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The Circuitous Path to Success as a Journalist

By Angela Saurine, Diploma of Journalism

If someone had told my 18-year-old self that one day I would have my dream job as a travel writer, I would have been thrilled. But at that age I would no doubt have also been shocked to learn how long it would take to get there. Success doesn’t always happen overnight, but over time I have come to realise that everything happens for a reason and to enjoy the circuitous route life takes.

I had always loved writing, and fell in love with the idea of a journalism career working on my school newspaper and yearbook. During Year 10 work experience at my local paper I attended a bomb scare with a journalist and photographer, had my photo taken with Strictly Ballroom star Paul Mercurio during a shopping centre appearance and got my first byline with a back-page sports story about a schoolmate. I found it all very exciting, and it only confirmed what I wanted to do with my life.

Instead of going to university, I chose to study a Diploma in Journalism at Macleay College in Sydney in 1996. While it was more expensive up front, I figured I would be out in the workforce two years sooner, and it had a strong focus on practical skills such as shorthand, news reporting and feature writing. Gaining experience in newsrooms was also encouraged.

During work experience at News Ltd I met the copy person supervisor, who was in charge of around 30 entry level staff whose tasks included sorting mail and courier packages and delivering faxes at The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. I asked him how I could get a job as a casual copyperson. “Basically, you just bug me,” he said. So, I did. I rang him nearly every week for months until one day I was called and asked to come in at the last minute to cover a shift for someone who was sick. Tenacity is a good quality in a journalist, and mine had paid off. Finally, I had my foot in the door.

The casual position eventually turned into a full-time role. At that time, copypeople sat an exam every six months or so and then faced interviews with a group of senior editors to gain cadetships. But, despite performing well in the tests, after going through a few rounds I failed to secure a cadetship. I was devastated. By then I had built up some great contacts in the office, who recommended me for a cadetship at Cumberland Newspaper Group. I had always thought my career would start in local newspapers, and the first position that became available was back at the paper where I had done Year 10 work experience! It proved to be a great training ground. I reported on everything from crime to local government and sport.

After two years, at age 25, I took a two-year working holiday overseas. When I left the editor-in-chief told me the door would always be open for someone like me to return, which was comforting to know. I spent a few months as a ski bum in Whistler, Canada before moving to London and using it as a base to travel throughout Europe, including attending Anzac Day in Gallipoli and the running of the bulls in Spain. When it became known that I was a journalist while temping on reception at a travel company I was offered a job doing their PR. It was my first taste of the travel media, but I really wanted to be on the other side.

When I returned home the editor-in-chief had moved on to another role, but I still managed to return to Cumberland. The first position that came up was writing about real estate. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but I had always loved the fact that you can specialise in many different areas as a journalist throughout your career. It also helped me get a job back at The Daily Telegraph when the real estate writer quit.

After a couple of years writing real estate features and news I moved to a role on Sydney Confidential, writing about celebrity gossip, and moved from there to general news. After failing to secure a cadetship all those years earlier, I had always had a strong desire to prove that I could be a good news reporter. I began specialising in social affairs, writing about family trends, foster care, inter-country adoption and Indigenous issues. On the side, I also wrote the odd travel story about my adventures overseas and submitted them to the travel editor for publication.

When the company decided to create a national department the stars aligned and two of my former bosses were placed in senior roles. One I had first worked for as the real estate writer when he was features editor at The Daily Telegraph. The other was the former editor-in-chief from Cumberland, who was appointed editor of the new national travel section, Escape. After sending him a congratulatory email I received a phone call - they were looking to appoint a national travel news reporter, and I was the number one choice. “Really?” I replied.

The role was mostly reporting on travel news, such as ABS statistics showing where Australians were going for holidays, tourism campaigns and how airline alliances would impact travellers. Gradually, opportunities to travel arose, but they were mostly in my own time. After four years in the role, it was time for a change. I had met a lot of freelance travel writers over that time, and was keen to do more travelling and feature writing. So, I took the leap and left to embark on a career as a freelancer, and now write about travel, food and social issues for newspapers, magazines and websites.

So, despite some setbacks and challenges in the past 20 years, things have turned out OK.


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