Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Set up in 2010 by five mates peeved with hearing out-of-date careers advice, journalism blog Wannabe Hacks has featured in the Guardian and the New Statesman, and all five founders have now bagged paid work in the industry. We spoke to Matthew Caines, one of the original Wannabe Hacks, about blogging your way into journalism…

Why did you decide to set up Wannabe Hacks?
Four of us were at Birmingham University working on the student paper, Redbrick - Alice, our fifth founding Wannabe Hack, was at Newcastle. We all wanted to go into journalism but were fed up with people in jobs or who’d been in the industry for 30 or 40 years, and didn’t know what social media was, giving us advice. When we graduated we wanted to hear from people on the ground, actually trying to get into these jobs, and there was no one doing that.

How did you get started?
We got a free WordPress blog, paid about £12 for a domain name and a bit of hosting, and were up and going. We didn’t have jobs but some of us were doing work experience or freelancing so it was as and when we could do it. Often I’d be there from 11pm until 1am in the morning uploading articles. The beauty of it was that we were all on different routes into journalism: I was “the freelancer”; somebody else was “the intern”. We were guinea pigs in our own experiment – if we’d go to a job interview we’d put on the blog what went right and wrong.

Looking back at the different routes you took, do you now think one of them is preferable to the others?
It depends on who you are. From a personal point of view, freelancing was extremely hard, you have to slog away silly hours, it’s quite thankless and you have to be very upfront, but the one thing all of us took out of it, which I think was great, was the entrepreneurship side of things. We had our own blog, we had our own brand, we secured advertising and were making money, and I think that’s what made people take note more than anything else.

What are you doing now?
I work in communities and content at the Guardian, doing anything from promoting an article and making sure it gets a decent comment uptake, to exploring new social media channels and new tech, production, writing blurbs and content, commissioning, editing, sub-editing. I think the main thing I took from Wannabe Hacks was that we were catering for a niche community and that’s carried over.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of journalism?
We can debate ’til the cows come home whether print is dead and if digital-first strategies are the way to go, but what wannabe journos need to understand is that this industry is constantly evolving, for the better in my opinion. If you make it your duty to evolve with it – from learning to blog all the way to mocking up interactive data research – then there's no reason why you can't stand up and be noticed. Keep plugging and, most importantly, keep learning and writing.

What would you say to someone thinking of starting their own blog or website?
Try to make it as specific as possible, so that you’ve got an engaged community. Our unique selling point was that we were a journalism blog by wannabe journalists for wannabe journalists. Find something niche, interesting, new and market yourself right – get on social media, talk to people, go to networking events, and you’ll start sticking in people’s memories. People think journalism’s quite closed, that you have to know people, but there’s no reason why you can’t be that person everybody wants to know.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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