Advice for budding journalists

Last night I had the pleasure of spending an hour in the company of a woman who writes in a down-to-earth manner about fashion, who has a column in The Guardian, and who isn’t afraid of a bit of sarcasm. Yes, Hadley Freeman was speaking at London College of Fashion. I took my seat in a room full of eager fashion journalism students – most of whom seemed to be about half my age! – and found myself wondering what Hadley was like in real life. Her personality seems to shine through in everything she writes, but… what if it was all just an act?

I needn’t have worried. As soon as she started telling us how she went from studying English to writing about fashion for a UK newspaper, I could tell that what we read in The Guardian each week is genuine. Not only is she a confident and knowledgeable speaker, but she is also warm and approachable. I may have relaxed, but I’m not sure the students did. Once the questions started flying, it became obvious that what they really wanted to Ask Hadley was if there would be a job for them at the end of their studies!

When asked on her views about the future of print journalism, Hadley shared her bright idea for how The Guardian could make money from its website. Apparently charging for comments was not a suggestion that her editors thought would work especially well! She talked for a while about confessional journalism and how it can “reduce women to a ridiculous cliché”, and then told the students that they should not allow what they write to be limited by their gender (or race) because of narrow minded attitudes. She pointed out that fellow Guardian columnist Marina Hyde writes about many diverse topics, including sport and celebrity.

Once the students started asking questions, we got a few asking advice for budding journalists. The main thing Hadley wishes she’d known when starting out was that you can say no to commissions. For example, if you get asked to try something out and be photographed doing it, you don’t have to accept. Fond memories of her early days on The Guardian fashion desk there! However, her best piece of advice was “don’t try to copy other people’s style. Just be yourself.” This isn’t the same as adapting to the writing style of a particular publication, it’s more of a “don’t try to be Caitlin Moran when you’re not” warning.

We discovered that there is a great freedom in writing for the British press, compared to American publications are much more strict on what you can and can’t say. In addition, The Guardian’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw, apparently writes to the Ask Hadley column regularly. A Twitter follower of mine thought that Hadley should suggest to him that what’s really stylish right now is not putting spoilers in your film reviews!

It was a fascinating evening, and one which proved to be of great use to the LCF Fashion Journalism students. I think they left with much more hope for the future, and a renewed enthusiasm for the challenges that await once they finish their education. Mind you, one student described fashion journalism before blogging as “the olden days”, so I’m not sure their knowledge of history is quite so good. Or am I just getting really old now?

Image via NS Newsflash‘s Flickr photostream.

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