about our peer’s successes but this tactic is a welcome reminder that success is not granted.
Conducting ourselves on social media
The ugly side of social media is trolling many journalists of all levels of experience can be subject to. With a higher profile comes an increased risk of being called out, says Sembhi, and when she speaks out about a controversial topic, she has to brace herself for the response.
"When I want to discuss things like diversity, pay gaps, and barriers to journalism, [I have to make it clear that] these are my viewpoints and I’m not having a go at anyone," she explains. The pros of social media are the opportunities to further debate, but the cons are that debate can quickly become personal and unpleasant – especially for women.
Twitter in particular can be prone to heated discussions. Sometimes, that can open up conversations about, for example, the ethics of unpaid work experience. But outlandish posts also have the potential to damage future career prospects.
some free pitching advice from me personally is that if the d**ly m**l is one of the bylines in your intro i am simply never going to work with you— Jenna Mahale (@jennamahale) February 17, 2021
The bottom line is: think before you post but also take what you see with a pinch of salt; community networks can foster debates of all kinds: good, bad and ugly.
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