News and business reporter at the Belfast Telegraph
What made you want to do a postgraduate course and why Ulster University?
I tried to get paid writing work when I was much younger but editors kept asking me if I had something called NCTJs.When I researched this I soon found out it was the industry’s gold standard of training – an absolute essential if you want to work in almost any newsroom across the country, whether it’s print or broadcast. I had already been writing bits and pieces and knew that media, law and shorthand were two skills I really needed if I ever wanted to become a professional, so I wanted to pursue a course I knew took both of these seriously. Both the Editors’ Code of Practice and Ofcom code are also taught on the Master’s course, this means an editor can trust you’re not going to act unethically, plagiarise or libel anyone. If you’ve graduated from the course, editors will know you’ll have this training as standard.
I felt that the course was good value for money. I knew the lecturers had substantial journalism experience and fantastic contacts. I also knew that if I put the work in that I would also leave with a Master’s Degree as well as the NCTJ qualification.
I live on a family farm so while I ended up staying in Portstewart with two of my classmates during the week, I was able to come home and help out my family at the weekend.
Journalism couldn’t have been further from my family background as a farmer’s daughter but the Ulster University course helped me fit right into the media world.
What did you enjoy most about the course? Is there one thing that stands out?
The course was genuinely one of the best years of my life. I really enjoyed meeting a diverse group of people with so many different interests.
I never even considered the possibility that I would ever put a radio package together, read from an autocue, or would eventually end up working at one of the region’s biggest and best daily newspapers until I started the MA course.
When I started in September, I just wanted to learn how to write for the region’s farming press but I’m so glad I picked the course at Ulster University, it really gave me the skills I needed to kick-start my career and confidence in my abilities.
I enjoyed the level of practical work involved in the course, particularly the opportunity to play around in the radio and TV studios. The degree is a lot of hard work – don’t get me wrong – but that’s also how journalism is as a job, you need to be prepared to graft and stay until the story is finished. You’re treated as young media professionals on the course – you’ll be expected to think up lots of story ideas and write stories and make broadcast packages on a weekly basis. It’s a slower pace than what I’d spend writing stories on the job now, but it’s a good way to get into the swing of writing to a set standard on a regular basis and you’ll get feedback on every story. These days newsrooms don’t have time to train staff from scratch but the course will give you skills they can build on. Just like a real life newsroom on the course, you’re expected to use a lot of initiative and manage your own time. All of my friends who did well on the course have also gone on to very exciting jobs.
So far with my work I’ve reported abroad from vineyards in Italy and Switzerland, dairy farms in Scotland, the international Somme 100 commemorations in France and the Belizean jungle as an embedded reporter with the Irish Guards.
In March 2017 I was named one of Altech’s 10 young leaders in agricultural journalism for my articles about agri-food production in the Belfast’s Telegraph’s business supplement. The prize included a stipend towards attendance at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress in South Africa.
My best friend on the course has reported from Honduras and I know other journalists who have followed Carl Frampton to Las Vegas and the Northern Ireland football team through the Euros.
I love that in journalism your career is whatever you make it. If you have an interest in a subject, you can write about it – as long as you have someone who wants to read about it!
Has this course brought any benefit to you since graduating?
I think the Ulster University course carries a lot of weight professionally. The lecturers have all continued to stay in touch and have been very supportive. As much as I was encouraged to try new things, they were also very supportive of encouraging me to follow my interests. I love that I can drop an email and continue to have that level of support, even now I’ve left a few years.
The course also has a social media group which is great for staying in touch and means Ulster University alumni are always among the first to find out what journalism jobs are going. When you meet a new reporter, often one of the first things they’ll ask is where you studied. So many successful Northern Ireland journalists have studied journalism at Ulster University – including my boss, Margaret Canning, the Belfast Telegraph’s business editor.
What advice would you give someone considering postgraduate study??
Only do it if you are serious about taking a career in the industry. You have to be so committed to a postgraduate degree to succeed, so if you’re in any doubt about what you want to do try to find work experience and see if you still feel the same way. If you are serious about a journalism career I’d definitely recommend studying something practical based – and don’t even think about taking a course which doesn’t include NCTJ modules.
Describe your experience of studying at Ulster in 3 words
Beneficial, memorable and fun